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With the Biden administration still pursuing COVID-19 vaccine mandates nearly three years after the start of the pandemic, House conservatives are gearing up for a battle over those mandates from the position of a potential 2023 GOP majority.
The House Freedom Caucus says it plans to make that fight one of its central issues, especially the military mandate. And members say they’ll use their leverage over must-pass spending bills to force the hands of President Biden, Democrats and their own party leadership.
“In every single spending fight, of which there will be numerous ones … the vaccine mandate … will become a central issue of negotiation,” House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry, R-Pa., told Fox News Digital.
Perry said he believes the military vaccine mandate is a “national security” issue, due to declining recruitment. He criticized the Defense Department for allegedly not handling religious exemption requests in good faith.
“Punishing our incredible service members because they declined to take an unproven, experimental vaccine was totally wrong,” Rep. Lauren Boebert. R-Colo., told Fox News Digital. “In the majority, conservatives will make it a priority to end federal COVID vaccine mandates, reinstate these brave men and women, and ensure they’re made whole.”
Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, said he believes the military mandate is particularly egregious because the military is made up largely of healthy young people. He demanded that Congress fight to give “back pay” and “active duty jobs” to anyone discharged for the vaccine mandate.
A House GOP leadership source said Republicans, including leadership, will aim to use mechanisms like the National Defense Authorization Act or government funding bills to roll back vaccine mandates. This will be on top of aggressive investigations into entities like the CDC over their COVID response, the source said.
But the GOP leadership source said those efforts may be more effective with a GOP Senate to shift political pressure to the Biden administration in the event of a funding showdown. And there may be only so far Republicans can go, particularly if things like military salary or border patrol operations are at stake, the source said.
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said about whether GOP leadership will actually press hard on funding bills. Roy ripped into any Republicans who would cite military or border patrol as a reason to vote for an unfavorable funding bill.
“That is straight up bulls—,” Roy said. “Don’t allow Republican leadership to hide behind the military and border patrol and cops to say we have to write a blank check for the bulls— attacking American people.”
The margin of a House GOP majority may be key for how much leverage Freedom Caucus members like Roy have in 2023 or how much leeway top Republicans have in trying to push through funding bills over their objections.
But R Street Institute senior fellow for governance James Wallner said such debate is healthy for the party and the country.
“Leadership is in a different position than the Freedom Caucus. They have a different job to do,” Wallner said. “I would argue both jobs are absolutely essential.”
He added: “You need the Freedom Caucus to push and hold the leadership’s feet to the fire. You need the leadership to do the difficult task of forming coalitions and getting people who don’t always agree … to come along and actually get those votes.”
The November elections are still a few months away, and political headwinds appear to be shifting in Democrats’ direction.
But amid inflation and a recession, most political observers believe Republicans have a strong chance of taking back the House, setting up a possible showdown between House conservatives and leadership.