Defense bill likely to include ending military Covid vaccine mandate, source says


A massive bill setting defense policy is likely to end the military’s Covid vaccine mandate, a source familiar with the negotiations told CNN, coming on the heels of intense GOP lobbying to kill the mandate and acceptance by leading Democrats that it’s time for a change.

The annual defense authorization bill is expected to be unveiled as soon as Monday and is likely to be approved by Congress within the next two weeks.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said over the weekend that President Joe Biden supports the move to end the Covid-19 vaccine mandate, although White House officials say that is an exaggeration.

The White House says it still supports the vaccine mandate, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has reiterated the Pentagon’s support for the order.

“Secretary Austin supports maintaining the vaccine mandate. The health and readiness of our forces is critical to our warfighting capability and a top priority. I will not comment on potential or pending legislation,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. General Patrick Ryder said in a statement.

However, the movement on Capitol Hill underscores action that is in play and driven by lawmakers keenly aware of the need to secure GOP votes to pass the annual defense policy measure.

That has set the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat, in the position as the driving force behind the move to change policy direction, although the move is unlikely to have taken off without quiet White House approval.

It remains to be seen what Congress does about service members who were disciplined or removed from service as a result of the mandate.

House GOP No. 2 Steve Scalise told Fox News Monday: “We want to get them back. There are a lot of young people who go to service academies and also don’t go to those service academies now. There are the best and the brightest out of high school . You want them back, too. So we talked to the military about getting a full assessment of all the people that were removed.”

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