Congress moves to repeal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for military members

() — Congress is poised to repeal a mandate requiring military service members be vaccinated against COVID-19, a major concession for Democrats whose party leader has continued to publicly support the policy.

The mandate was put in place during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and thousands of service members were discharged for their refusal to get a shot. Congressional Republicans demanded the vaccine mandate be removed in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes funding for the Defense Department.

A draft of the bill released Tuesday night includes the repeal.

“The end of President Biden’s military COVID vaccine mandate is a victory for our military and for common sense,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement. “While I applaud the end of this onerous mandate — the Biden administration must go further.”

McCarthy and other Republicans want the Biden administration to rehire service members who declined to get vaccinated. Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have both continued to support enforcement of the requirement and have not indicated whether service members would be rehired if it ends.

The bill does not include a reinstatement of service members.

Last week, more than a dozen Republican senators threatened to delay a vote for the National Defense Authorization Act if the vaccine requirement was not removed. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said at a recent press conference that 20 Senate Republicans have signed a letter saying they will vote against cloture on it,  partner The Hill reported.

The legislation must still clear the entire House and the Senate.

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