Biden to ‘consider’ lifting vaccine mandate defense secretary wants to keep

Joe Biden, Lloyd Austin
President Joe Biden speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Washington. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin listens at right. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci/AP

Biden to ‘consider’ lifting vaccine mandate defense secretary wants to keep

President Joe Biden is considering the idea of removing the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for U.S. service members, though he backs Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s continued support for the measure.

The Department of Defense’s mandate remains in effect despite criticism, mainly from conservatives, that the policy unnecessarily forces thousands of otherwise good service members out of the military, harming military readiness. GOP condemnation of the policy has reemerged as Congress debates the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

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“Secretary Austin’s been very clear that he opposes repeal of the vaccine mandate, and the president actually concurs with the Secretary of Defense,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday. “He continues to believe that all Americans, including those in the armed forces, should be vaccinated and boosted or COVID-19.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said over the weekend that the NDAA will include the reversal of the vaccine mandate — “otherwise, the bill will not move.” McCarthy is in line to be speaker in the next Congress.

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“I’ve been very clear with the president. The president … worked with me on this. This is the first sign of having divided government. You got some compromise here. And we’ve got something that Republicans have been working very hard, and a number of Democrats, too, trying to find success,” he said on Fox News Sunday morning.

In light of McCarthy’s remarks, a White House official said the president informed the California lawmaker that “he would consider it.”

“Leader McCarthy raised this with the president, and the president told him he would consider it,” White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton said. “The secretary of defense has recommended retaining the mandate, and the president supports his position. Discussions about the NDAA are ongoing.”

According to Defense Department data, 3,717 Marines, 1,816 soldiers, and 2,064 sailors have been discharged for refusing to get vaccinated.

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Austin reiterated his support for the mandate as recently as this weekend.

“We lost a million people to this virus,” Austin said on Saturday. “A million people died in the United States of America. We lost hundreds in DOD. So this mandate has kept people healthy. … I support continuation of vaccinating the troops.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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