President Joe Biden signed Congress’ annual defense bill for 2023 into law Friday, giving his approval to a bill that overturns his own administration’s mandate that servicemembers must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2023 authorizes $858 billion in spending on energy programs, the military and procurement, $45 billion more than the Biden administration’s initial request.
Biden expressed concerns over several provisions of the act in a statement Friday but made no mention of a GOP-sponsored item overturning the Department of Defense’s service-wide vaccine mandate, despite the administration’s robust opposition to the provision.
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“The Act provides vital benefits and enhances access to justice for military personnel and their families, and includes critical authorities to support our country’s national defense, foreign affairs, and homeland security. While I am pleased to support these critical objectives, I note that certain provisions of the Act raise concerns,” Biden said.
The president highlighted a prohibition on closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, as well as provisions that appeared to control or restrict his jurisdiction over the disclosure of classified information, sensitive presidential communications, and the power to represent the U.S. stance on foreign policy matters, as primary areas of concern.
The military vaccine mandate has been the subject of fierce conflict between the DOD, which asserts that full vaccination status is critical to ensuring the readiness of the force, and Republican lawmakers, many of whom argue that the mandate has exacerbated an ongoing recruiting crisis.
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Servicemembers alleging religious discrimination for their commanders’ failures to properly consider religious exemption requests have also taken the mandate to court.
The Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps have discharged at least 8,400 active duty and reserve troops for spurning the Department of Defense’s (DOD) August 2021 requirement that all servicemembers receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to information the DOD provided to the DCNF.
While the bicameral defense bill directs the Pentagon to rescind the mandate, it stopped short of requiring the military to restore discharged troops to their prior positions or provide reparations.
Republican lawmakers previously threatened to oppose the NDAA unless it included language effectively overturning the vaccine mandate, but lost out on demands to reinstate discharged troops, according to Defense News.