The Biden administration thinks U.S. service members who refuse to comply with the military's COVID-19 vaccine mandate should be subjected to the potential of a dishonorable discharge.
What are the details?
In a statement issued Tuesday, the White House forcefully rejected a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) prohibiting the Pentagon from dishonorably discharging any service member who declines to get the vaccine.
"The Administration strongly opposes section 716, which would detract from readiness and limit a commander's options for enforcing good order and discipline when a Service member fails to obey a lawful order to receive a vaccination," the White House argued. "To enable a uniformed force to fight with discipline, commanders must have the ability to give orders and take appropriate disciplinary measures."
The provision, introduced by Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) during the bill's markup phase, ensured that service members removed over their refusal to get the vaccine would receive nothing but an honorable discharge, noting that "many Americans have reservations about taking a vaccine that has only been available for less than a year."
"Any discharge other than honorable denotes a dereliction of duty or a failure to serve the United States and its people to the best of the ability of an individual," the provision states.
What's the background?
The executive branch last month issued a sweeping directive requiring all U.S. service members to be vaccinated. At the time that the directive was issued, more than 800,000 service members had yet to receive a vaccine, according to Pentagon data.
The move controversial move drew immediate backlash from conservative lawmakers and members of the military. But the Pentagon, on the other hand, has characterized the mandate as a "lawful order" that must be followed.
In a statement to the Daily Mail, Green said he was "appalled" by the administration's opposition to his provision, adding, "This was a bipartisan amendment — every Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee agreed to it."
The news outlet recalled remarks Green made earlier this month when he argued, "No American who raises their hand to serve our Nation should be punished for making a highly personal medical decision."
Republicans by in large have resisted President Biden's attempts to mandate vaccination among service members, federal employees, and most recently, companies with more than 100 employees.
Also speaking with the Daily Mail, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) argued, "Our readiness, our ability to take on the enemy is being undermined by forcing young people, people who are perfectly healthy, perfectly able to fend off Covid, and are required to have the vaccine."
In addition to opposing Section 716, the administration also announced opposition to another provision in the NDAA that exempts service members from the vaccine mandate if they have had prior COVID-19 infection.
"The Administration also strongly opposes section 720, which would create a new and overly broad exemption from the vaccination requirement for previous infection that would undermine the effectiveness of the requirement," the White House stated.
That statement appears to stand in contrast to documented evidence indicating that natural immunity arising from prior infection provides similar, if not greater, protection to the virus than does a vaccine.