The Senate voted Wednesday night to overturn President Biden's COVID-19 vaccine rule and testing requirements for private businesses.
The final tally was 52-48 as Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana joined all Republicans in voting in favor of rescinding the requirements. Lawmakers, through the Congressional Review Act, have the power to overturn federal agency rules within a certain timeframe with a simple majority vote in both the House and the Senate. Under the law, if the House follows the Senate and passes the bill, the president may sign it - allowing the rule to be rescinded - or veto it, which would enable the rule to stand.
The resolution now goes to the Democratic-controlled House where the path to passage is murky. White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday said the president would veto the bill if it were to reach his desk.
Manchin said on Monday that a vaccine rule should be implemented for government employees and contractors who interact with government employees, but that he'd prefer to see a process to "incentivize" private sector employees, rather than punish them. Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana has led the effort and initiated the congressional review process to rescind the rule.
The Biden administration and public health officials view the vaccine and testing requirements for private employers with more than 100 employees as a critical way to halt the COVID-19 pandemic. Several lawsuits filed in mostly GOP-led states seek to overturn the rule, arguing it is unconstitutional to require private employers with more than 100 employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly tests. A federal appeals court subsequently halted the requirement in November and a consolidated case encompassing all of the federal challenges to the private vaccine requirement now sits before another appeals court, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Before the vote Wednesday, Republican senators held a press conference.
"I am pro-vaccine, but I am anti-mandate," GOP Senator John Barrasso said. "And that's because I believe the mandate is a massive overreach by the government and a massive mistake. And at this point, clearly the courts are agreeing with what we are trying to do."
Multiple Republican senators share Barrasso's view and reiterated their support for the vaccines and disapproval of the requirements to be vaccinated.
"Encouraging and requiring are two different things," said Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. Ahead of the vote, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut defended the vaccine and testing requirements for private employers and criticized Republicans for their rhetoric surrounding the requirement.
"We understand the power of our words in this place," Murphy said on the Senate floor. "Republicans know that when they come down to the floor and attack the vaccine mandate day after day after day, they know they are giving fuel to the fire of the anti-vaccine campaign."
United Airlines Holdings, Inc. CEO Scott Kirby enforced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for his employees and nearly all of United's employees are now vaccinated. Kirby told CBS Mornings in October that United instituted a vaccine requirement "from a principle of just doing the right thing for safety."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday morning accused his Republican colleagues of pushing an "anti-science, anti-vaccine proposal."
"My friends, America, we are in the middle of a public health crisis," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "Everyone sees the damage it causes to themselves, their friends, their families, their communities. And the way to solve this is to be driven by science."