A small group of conservatives led by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is pushing for an up or down vote on funding President Joe Biden's federal vaccine mandate ahead of Friday's deadline to fund the government.
In what should by now be a familiar story, Congress must pass a short-term government funding bill by Friday, or else the government will shut down. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives struck a deal on Thursday to keep the government open, but the Senate could pose an obstacle to passing the funding bill.
Lee and a handful of other Senate Republicans are threatening to delay the funding bill past Friday's midnight deadline unless they are granted a vote on an amendment to defund the president's vaccine mandate.
Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Lee said a number of senators are "not inclined to give consent to expedite a funding measure that supports and funds President Biden's unconstitutional and sweeping vaccine mandate without holding a vote on that mandate." Without their support, the government may shut down.
If the government shuts down for an extended period of time, federal workers may be furloughed and certain non-essential government services, like national parks, will be suspended.
Lee offered an alternative to a shutdown by asking for a simple majority vote on funding Biden's vaccine mandate, calling his suggestion a "reasonable solution."
"I'm not asking that a poison pill or pet project be included. I'm not asking for dramatic reforms or draconian cuts, far from it," Lee said. "I just want a vote on one amendment. I want the members of this body to go on record on whether they support funding in this bill President Biden's vaccine mandate."
"The American people have a right to know through our votes where we stand," he added.
The mandate, which Biden announced in September, orders companies with more than 100 employees to require that their workers get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be regularly tested for the virus. The administration estimated that the requirement would impact more than 80 million Americans, and any company that refused to comply could face steep fines.
However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration suspended the mandate in October in response to a federal court order, after at least 27 states filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Biden's order.
The Senate Republican conference is divided on Lee's strategy. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) are with Lee. But other GOP senators do not want to risk a government shutdown over BIden's vaccine mandate, especially because the administration has already suspended the order.
“There was not full agreement, that’s for sure,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told Politico Wednesday after the Republicans discussed the issue during a lunch meeting. "Shutdowns almost never work out," he said.
Politico reported that most of the conference is opposed to the idea of fighting Biden's vaccine mandate in the government funding bill.
“I just don’t quite understand the strategy or the play of leverage for a mandate that’s been stayed by 10 courts,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). "I want the vaccine mandates lifted, but I don’t think the [spending bill] is the tool to do it. For all practical purposes, the mandates weaken every single day.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, Lee's colleague from Utah, is among those opposed to the effort.
"It smacks of virtue signaling when the courts have already put a stay on it and when the Biden administration isn’t enforcing a vaccine mandate on federal employees," Romney said Thursday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is also opposed to any talk of a government shutdown.
“We’re not going to shut the government down,” he told Fox News Thursday. "That makes no sense for anyone. Almost no one on either side thinks that’s a good idea.”