A group of Republican senators threatened to withhold support from the annual defense appropriation bill unless there’s a vote on ending the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for members of the military.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has stepped up to lead the charge on this effort.
“Congress should take action and we are talking action,” Paul said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “We will not vote to get on the NDAA the Defense Authorization Bill unless we have a vote on ending this military vaccine mandate.”
The amendment the group is proposing would prohibit discharges from the military solely because of COVID-19 vaccination status. It would also reinstate service members who refused the vaccine and offer them back pay.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., a Navy veteran and serves on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said it's an issue the Department of Defense (DOD), should take seriously as the military struggles to recruit members.
“On top of that, we need to do an assessment of how the DOD and the Coast Guard have implemented this policy of religious exemptions,” Scott said at the press conference.
The Pentagon imposed the COVID-19 vaccine requirement in Aug. 2021, saying it was the best way to protect service members from the virus.
By April, the Pentagon said that nearly 3,400 service members were discharged because they did not get the shots.
A group of lawmakers wrote a in letter to Republican leadership that the mandate is harming recruitment.
“Look, I’ve been vaccinated and I’ve had COVID ... I’ll recommend from my point of view you get vaccinated," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "We’re having a dilemma, and that’s finding people to serve in the military. Our recruiting goals are way short. The conflict in the world is getting worse, not better. We need more people in the military, not less."
On Wednesday, Paul said that the group was about halfway toward its goal of getting the support of the 41 senators needed to block the legislation. So far, no one in Republican leadership has joined them.
Paul said without the support of Republican leadership many people within his caucus "will not have the strength or wherewithal to support this.”
In the House, top ranking Republican Kevin McCarthy of California expressed his support for the group.
"The Covid vaccine mandate in the military is wrong," he wrote on Twitter. "Our heroes have been fired. Our country is less safe. I told the President directly—it’s time to end the mandate and rehire our service members."
When reached out to for comment, the Department of Defense said it "does not comment on pending or proposed legislation."