The Senate on Wednesday voted to nix President Biden’s vaccine mandate for larger businesses, handing Republicans a symbolic win. Senators voted 52-48 on the resolution, which needed a simple majority to be approved. Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) voted with Republicans, giving it enough support to be sent to the House.
The resolution faces an uphill path in the House, where Republicans aren’t able to use a similar fast-track process to force a vote over the objections of Democratic leadership. Instead, Republicans are hoping to get the simple majority needed to force a vote through a discharge petition, which will require support from a handful of House Democrats.
But Republicans view Wednesday’s Senate vote as a significant win, and it’s the first time they’ve been able to use the Congressional Review Act to successfully get a resolution targeting a Biden rule through the Senate.
The rule, published through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), orders businesses with at least 100 employees to require that their workers to get vaccinated or undergo regular testing by Jan. 4.
But Republicans believe that it constitutes federal government overreach and violates American workers’ civil liberties.
Sen. Mike Braun (Ind.), who spearheaded the GOP resolution, said that Americans should get vaccinated “unless they have a good reason” but called the vaccine requirement an “ultimatum” that has “mainstream America scared.”
“That is the heavy hand of government, that is overreach and that is my phone started ringing off the hook,” he said. “I hope that members in the House, Democrats in places, check with your constituents.”
Manchin and Tester both voted for the GOP resolution on Wednesday after they joined all other Democrats last week in voting against defunding the mandate as part of the short-term funding bill.
Manchin argued in a statement that the federal government “should incentivize, not penalize, private employers whose responsibility it is to protect their employees from COVID-19.”
Tester added this week that he’s not “crazy about mandates.”
Biden’s vaccine mandate for larger businesses has run into several court challenges.
In November, the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit temporarily blocked, or stayed, the rule, calling it “fatally flawed” and ordering that OSHA not enforce the requirement “pending adequate judicial review” of a motion for a permanent injunction.
The Biden administration moved late last month to try to restart the requirement, arguing that “delaying this standard would endanger many thousands of people and would likely cost many lives per day.”
“With the reopening of workplaces and the emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant, the threat to workers is ongoing and overwhelming,” a government lawyer added.
An Axios-Ipsos poll published in late November showed that only 14 percent of employed Americans support firing workers who refuse to get vaccinated.
But 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.
Even if the GOP resolution gets a vote in the House, the White House has warned that Biden will veto it. Neither chamber has the two-thirds majority required to override a veto.
“We certainly hope the Senate, Congress, will stand up to the anti-vaccine and -testing crowd, and we're going to continue to work to implement these. If it comes to the president's desk, he will veto it,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “We've got a new variant, and cases are rising. President's been clear. We'll use every tool to protect the American people, and we hope others will join us in that effort,” she added.
Democrats blasted the GOP resolution ahead of Wednesday’s vote, noting it came amid concerns about the new omicron COVID-19 variant.
“The worst thing we can do is to tie our own hands behind our backs and let these new variants spread and grow and new ones after omicron and so many others. But that is what Republican-pushed, anti-vaccines would do,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“I will strongly vote against this measure, with strong feelings about what’s good for this country and about fighting anti-science and theories that seem to, as I said, come from the same place that the flat Earth theory came from, that the theory that the sun revolves around the Earth came from,” he added. “We ought not give it a stamp of approval in this chamber.”