Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall on Wednesday threatened to allow the government to shut down unless Democrats remove funding to enforce the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate, using a fast-approaching deadline as leverage to draw attention to one of his top policy issues.
Government funding is set to expire Friday.
“Does Sen. Schumer want to shut down the economy?” Marshall said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Does he want to create brown outs? Does he want to threaten national security? So as long as he makes sure we don’t fund that unconstitutional mandate, we’ll be ok.”
Democratic and Republican leaders are in the process of negotiating a deal to keep the government funded into next year. When they reach an agreement, it will have to pass both the House and the Senate before funding expires on December 3.
Marshall is among a group of conservative senators who are threatening to draw out the process unless there is language in the bill, or an amendment, that prevents government money from being used to enforce the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for private employers.
In order to quickly vote on the bill, the Senate would have to use a procedure called unanimous consent. If any Senator were to object, it would delay a vote on the bill and cause the Senate to miss their Friday deadline.
The gambit has the potential to cause a political backlash. While Democrats have control of the House of Representatives and a narrow majority in the Senate, Schumer is already attempting to put the blame for any potential shutdown firmly on Republican shoulders, branding it as a “Republican government shutdown.”
“I hope they see the light quickly and not cause a needless Republican government shutdown,” Schumer said. “If every member of this chamber used the threat of a shutdown to secure concessions on their own interests, that would lead to chaos for the millions and millions of Americans who rely on a functioning government.”
Senate Republicans are divided about whether to use the government funding bill to prevent enforcement of the Biden mandate, which directs businesses that employ more than 100 people to require that their workforce is either vaccinated or tested weekly. It goes into effect January 4.
Already, mandates have been blocked in several federal district courts. On Tuesday, federal judges halted the mandate in Kentucky and Louisiana. On Monday, a federal judge stayed a vaccine rule for health care workers in Missouri, part of a lawsuit supported by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
In November, Marshall spearheaded a letter signed by 14 other conservatives declaring they would do everything within their power to prevent funding for enforcing the mandate.
Still, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has appeared confident that the government will not shut down.
“We won’t shut down,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “I think we’ll get there and certainly nobody should be concerned about a government shut down.”
On Wednesday, he reiterated that the government won’t shut down saying “I think we’ll be ok,” according to his office.
This is the second time Marshall has tried to use a government funding bill to block enforcement of the vaccine mandates. In September, he sponsored an amendment that would have prevented the government from enforcing the mandate. It failed on a party line vote.
On Wednesday, Marshall signaled he would be open to a Senate vote on an amendment once again, setting up a similar scenario. An agreement to vote on an amendment would potentially avoid a government shutdown, as it would allow a vote to happen before Friday’s deadline.
“We don’t want to shut down the government. We don’t want to do that,” Marshall said. “But I don’t want to lose my jobs back home.”
Marshall, a physician who likes to go by the nickname “Doc,” has been an adamant opponent of the federal vaccine mandate. The new push comes with news Wednesday that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected in the United States, in a vaccinated person who had traveled to South Africa.
Vaccination has become a politically polarizing issue across the country as the pandemic has unfolded. Republicans are less likely to have gotten the vaccine than Democrats and polling in September showed that Republicans were more likely to oppose Biden’s vaccine mandate than Democrats.
Marshall is among several Republican Senators who is vaccinated and encourages people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But as the Republican base has pushed back against vaccine mandates, senators have been quick to draw the distinction between supporting the vaccine and supporting a mandate.
“I’m pro-vaccine. It’s possible to be pro-vaccine and anti-mandate,” Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt said Tuesday. “It’s a mandate that is going to create more job openings and less ability to fill shelves in grocery stores or deliver things around the country or to take care of people at hospitals.”