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White House opposes repealing COVID-19 vaccine mandate in defense bill

John Kirby, national security council coordinator, said Monday the White House does not support using the annual defense spending bill to repeal the military's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Photo by Samuel Corum/UPI
John Kirby, national security council coordinator, said Monday the White House does not support using the annual defense spending bill to repeal the military's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Photo by Samuel Corum/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 5 (UPI) -- The White House said it does not support using the annual defense spending bill to repeal the military's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Monday.

The White House response comes as Congress considers legislation later this week that could repeal the Pentagon's vaccine mandate for military service members.

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While Republican lawmakers have threatened to delay passage of the annual defense spending bill if the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is not repealed, President Joe Biden said he is in agreement with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that the mandate should remain in place, Kirby said.

"He continues to believe that all Americans, including those in the armed forces, should be vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19," Kirby told reporters.

In August 2021, Austin directed all troops to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or face potential expulsion.

"Secretary Austin and I share an unshakable commitment to making sure our troops have every tool they need to do their jobs as safely as possible," Biden said last year. "These vaccines will save lives. Period. They are safe. They are effective."

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House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., met with Biden and other congressional leaders last week at the White House. McCarthy, who is vying to become House speaker, has argued along with other Republicans that it is wrong to force troops to get a vaccine, or risk being expelled from the military, calling it government overreach that hurts recruitment.

McCarthy said he believes the vaccine mandate should be lifted through the National Defense Authorization Act, which outlines spending priorities each year for the Defense Department, including pay and funding for military equipment and programs.

Earlier this year, the House and Senate passed separate versions of fiscal 2023 NDAA and have been working to reconcile the differences.

This week, both chambers agreed to set next year's NDAA budget at $847 billion.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told Politico last week that a rollback of the vaccine mandate was possible in a compromise NDAA.

"I was a very strong supporter of the vaccine mandate when we did it, a very strong supporter of the Covid restrictions put in place by DoD and others," Smith said Saturday. "But at this point in time, does it make sense to have that policy from August 2021? That is a discussion that I am open to and that we're having."

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