Biden to Sign Defense Funding Bill, Ending Military’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate: White House

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
December 19, 2022Politics
Biden to Sign Defense Funding Bill, Ending Military’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate: White House
President Joe Biden speaks during a town hall with veterans and veteran survivors in New Castle, Del., on Dec. 16, 2022. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden will sign the defense funding bill Congress recently passed, the White House confirmed on Dec. 19.

“He’s going to sign that later this week,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters in Washington.

The White House had kept open the possibility of Biden vetoing the bill because of its inclusion of the forced termination of the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which Biden opposed.

The bill “has some provisions we support and some we do not,” Jean-Pierre said. “Clearly the president was opposed to rolling back the vaccine mandate but we saw that Republicans in Congress decided that they’d rather fight against the health and wellbeing of the troops than protecting them.”

She claimed that the vaccine mandate was protecting troops, even though many experts have acknowledged that the vaccines do not stop transmission, provide little protection against infection, and have a waning impact on severe illness. Mandate critics have also noted that young, healthy people—the bulk of the military—face little risk from COVID-19.

It’s not clear on which day the president will sign the bill, which was passed by bipartisan majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate last week. The bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2023, states that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the Biden appointee who imposed the mandate in 2021, must repeal it within 30 days of Biden’s signature.

Pentagon officials have said they want to keep the mandate in place. The Pentagon declined to comment. “We won’t comment on pending legislation,” a spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email. Austin was spotted entering the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) around the time Jean-Pierre spoke.

Republicans spearheaded the end of the mandate, but many Democrats joined them in ending the requirement.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the mandate made sense when it was imposed but makes little sense now that the protection from a primary series of a vaccine serves little protection.

“Personally, I would have preferred the Department of Defense do it on their own rather than legislature telling them to but since they didn’t, I think this makes sense, and I think we ought to do it,” he said on the House floor.

Senators Urge Pentagon to Reinstate Discharged Troops

Military branches have discharged more than 8,400 members over vaccine refusal. Three branches have been blocked by courts from discharging members seeking religious exemptions due to findings they likely or did violate the members’ constitutional rights with nearly word-for-word rejections.

A group of senators urged Austin on Dec. 16 to reinstate the members who have been discharged.

“All branches of our military are facing significant recruiting problems, including problems arising from the vaccine requirement,” they said in a missive (pdf). “Therefore, it is in our readiness and security interests to keep these brave men and women within our ranks.”

Specifically, the senators urged the Pentagon to freeze all COVID vaccine-related discharges and to establish a “quick and thorough process” to make sure all members discharged for vaccine refusal get reinstated with back pay and full benefits.

“Thousands of brave men and women were harmed because of the Pentagon’s misguided approach to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement. You have the opportunity to immediately begin undoing the harm caused,” they argued. “For the current and future morale and benefit of our Armed Forces, we urge you to act immediately.”

The 11 senators who signed the letter were: Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Asked if Biden supported reinstating members who refused to get vaccinated, Jean-Pierre said: “That is something that the Department of Defense has to decide on specific service members. they have a process on how that runs the Department of Defense. We will let them run that process.”

The NDAA, passed on an annual basis to fund the military, clocked in at $858 billion.

The bill includes $800 million for Ukraine, money for a pay raise for both service members and Department of Defense civilian workers, funding for better housing, and the establishment of four new medical treatment facilities.

It also contains $1 billion for the national defense stockpile to obtain rare earths and other key materials for the fighting force, requires a review and report on suicides in the armed forces, funds more aircraft and ships, authorizes more than $2.7 billion for munitions production, and invests in the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a program meant to deter China.

From The Epoch Times

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