While Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is adamant about keeping the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service member, President Joe Biden is weighing removing the requirement for service.
Republicans are fighting the mandate for service members, saying it has harmed recruitment and cut forces, and they are using that leverage during congressional debate on the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said this weekend the NDAA will have to include a reversal of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, "otherwise, the bill will not move," the Washington Examiner reported.
"I've been very clear with the president," McCarthy said. "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."
Biden "would consider it," a White House source told the Examiner.
"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."
Still, Austin is sticking with his weekend stance on keeping the vaccine mandate in place in the military.
"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 Monday, the Examiner reported. "He continues to believe that all Americans, including those in the armed forces, should be vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19."
Former President Donald Trump, in announcing his candidacy for the 2024 GOP primary nomination, has vowed to give the jobs back — "with back pay" — to military members who were expelled for not agreeing to be vaccinated.
There have been 3,717 Marines, 1,816 soldiers, and 2,064 sailors discharged due to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to the Defense Department to date.
"We lost a million people to this virus," Austin said 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."
This past week more than 20 Republican governors sent a letter to Biden asking that the administration remove the mandate, saying it has hurt the U.S. National Guard's ability to recruit troops. Those troops are activated by governors to respond to natural disasters or unrest.
Congress might consider legislation this coming week to end the mandate as a requirement to gather enough support to pass this years' defense budget, which is already two months late.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
© 2023 Newsmax. All rights reserved.