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Congress could soon end the military's vaccine mandate under pressure from Republicans

Democratic leadership in Congress is considering allowing the GOP-led legislation to move forward, potentially as part of a must-pass defense bill, sources tell NBC News.
Image: A pedestrian walks past the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington on Nov. 7, 2022.
Some Republicans in Congress want to use the annual defense spending bill to repeal the Covid-vaccine mandate for military service members. J. David Ake / AP

WASHINGTON — Congress could soon end the military's Covid-19 vaccine mandate.

Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate are considering allowing a Republican bill to suspend the mandate to advance, two Republican aides and one Democratic aide familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The bill, as it is currently written, would direct the Secretary of Defense to end the Biden administration directive for active duty and reserve component servicemembers, two of the aides said.

Republicans are expected to file the bill as early as Monday and it could be included as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress must pass by the end of the year. The exact language of this bill is in flux and is still being negotiated, the sources said.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said Monday the administration is aware that Congress is considering repealing the mandate, noting that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin opposes such a move. President Joe Biden "concurs" with Austin and "continues to believe that all Americans including those in the armed forces should be vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19," Kirby said.

"This remains very, very much a health and readiness issue for the force," he added.

Austin instituted the vaccine mandate, which applies to all service members on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard, in August 2021.

Republicans have been highly critical of the mandate and the repeal legislation has long been in the works by Republicans on both the House and Senate Armed Services Committee.

The bill is unrelated to a separate pressure campaign by some Republican senators, who last week said they would drag out passage of the NDAA unless the vaccine mandate was repealed.