NewsBreak: House passes defense bill scrapping COVID vaccine mandate

As a repeal of the US military’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate took a step closer to becoming law on Thursday, military officials and experts are warning it’s a change that could have adverse ripple-effects on military readiness and the ability of service members to deploy around the world.

“This isn’t just our side of the equation,” a defense official told CNN regarding the possible impact of the change. “It’s what our partners and people that we would train and work with are asking us to do to enter the country.”

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bill to rescind the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for members of the U.S. military and provide nearly $858 billion for national defense passed the House on Thursday as lawmakers scratch off one of the final items on their yearly to-do list.

The bill provides for about $45 billion more for defense programs than President Joe Biden requested, the second consecutive year Congress significantly exceeded his request, as lawmakers seek to boost the nation’s military competitiveness with China and Russia.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 350-80. It now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass easily, then to the president to be signed into law.

To win bipartisan support for the bill, Democrats agreed to Republican demands to scrap the requirement for service members to get a COVID-19 vaccination. The bill directs Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to rescind his August 2021 memorandum imposing the mandate. Only days earlier he voiced support for keeping the mandate in effect.

Rep. Adam Smith, Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told colleagues that the decision to impose the vaccine mandate was the right call at the time.

“It saved lives and it made sure that our force was as ready as it could possibly be in the face of the pandemic,” Smith said.

But, he said the directive only required the initial vaccination and by now that protection has worn off.

“It’s time to update the policy,” Smith said.

Republicans said the mandate hurt recruiting and retention efforts. Rep. Mike Rogers, top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said he intends in the next Congress to examine who was adversely affected by the mandate, “so we can try to revisit that and make them whole to the extent desirable.”

More than 8,000 active-duty service members were discharged for failure to obey a lawful order when they refused the vaccine.

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