The Biden White House is pissed tonight that House Democrats and Nancy Pelosi folded and gave in to Kevin McCarthy's extortion on the Pentagon funding bill, as McCarthy had threatened to kill the bill entirely unless Pelosi removed the military's Covid vaccine mandate.
The Biden administration fumed Wednesday at the near-certainty that Congress will strip away the Defense Department’s requirement that all military personnel be vaccinated against the coronavirus, upending a politically divisive policy that has led to the dismissal of nearly 8,500 service members and numerous lawsuits disputing its fairness.
The agreement, brokered as part of the Pentagon’s next spending bill, was celebrated by Republicans as a victory for individual choice. It comes despite opposition from President Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who characterized the vaccine mandate as a way of protecting troops from covid-19 and preventing sprawling outbreaks that sideline entire units, undermine the military’s readiness and endanger national security.
The looming reversal — spurred by Republicans who had threatened to block passage of the $858 billion spending bill if the mandate wasn’t struck down — creates a rat’s nest for the Pentagon. Commanders whose job it was to enforce the mandate will face the onerous task of assessing whether — and how — to allow back into uniform those already separated from the military for refusing to follow orders. Managing overseas deployments, especially in countries that require visitors to be vaccinated, will create burdensome logistical headaches as well, officials said.
John Kirby, a White House spokesman, would not say whether Biden would entertain vetoing the bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), if as expected the legislation passes both chambers of Congress with the repeal intact. But Kirby emphasized that the administration believes scrubbing the vaccine mandate is a “mistake” and castigated those in the GOP who pushed to end it.
Republicans, he said, “have obviously decided that they’d rather fight against the health and well-being of those troops rather than protecting them.”
Privately, some Defense Department personnel were even more pointed.
One senior defense official said that when service members “inevitability get sick, and if they should die, it will be on the Republicans who insisted upon this.” The official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the polarizing issue, cited the sprawling coronavirus outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in spring 2020. The vessel — a major power-projection weapon — was sidelined for weeks through a cumbersome quarantine process with more than 1,200 cases in a crew of about 4,800, and one sailor died.
“How does this impact deployments? How does this impact overseas training assignments? How does this impact overseas assignments generally?” this official asked. “What are the downstream consequences of this shortsighted insistence in the new law?”
“Make no mistake: this is a win for our military,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a statement late Tuesday night, warning that when the GOP takes over the House next year, Republicans will “work to finally hold the Biden administration accountable and assist the men and women in uniform who were unfairly targeted.”
While the decision to roll back the vaccine mandate was politically divisive, freezing negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate armed services committees for several days, it is far from the only Pentagon policy challenged in the compromise defense bill. The measure, which the full House and Senate still must vote to approve, pushes the Defense Department and related agencies to adopt several ventures, including new programs to arm Taiwan and scrutinize military assistance to Ukraine, and retain aging weapons systems the Biden administration has slated for decommissioning.
The bill creates several new accountability measures for the billions of dollars in military assistance being sent to Ukraine. Those include ordering reports from the Defense Department and a consortium of inspectors general about the methods being employed to track weapons, with the aim of identifying potential shortfalls.
While enhanced oversight of Ukraine aid has become a rallying cry for Republicans skeptical of the continued provision of advanced systems and munitions, the measures included in the defense bill had earlier secured bipartisan support in the House. The Senate never voted on its version of the bill before the compromise legislation’s unveiling.
And the reason this happened of course is that neither Pelosi nor Chuck Schumer had the votes to pass the bill without GOP support.
The sausage got made again, $850 billion worth of it.