Senate Republicans are moving forward with their plans to defund President Biden's COVID-19 vaccine and testing requirements for private businesses.
Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana indicated that they will support it, meaning that the measure will likely pass since this vote will only require a simple majority. Lawmakers, through the Congressional Review Act, have the power to overturn federal agency rules within a certain timeframe with a simple majority vote in both the House and the Senate. If both the House and Senate pass the bill, the president may sign it - allowing the rule to be rescinded - or veto it, which would enable the rule to stand. Under regular rules, measures must usually have 60 votes of support to clear the Senate.
Manchin said on Monday that a vaccine mandate should be implemented for government employees and contractors who interact with government employees, but that he'd prefer to see a process to "incentivize" private sector employees, rather than punish them. Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana is leading the effort and initiated the congressional review process to rescind the rule.
The Biden administration and public health officials view the vaccine and testing requirements for private employers with more than 100 employees as a critical way to halt the COVID-19 pandemic. Several lawsuits filed in mostly GOP-led states seek to overturn the rule, arguing it is unconstitutional to require private employers with more than 100 employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly tests. A federal appeals court subsequently halted the requirement in November and a consolidated case encompassing all of the federal challenges to the private vaccine requirement now sits before another appeals court, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"I am pro-vaccine, but I am anti-mandate," said Republican Senator John Barrasso at a Senate GOP press conference Wednesday. "And that's because I believe the mandate is a massive overreach by the government and a massive mistake. And at this point, clearly the courts are agreeing with what we are trying to do."
Multiple Republican senators share Barrasso's view and reiterated their support for the vaccines and disapproval of the requirements to be vaccinated.
"Encouraging and requiring are two different things," said Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer accused his Republican colleagues of pushing an "anti-science, anti-vaccine proposal."
"My friends, America, we are in the middle of a public health crisis," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "Everyone sees the damage it causes to themselves, their friends, their families, their communities. And the way to solve this is to be driven by science."
The path for the resolution in the Democratic-controlled House is murkier. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not expected to bring it to the the floor for a vote, although there's a procedure lawmakers could use to force a vote. White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday said the president would veto the bill if it were to reach his desk.