The Senate is expected to vote as soon as Wednesday to nullify President Biden’s vaccine mandate for large employers, giving Republicans a big symbolic victory.
Republicans say they expect the resolution will pass with at least 52 votes after centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) announced their support for the proposal. Every single Republican senator will vote for it.
The Congressional Review Act (CRA), which was enacted in 1996, sets up a fast-track process in the Senate that allows the minority party to force a vote on a resolution to disapprove of a federal rule. The CRA, however, does not have a fast-track process for the House.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday he isn’t worried about a few Democratic defections on the vaccine mandate.
“The position to me is pretty clear and that is that the more people that are vaccinated, the safer America will be, and we should encourage everything we can do to do it. That is the overwhelming view of the president and of the vast majority of Democrats,” he said.
The Senate’s anticipated passage of the resolution will set up a battle in the House, where Republicans plan to circulate a discharge petition to force Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to schedule a vote on the resolution.
“I’m hoping to get another two or three Democrats on board,” the lead Senate Republican sponsor of the proposal, Sen. Mike Braun (Ind.), told The Hill Tuesday before he knew that Tester would back the proposal.
Tester on Tuesday said he was not a fan of vaccine mandates for private employers even though he supports mandates for health care workers and members of the military.
“The basis of my decision is we don’t like mandates, and quite frankly, I heard a lot from my business community that they didn’t like — workability was bad,” he said.
Manchin announced last week that he would vote for the Republican resolution, even though he just voted to defeat an amendment to a short-term government funding measure that would have barred the use of federal funds to implement Biden’s vaccine mandate.
Braun said there’s a good chance House Republicans will get enough signatures on a discharge petition to force a floor vote in that chamber.
Every Republican would sign the petition, Braun suggested, “so I think we just need five or six Democrats over there” to sign it.
Braun noted “there are 30 [Democrats] in swing districts that are going to have to” take a hard look at signing the discharge petition.
If the resolution passes both the Senate and House, Biden is expected to veto it. Republicans don’t have anywhere near the two-thirds majorities they need in both chambers to override the president.
But Braun said Biden’s vaccine mandate would suffer a major political blow if bipartisan majorities in both chambers vote to overturn it.
“He’s going to have a very tough time if it does become bipartisan in both chambers. Then he’s saying, ‘Hey, my bad idea, I’m digging even deeper on it.’ ”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday downplayed the significance of the Democratic defections.
“The president has a great relationship with Sen. Tester, one with Sen. Manchin, and he has always had constructive and open dialogue with both of them,” she said.
Psaki also said Biden would veto the disapproval resolution if both chambers approve it.
“Our view and the view of many Americans is that if people aren’t vaccinated, having them test once a week is quite reasonable as we’re thinking about how to protect our workplaces, how to protect stores and retail locations as people are out shopping for Christmas and the holidays, how to protect schools and public places. And we also know that more than 100 leading public health experts have endorsed this rule,” she said.
“If it comes to the president’s desk, he will veto it,” she added.
Republican proponents of the resolution point to polling that shows an overwhelming percentage of Americans do not support employers firing workers who refuse to get vaccinated.
An Axios-Ipsos poll published in late November showed that only 14 percent of employed Americans support firing workers who refuse to get vaccinated.
Opinion on Biden’s vaccine mandate more generally, however, is split.
A Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday showed that 50 percent of voters say they favor Biden’s vaccine requirements for employers with 100 or more workers, while 47 percent oppose the president’s mandate.
Several federal courts have already issued rulings to halt Biden’s mandate, with the latest coming Tuesday when the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia said the president’s vaccine requirement for federal contractors exceeded his authority.
Federal Judge R. Stan Baker, a Trump nominee, ruled that Biden’s mandate will have “a major impact on the economy at large, as it limits contractors’ and members of the workforce’s ability to perform work on federal contracts” and would have “vast economic and political significance.”
A federal judge in St. Louis last month halted Biden’s mandate for medical workers, ruling that “Congress did not clearly authorize [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] to enact this politically and economically vast, federalism-altering, and boundary-pushing mandate, which Supreme Court precedent requires.”
This week’s vote on the CRA resolution to repeal Biden’s vaccine mandate is a tough one for Democrats facing reelection in battleground states, such as Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).
All of these Democrats have already voted twice to defeat amendments to government funding measures to defund Biden’s mandate, but this week’s vote is significantly different. Previously, Democrats could argue like Manchin did last week that they did not want to risk a government shutdown by adding a rider that Biden would likely veto.
Now they will vote on the vaccine mandate as a stand-alone issue and don’t have political cover from party unity as two Democrats have already signaled their intention to vote with Republicans.
Kelly, one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents, said he is “looking at the legislation” and declined to say how he would vote.
Braun said he estimates that “70 percent” of the voters in Arizona do not support Biden’s vaccine mandate on private employers.
Morgan Chalfant contributed.