The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to pass the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which included a provision to repeal the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all military service members.
However, an amendment that would have allowed for the reinstatement of members discharged solely for refusing the COVID vaccine was rejected by all of the Senate Democrats plus four of their Senate Republican colleagues, the Daily Caller reported.
Those four Republicans who joined Democrats in voting “No” on the amendment to reinstate vaccine-related discharged service members include Sens. Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), Mitt Romney (UT), and Mike Rounds (SD).
NDAA passes, but reinstatement amendment falls short
The 2023 NDAA, which includes the provision to end the military’s COVID vaccine mandate going forward, passed by a vote of 83-11, with six members not voting.
Before that final vote, there were several last-minute proposed amendments that received consideration on the Senate floor, including the amendment to allow for the reinstatement of any service members who had been discharged solely for refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which is estimated to number around 8,400, per the Daily Caller.
That amendment fell well short of the 60 votes needed for passage and was defeated by a vote of 40-54. As noted, four Republicans voted against that measure, while another six Republicans were not there to cast votes at all on any of the amendments or the 2023 NDAA itself.
Those six non-voting Republicans included Sens. John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), Richard Burr (NC), Ted Cruz (TX), Bill Hagerty (TN), and Thom Tillis (NC).
Vaccine mandate imposed in 2021 by Defense secretary
The Daily Caller asked the four Senate Republicans who voted against the military reinstatement amendment why they voted the way that they did, but of those four, only Sen. Cassidy responded with a statement.
“These were direct orders from commanding officers,” Cassidy explained. “I voted to end the COVID vaccine mandate in the military, but it is not Congress’s place to intervene in the chain of command and set a precedent for military personnel to ignore direct orders.”
The Louisiana Republican spoke in reference to the August 2021 memo from Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin that added the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required immunizations for military service, including members who are on active duty, in the Reserves, and in the National Guard.
Cruz will reintroduce AMERICANS Act to reinstate discharged service members
Sen. Cruz had pushed the amendment to reinstate military members who’d been discharged over the vaccine mandate, and due to his not being able to vote on it on Thursday because he was not in Washington D.C., Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) had agreed to help try to push the amendment to passage.
A spokesperson for Cruz told the Daily Caller that the senator intends to refile a bill in the next session of Congress that has been dubbed the Allowing Military Exemptions, Recognizing Individual Concerns About New Shots Act of 2022, or AMERICANS Act.
That bill, if passed, would prohibit “any adverse action” against military members who refuse to receive the COVID vaccine, and for those who were discharged solely for refusing the vaccine, allow for their status to be changed to “honorable discharge,” to be reinstated at the same rank and pay, have their service record expunged of any reference to actions related to the vaccine mandate, and have their service time altered to include the period in which they were involuntarily discharged.
For what it is worth, Fox News reported earlier this month that President Joe Biden had expressed his continued support for the military’s COVID vaccine mandate and opposition to congressional efforts to repeal that mandate, but it seems unlikely that he will actually veto the 2023 NDAA over the vaccine mandate repeal provision.