Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has taken aim at President Joe Biden's COVID mandate, saying he supports legislation that would overturn the requirement for employers to ensure staff are vaccinated or tested.
Manchin, a key Democratic vote in the evenly divided Senate, made the comments in a statement on Thursday following a deal to prevent a shutdown of the federal government.
The employer mandate is already on hold following a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on November 12. Some Republicans opposed to vaccine mandates had appeared ready to delay a vote on a stopgap funding bill, but a deal was reached to allow the vote to go ahead and prevent a possible government shutdown.
The mandate orders businesses with 100 or more employees to require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or receive weekly tests.
Manchin's statement said: "In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and as the new Omicron variant emerges, I will not vote to shut down the government for purely political reasons. There is too much at stake for the American people."
The senator went on: "But let me be clear, I do not support any government vaccine mandate on private businesses. That's why I have co-sponsored and will strongly support a bill to overturn the federal government vaccine mandate for private businesses.
"I have long said we should incentivize, not penalize, private employers whose responsibility it is to protect their employees from COVID-19. I have personally had both vaccine doses and a booster shot, and I continue to urge every West Virginian to get vaccinated themselves."
The primary sponsor of the bill Manchin mentioned is Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) and it has the support of several other Republican senators, including Utah's Mitt Romney, Kentucky's Rand Paul and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham. The bill was introduced on November 17.
As part of the deal to fund the federal government, the Senate also voted on a Republican amendment that would have prohibited the use of federal funds for the implementation or enforcement of vaccine mandates. This amendment failed 50 to 48.
Biden's employer mandate was heavily criticized in the November ruling from a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit court based in New Orleans.
The administration's vaccine mandate efforts suffered further legal blows this week, with a federal judge in Louisiana halting a nationwide mandate for certain health care workers on Tuesday. On Monday, the same health care worker mandate was blocked in 10 states by a federal judge in Missouri. A separate mandate for federal contractors was put on hold by another federal judge in Kentucky hours earlier.
The administration will appeal the rulings.