Conservatives offer shutdown offramp in exchange for vaccine mandate vote

A group of Senate conservatives are demanding a simple-majority vote on their push to defund President Biden’s vaccine mandate for larger businesses in exchange for agreeing to expedite a short-term government funding deal.  

The push by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) comes as Congress has until the end of Friday to pass a funding bill to keep the government open and prevent a shutdown. Because of Senate rules, and the time crunch, any one senator can force the chamber to miss that deadline. 

The three GOP senators said on Thursday that they are willing to help speed up the funding bill, which would keep the government open through Feb. 18, if Senate leadership agrees to hold a vote on their proposal to defund Biden’s mandate as an amendment to the funding bill. 

That vote, conservatives say, would have to be at a simple majority, meaning they would just need to peel off one Democratic senator to get it into the bill. 

“I’ve offered a very simple solution, a very reasonable solution. … I just want to vote on one amendment,” Lee, who up until Thursday had been publicly tightlipped about his thinking, said during a Senate floor speech.

“A simple up-or-down, yes or no, a simple-majority vote. That’s all I’m asking. … We’re providing every opportunity to avoid a shutdown,” he added.  

The Senate took a similar vote during the debate over the last short-term government funding bill, but Republicans failed to get it into the bill. Every GOP senator voted for the amendment at the time, but they failed get any Democratic votes and needed support from three-fifths of the Senate to get it into the September funding bill. 

Lee, after his floor speech, said that the amendment had to be at a simple majority, not a 60-vote threshold.  

His position is backed up by the other conservative senators pushing for a vote in exchange for expediting the government funding bill. 

“I would accept an amendment to vote on it on a simple-majority threshold,” Cruz said, while suggesting that he would still vote against the short-term government funding bill if the amendment isn’t included.

Marshall added that he, Lee and Cruz will be talking to leadership about how to get an amendment vote. 

“Sen. Lee, Sen. Cruz and myself will be talking with leadership and seeing what that amendment opportunity looks like,” he said. 

“We’re not OK with a 60-vote threshold. We’ve already been done that road,” he added. 

Democratic leaders haven’t yet said if they are willing to give the conservatives a vote on their amendment at a simple-majority threshold.  

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned earlier Thursday that if there was a government shutdown, Republicans would be blamed. 

“Unfortunately, it seems Republican dysfunction could be a roadblock to averting an unnecessary and dangerous government shutdown,” he said.

Republicans indicated after a closed-door lunch that the standoff with Lee remained unresolved. One GOP senator told The Hill that Republicans are trying to convince Lee to back down on his demand for a vote and instead use next week’s vote on Biden’s vaccine mandate, which Republicans are able to force under the Congressional Review Act, as a substitute.

But, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), during a Fox News interview, predicted that there wouldn’t be a shutdown and poured cold water on the conservative threat to shut down the government over Biden’s vaccine mandate. 

“I don’t think shutting down the government over this issue is going to get an outcome. It would only create chaos and uncertainty, so I don’t think that’s the best vehicle to get this job done,” he said.

Updated at 3:06 p.m.

Tags Chuck Schumer government funding Joe Biden Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Roger Marshall Ted Cruz vaccine mandate

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