A Biden administration official declined to say whether President Joe Biden would sign the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a provision he’s against that would end the Department of Defense’s coronavirus vaccine mandate.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed the annual defense spending bill on Thursday night, 83 to 11, sending it to the president’s desk. But National Security Council spokesman John Kirby opted not to confirm when asked on Friday morning whether the president would sign the bill because he continues to believe rescinding the mandate is a “mistake.”
“He still believes that repealing the mandate is a mistake,” Kirby said of the president. “He also obviously believes that it’s important to fund our military, so getting an NDAA that they can continue to allow the military to defend our national security interests around the world is obviously of prime importance to the president.”
“Every single year, the NDAA has things in it that we support, and it has things in it that we don’t support,” he added after being pressed again on whether the president would consider vetoing the bill. “And the president will judge this NDAA as a whole, just like he has in the past, and I’m not going to get ahead of his judgment of it.”
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. Roughly 8,400 troops have been separated over their refusal to get the shot.
Republicans celebrated the reversal of the mandate as a victory, though some lamented that they were unable to pass a separate amendment that would have reinstated the troops that had been separated over refusing the vaccine.
“Even though the Senate blocked Sen. Cruz’s and my amendment that would have reinstated service members discharged for refusing a vaccine with back pay, I supported passage of the NDAA that rescinds the Biden administration’s harmful and pointless COVID-19 vaccine policy,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), one of the leaders of the push, said in a statement after it failed. “Over 8,000 service members have been terminated for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Our men and women of the U.S. military are the finest among us and deserve members of Congress fighting for their health autonomy and healthcare freedom.”
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.”
The House voted 350 to 80 in favor of the NDAA earlier this month. With both chambers passing the bill by such wide majorities, Congress could theoretically override a presidential veto.