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President Joe Biden will sign the $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week, even though the measure ends the U.S. military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the White House said.
“He’s going to sign that later this week,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Dec. 19 in Washington.
The White House had kept open the possibility of a veto because of the budget bill’s inclusion of the forced termination of the military’s vaccine mandate, which the president opposed.
The bill “has some provisions we support and some we do not,” Jean-Pierre said. “Clearly, the president was opposed to rolling back the vaccine mandate but we saw that Republicans in Congress decided that they’d rather fight against the health and well-being of the troops than protecting them.”
She claimed that the vaccine mandate was protecting troops, even though many experts have acknowledged that the vaccines don’t stop transmission, provide little protection against infection, and have a waning effect on severe illness. Mandate critics have also noted that young, healthy people—the bulk of the military—face little risk from COVID-19.
It isn’t clear when the president will sign the bill, which was passed by bipartisan majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate in recent weeks. The NDAA for fiscal year 2023 states that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the Biden appointee who imposed the vaccine mandate in 2021, must repeal the policy within 30 days of Biden’s signature.
Pentagon officials, who have said they want to keep the mandate in place, declined to comment.
“We won’t comment on pending legislation,” a spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email. Austin was spotted entering the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) around the time that Jean-Pierre spoke.
While Republicans spearheaded the end of the mandate, many Democrats joined them in ending the requirement.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the mandate made sense when it was imposed but makes little sense now that the protection from a primary series of a vaccine serves little protection.
“Personally, I would have preferred the Department of Defense do it on their own rather than legislature telling them to but since they didn’t, I think this makes sense, and I think we ought to do it,” he said on the House floor.
Pentagon Is Urged to Reinstate Discharged Troops
Military branches have discharged more than 8,400 members over vaccine refusal. Three branches have been blocked by courts from discharging members seeking religious exemptions due to findings they likely or did violate the members’ constitutional rights with nearly word-for-word rejections.
A group of senators urged Austin on Dec. 16 to reinstate the members who have been discharged.
“All branches of our military are facing significant recruiting problems, including problems arising from the vaccine requirement,” they said in a missive (pdf). “Therefore, it is in our readiness and security interests to keep these brave men and women within our ranks.”
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