However, senators also rejected a provision in the bill that would have required the Defense Department to reinstate service members who were kicked out of the military for refusing the jab.
The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is must-pass annual legislation funding the Defense Department, needed 60 votes for cloture but failed to get even a simple majority. Senators voted 54 to 40 against it.
For many areas of the government, as the Biden administration sought in its early months to weed out any pro-Trump stragglers embedded in the government, the vaccine mandates proved to be a convenient idealogical litmus test.
This was particularly the case in the U.S. military, where Biden may have feared a coup by servicemembers following his heavily disputed installment in the White House. He quickly implemented a series of woke policies to discourage conservatives from enlisting by pushing mandatory critical race theory discussions and new incentives for transgender troops—policies that had little or nothing to do with military readiness.
Even as it became clear that vaccine mandates were neither legally sustainable nor necessary with the waning of the coronavirus pandemic, Defense officials insisted on keeping them intact as a way to force troop compliance and submission to the will of their superiors.
But prior to the passage of the NDAA, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., were among several Republicans who pushed for the amendment to reinstate troops, arguing that the 8,400 service members discharged as a result of the vaccine mandate deserved their jobs back.
“The removal and reprimand of our service members during the largest land war in Europe since World War II, while in the midst of a recruiting crisis, may very well be the most irrational decision made by a sitting president,” Cruz said in a statement, adding that his amendment would be a “significant victory for every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine out there willing to defend our country, as well as their families.”
Democrats argued that those former service members violated a direct and lawful order and must be held accountable.
“The service members who refuse to do that and who were discharged from service, that’s the way it has to work in the military,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said last week.
“Orders are not optional in the United States military,” he continued. “And if Congress expresses the opinion that they are, I cannot imagine anything that would more significantly undermine the good order and discipline within our military.”
The NDAA now heads to Biden’s desk, and he is expected to sign it, though the White House has refused to say for sure whether Biden would veto it over the provision ending the vaccine mandate.