The measure passed under the Congressional Review Act, which requires only 51 votes instead of the typical 60 votes. It offered Republicans the rare opportunity to bring up and pass legislation, and they did so with the help of two Democrats. All 50 Republicans were joined by Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana in voting to block the mandate, handing President Joe Biden a rare rebuke from the Democratic-led Congress.
“Today, this body will stand up against this overreach,” Sen. Mike Braun, a Minnesota Republican, said.
Republicans have been railing against the mandate for weeks — even as the requirement has faced significant court challenges.
Biden issued vaccine mandates for federal and private workers earlier this year, arguing the shot is the best weapon against the virus and its numerous variants, most recently omicron.
Court challenges have been successful , however, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has put the private company mandate on hold for now.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who suffered from polio as a child, blasted the Biden mandate ahead of the vote.
“Trust me, there is no bigger proponent of vaccination,” McConnell said. “But the United States of America is a free country. The federal government, elites in Washington, cannot micromanage citizens’ personal choices without a legitimate basis in the law and the Constitution. And that goes double for presidents going far beyond the bounds of their office and their authority.”
The effort to block the mandate is likely to end at the Senate chamber doors, however.
The measure heads to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a vaccine mandate proponent, plans to ignore it. Pelosi has tagged the GOP as “anti-vaxxers” who do not believe in the science behind the shot.
While it won’t become law, the Senate vote sent a strong message that the mandate is unpopular with many people, businesses in particular.
OSHA issued the mandate under Biden’s orders in November. It requires employers with 100 or more workers to require employees to get the vaccine or submit to weekly testing for the virus.
Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, called the GOP-led resolution “dangerous” and said it would undermine the administration's efforts to eradicate the vaccine.
“We should be using every tool to protect our country, the economy, and our families,” Murray said.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, noted the death toll topping 700,000 since the virus first surfaced in the United States in March 2020.
Workers have the option of getting regular testing if they do not want the vaccine, he said, adding that OSHA requires workers to submit to other tests associated with their jobs.
“This is a testing requirement, not a vaccination requirement," which he said “is totally consistent with the history of OSHA.” Manchin said he backs vaccine mandates for federal workers but not for private businesses, which he said should not be penalized over the vaccine but should instead be provided an incentive to get the shot.
Tester issued a statement ahead of the vote explaining his decision to support reversing the mandate.
“Over the past few months, I’ve repeatedly heard concerns from Montana’s small business and community leaders about the negative effect the private business vaccine mandate will have on their bottom lines and our state’s economy," Tester said. "That’s why I intend to join a bipartisan majority of my colleagues in defending Montana jobs and small businesses against these burdensome regulations."