The Senate voted 54 to 40 against a measure that would require the Department of Defense to reinstate service members who had been separated from the armed forces for refusing to get the coronavirus vaccine.
Lawmakers voted on the measure Thursday night ahead of the anticipated vote on the National Defense Authorization Act, which is must-pass annual legislation that funds the department. The proposal needed 60 votes for cloture and failed to get even a simple majority.
Negotiators agreed to end the military’s coronavirus vaccine mandate through the NDAA, despite President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s continued support for the mandate. The mandate has already resulted in the separation of thousands of service members.
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) were among the leaders of conservatives who hoped to get the roughly 8,400 service members who had been discharged for refusing the vaccine reinstated. Opponents of the measure, which include the Pentagon and many Democratic lawmakers, argue that those former service members violated a direct and lawful order.
“The service members who refuse to do that and who were discharged from service, that’s the way it has to work in the military,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said last week. “Orders are not optional in the United States military. And if Congress expresses the opinion that they are, I cannot imagine anything that would more significantly undermine the good order and discipline within our military.”
Pentagon deputy spokeswoman Sabrina Singh informed reporters last week that 98% of the active-duty armed forces had received the initial two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which fulfilled DOD’s mandate. There is no mandate for service members to get a COVID-19 booster.
Service members are obligated to get more than a dozen shots when entering the armed forces in addition to the coronavirus vaccine.