A group of conservative GOP senators is providing the chamber an offramp of sorts to avoid a government shutdown ahead of a midnight Friday deadline: Allow a straight up-or-down majority vote on an amendment to defund President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The push by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) comes after the House passed a funding bill on Thursday. Despite that, there is some concern among GOP leaders that the upper chamber may not make the deadline if any one of the three sticks to their demand because of the time crunch and Senate rules; any one senator can hold up a vote long enough to miss the midnight timetable.
All three GOP senators said Thursday, however, that they would help quicken the pace of the funding bill — which keeps the government running through Feb. 18 — if Senate leaders agree to vote on their mandate defunding proposal as a separate amendment to the funding legislation.
But the three are demanding that the vaccine mandate vote be a simple majority, which means they would only need one Democrat to pass the amendment.
“I’ve offered a very simple solution, a very reasonable solution. … I just want to vote on one amendment,” Lee said Thursday after keeping his position on the matter close to the vest for days.
“A simple up-or-down, yes or no, a simple-majority vote. That’s all I’m asking. … We’re providing every opportunity to avoid a shutdown,” he said.
The chamber held a similar vote in September during the last short-term funding battle, but while all Republicans voted to strip funding for the mandate, no Democrats joined them and they needed three-fifths of the chamber to approve in order to get it in the legislation, The Hill reported.
Lee is supported by the other two GOP senators.
“I would accept an amendment to vote on it on a simple-majority threshold,” said Cruz, who went on to indicate he may still oppose the government funding measure if the vaccine defunding amendment is not in the final version.
Marshall said that all three senators had planned to talk to the chamber’s leaders about how and if they can get a vote on the amendment.
“Sen. Lee, Sen. Cruz and myself will be talking with leadership and seeing what that amendment opportunity looks like,” he said. But, he added: “We’re not OK with a 60-vote threshold. We’ve already been down that road.”
As for any Democrat support on a simple majority, the three GOP members may be able to count on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). He indicated on Thursday that he is no fan of the vaccine mandate for privately-owned businesses.
Asked on Thursday if he supported the amendment, Manchin told a reporter he was still “working” through the issue, The Hill reported separately.
“I’ve been very supportive of a mandate for federal government, for military … I’ve been less enthused about it in the private sector,” Manchin said.
Most Republicans, however, do not appear to be on board with a shutdown for any reason, claiming that their party will get the blame for it in the media and in doing so, throw Biden a political lifeline at a time when his approval ratings are in the tank.
“I think shutdowns almost never work out very well,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who has already announced his retirement next year, told reporters following a GOP lunch on Wednesday in which the issue was discussed.
Also, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Fox News Thursday that Republicans were not angling to shut down the government and that he believes the mandate is going to continue to be struck down by federal courts.
“Well, I think there’s good news. Multiple courts have pushed the pause button on these government vaccine mandates. There’s a decent chance the courts will strike them down. Secondly, next week we’re going to have a vote on the vaccine mandate, prohibiting that regulation from going into effect. I think it has a decent chance of passing the Senate. I don’t think shutting down the government over this issue is going to get an outcome,” he said.
“It would only create chaos and uncertainty, so I don’t think that’s the best vehicle to get this job done. I think the courts are likely to get it done or we’ll pass [it] early next week freestanding, a measure to overturn the government mandate… We’re not going to shut the government down. That makes no sense for anyone. Almost no one on either side thinks that’s a good idea,” he added.
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