government shutdown

Will Republicans Force a Government Shutdown to Fight Biden’s Vaccine Mandate?

Kansas senator Roger Marshall got the ball rolling on a shutdown threat with an open letter last month. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Government-shutdown threats have become as common a phenomenon for the holiday season as eggnog, guilt gifting, and the maddening echoes of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” In large part, that’s because Congress now routinely misses the September 30 deadline for enacting annual appropriations bills, forcing temporary stopgap spending measures that usually extend into December. But it also reflects the seasonal spirit of hostage taking, in which lawmakers from one or both parties leverage the possibility of a holiday government shutdown (never a good look) to extort various policy concessions from their colleagues.

So it’s no huge surprise to read in Politico Playbook that a group of conservatives in both congressional chambers is plotting to force at least a brief government shutdown at the end of this week to protest or even stop the implementation of Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates for larger private employers.

The gambit is exquisitely timed. The general sense in Washington over the past few days has been that the two parties were close to agreement on the length of a stopgap spending bill (until mid- or late January) to take effect on December 3, when the last such stopgap spending bill expires. But thanks to congressional procrastination on reaching an agreement, enactment of the new stopgap would require expedited procedures adopted by unanimous consent in the Senate — hence the leverage available to the relative handful of anti-vaxx-mandate zealots willing to annoy the nation to get their way.

How many of these zealots are there? Enough to cause trouble, per Politico:

It is unclear how many Senate conservatives are publicly willing to follow through on the shutdown threat. But 15 signed a letter spearheaded by Sen. ROGER MARSHALL (R-Kan.) in early November vowing to “use all means at our disposal” — including invoking Senate procedures to gum up the works — to block passage of a continuing resolution that doesn’t stop implementation of a vaccine mandate. Technically, all they need is one senator to object in order to push past Friday’s midnight deadline, and several are already discussing this issue.

THE GROUP HAS BACKUP FROM THE HOUSE: In a meeting Tuesday night, the House Freedom Caucus voted to pressure Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY to take a harder line on the so-called continuing resolution unless Democrats strip out funding to enforce the mandate.

Various elements of Biden’s vaccine-mandate initiative are already being delayed by courts that are hearing challenges to its constitutional and statutory foundations. But defunding it would bring the program to a halt. So how does this play out? If the Republican gambit works, the Democrats controlling Congress will likely go through the steps needed to enact the stopgap measure after a brief shutdown, ending the drama. But still: It’s striking that a significant number of congressional Republicans are willing to shut down the government to achieve this goal at a time when the Omicron variant has the whole world jittery about a new COVID-19 surge. It shows the salience of the vaccine-mandate issue on the right and the power of the anti-vaxxers at the heart of it. How Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy deal with the shutdown threat will tell us a lot about where the GOP as a whole stands on COVID-19 and how much or how little control these leaders have over their own restive right-wing troops.

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Will Republicans Shut Down Government Over Vaccine Mandates?