The U.S. Department of Defense is halting all actions relating to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate after President Joe Biden signed a bill—the Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—that includes an end to the mandate, the department said on Dec. 23.
“The NDAA requires that, not later than 30 days after enactment, the Secretary of Defense rescind the mandate that members of the Armed Forces be vaccinated against COVID-19. As a result, the Department will rescind the mandate and is currently in the process of developing further guidance. During this process, we are pausing all actions related to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” a Pentagon spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email.
“The health and readiness of our force are crucial to the Department’s ability to defend our nation, and Secretary Austin continues to encourage all of our Service members, civilian employees, and contractor personnel to get vaccinated and boosted to ensure the readiness of our total force,” the spokesperson added.
Biden earlier Friday signed the NDAA despite stating previously that he opposed ending the mandate, and the White House indicating at one point that the president might veto it.
In a signing message, Biden did not mention the end of the mandate but did say he found several parts of the bill concerning.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a Biden appointee, imposed the mandate in August 2021 and has kept it in place even as the effectiveness of the vaccines has plummeted against both infection and severe illness since the Omicron variant began circulating later that year.
Pentagon officials had declined in recent days to comment on the bill, noting that it had not been finalized yet. Military members have been wondering what will happen to them.
The bill also requires the secretary of defense to submit to the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee a recurring report regarding the vaccine mandate. The report shall include the number of religious exemption requests that were lodged and denied, and the reason for the denials.
Each military branch has rejected the bulk of religious exemption requests and discharged some members who saw their requests denied. Judges have blocked three of the branches from discharging such members, finding that the military violated federal laws including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act with its treatment of religious members seeking accommodation.
Austin’s first report is due within 90 days of the bill’s enactment.
Biden listed multiple provisions he opposes, including one that bars using Department of Defense-appropriated funds to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees to the control of certain foreign countries, and the bill also prohibits the funds from transferring some of the detainees to the United States.
“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. In some circumstances, these provisions could make it difficult to comply with the final judgment of a court that has directed the release of a detainee on writ of habeas corpus, including by constraining the flexibility of the executive branch with respect to its engagement in delicate negotiations with foreign countries over the potential transfer of detainees. I urge the Congress to eliminate these restrictions as soon as possible,” Biden said.
The president also opposed other parts of the legislation that require the president and other officials in the Executive branch to submit reports to congressional committees. The requirements will expose highly sensitive classified information, Biden said.
A separate portion of the bill requires presidential designees to share information with congressional officers.
“The congressional findings in section 7201 of the Act make clear that the information-sharing in question is designed to ensure that the Congress has information concerning cybersecurity and counterintelligence threats to the Congress itself,” Biden said. “I therefore construe the requirements of section 7201 of the Act to be limited to information-sharing related to such cybersecurity and counterintelligence threats to the legislative branch.”
The House and Senate both passed the legislation earlier this month in bipartisan votes. It clocks in at $858 billion.
Multiple members praised the bill.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who saw several of his bills, including the Taiwan Policy Act, included, said the bill would “make our world a safer place!”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-Conn.) said the defense funding legislation would combat fentanyl trafficking, boost domestic supply chains, and further assist Ukraine in its war with Russia with another $800 million for Ukraine.
“I’m proud to have shaped the new annual defense law,” she said.
Opponents of the legislation said that it contained unnecessary spending, such as the Ukraine aid.
“The 2023 NDAA is bloated and contains woke elements that do not enhance military readiness,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said.
Source: The Epoch Times