President Joe Biden signed an $847 billion defense policy bill on Friday that includes a provision repealing the COVID vaccine mandate for the military.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) sets funding priorities and policy for the U.S. military over the next year. Republicans negotiated a clause repealing the Department of Defense’s COVID vaccine mandate for military members, in part building solid bipartisan support for the legislation approved by Congress earlier this month.
Biden put out a statement on Friday announcing the NDAA’s signing. The president approved the bill despite the White House’s opposition to several of its elements, including the removal of the vaccine mandate.
The White House noted in Biden’s statement that “certain provisions of the Act raise concerns.” The repeal of the vaccine mandate was unmentioned. Instead, the White House focused on aspects of the act that Biden said placed concerning or unconstitutional restrictions on the president’s authority. Several sections mentioned blocked funding for the White House to transport Guantanamo Bay detainees to other countries or the United States to stand trial.
“Section 1033 of the Act continues to bar the use of funds appropriated to the Department of Defense to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainees to the custody or effective control of certain foreign countries. Section 1031 of the Act likewise would continue to prohibit the use of such funds to transfer certain Guantánamo Bay detainees into the United States,” Biden said.
“It is the longstanding position of the executive branch that these provisions unduly impair the ability of the executive branch to determine when and where to prosecute Guantánamo Bay detainees and where to send them upon release,” he added.
Republicans have criticized Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin since his August 2021 decision to make the COVID vaccine mandatory for military service members. Austin and the Biden administration continued to claim the mandate’s necessity to military readiness as lawmakers haggled over the NDAA.
“We lost a million people to this virus,” Austin said earlier this month. “A million people died in the United States of America. We lost hundreds in DOD. So this mandate has kept people healthy.”
GOP Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rick Scott of Florida argued that firing military members over their COVID vaccine decision is a far larger military readiness problem than unvaccinated members in the military.
“It is outrageous that the U.S. military is firing young service members who choose not to get vaccinated,” the pair wrote in a Fox News op-ed earlier this month.
“The United States simply cannot afford to discharge our brave men and women in uniform and lose the investments we have made into each and every one of them due to an inept bureaucratic policy,” they said.
The NDAA does not prohibit Austin from instituting the vaccine mandate through another order, according to POLITICO.