The Senate voted Wednesday to overturn Joe Biden's vaccine-or-test mandate for private businesses.
Two Democrats joined the GOP opposing the mandate, but the resolution is unlikely to pass the House.
The Biden administration insists the policy is needed to slow the coronavirus pandemic.
Every Republican US senator and two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana — voted Wednesday to overturn President Joe Biden's vaccine-or-test mandate for private businesses with more than 100 employees.
Biden announced in September that the Department of Labor's Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration would require large companies to ensure all their employees were fully vaccinated by January 4 or have them tested on a weekly basis and masked in the workplace.
Wednesday's vote is all but certain to fail in actually reversing the policy, however, as the measure lacked veto-proof support and is unlikely to pass in the House at all.
Conservative Senate Democrats side with Republicans
Many opponents of the private-employer mandate, including GOP lawmakers, have misleadingly framed the rule as a strict vaccine mandate. In reality, the policy allows companies to decide whether their employees can opt out of vaccination and instead be tested on a weekly basis.
Republicans and some Democrats, however, argue the vaccine and testing mandates will hurt the economy and American workers and amount to federal overreach. Several Republican state attorneys general sued to overturn the policy last month, and an appeals court ordered OSHA to suspend the policy.
While Republican lawmakers largely say they are pro-vaccine, some are also downplaying the severity of the coronavirus pandemic. Sen. Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican who has led the effort to repeal the rule, claimed without offering evidence that there were minimal risks of COVID-19 transmission at the workplace.
"Hardly any transmission is occurring at the business level or what you do during the day," Braun said during a press conference Monday.
At Wednesday's GOP press conference, Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas warned there would be an "economic shutdown," "brownouts," increasing inflation, and other hardships if the mandates were enforced.
But Democrats — including some who are viewed as politically vulnerable — largely argue that increasing vaccination rates is essential to protect the economy and workers at risk of contracting the virus in the workplace.
"I think it's important that, for the purposes of Nevada's economy, we keep our businesses and people safe, and the only way we're going to do that is make sure we either get people vaccinated or a test," Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who is up for reelection in the battleground state of Nevada in 2022, told Insider on Wednesday. "People have the ability to test."
Democrats also warn that COVID-19 hospitalization rates in their states are simply unsustainable and say vaccination is the only way out of the crisis.
"In New Hampshire, we have the highest rate of transmission of any state in the country," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen told Insider. "Our hospitals are at capacity, our healthcare workers are overworked, and we need to make sure that people get vaccinated."
Despite his home state governor's recent criticism of the policy, Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan told Insider he was voting against repealing the OSHA rule because he was "tired of having a pandemic of the unvaccinated."
"I have no tolerance for people who — unless they have legitimate objections — are not getting vaccinated," he said.
"I have long said we should incentivize, not penalize, private employers whose responsibility it is to protect their employees from COVID-19," Manchin said in a statement, announcing that he would cosponsor the measure.
"I mean, I'm vaccinated, my staff's vaccinated, my family's vaccinated," Tester told Insider on Wednesday. "The reason I'm doing this is because I've heard from businesses that it's really hard."
Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, both facing potentially tough reelection battles next year, declined to tell Insider how they would vote when asked Wednesday.
Both ultimately voted against the measure.
Full vaccination status in the US calls for either a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Beginning this week, employers are required to provide paid time off for their employees to get vaccinated and sick leave if they need time to recover from side effects of the shot.
The OSHA rule for private employers is distinct from more stringent federal mandates for healthcare providers, Medicare and Medicaid providers, and federal government contractors.
Republicans and other critics also argued that those who had recovered from COVID-19 were protected through so-called natural immunity and should be exempt from getting vaccinated.
While studies have found that a COVID-19 infection provides some immunity, those who are vaccinated appear to have stronger protection against reinfection. OSHA has said it's not workable to exempt people who've been infected.
Republican lawmakers argued that enforcing workplace rules would only harden opposition to the vaccines. But the mandates have significantly increased the number of vaccinated people in recent months. Still, Republicans insist that workers are being unfairly punished.
"If you want to earn a paycheck in America, you have to get vaccinated," Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming said, "but if you want to sit at home and collect a welfare check under Joe Biden's economy, then it doesn't matter to him whether you're vaccinated or not."
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