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Roger Marshall’s effort to block vaccine mandates fails, Senate averts government shutdown

·4 min read
Senator Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican (Greg Nash/Associated Press file photo)

Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall’s attempt to block enforcement of several Biden administration vaccine mandates fell short Thursday night, ending a dramatic standoff in the U.S. Senate that could have resulted in a shutdown of the federal government.

Senate Democratic and Republican leadership came to an agreement to allow a vote on an amendment that would defund several COVID-19 vaccine mandates, so long as Republican Senators did not delay a vote on a resolution to keep the government funded through the end of the year.

It needed 51 yes votes to pass an evenly divided Senate. It got just 48.

Marshall was one of of 15 senators who in November pledged to try to stop legislation funding the government unless it included language blocking enforcement of the Biden administration rule directing private businesses with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations or weekly negative tests.

As Congress sputtered toward Friday’s midnight deadline to pass legislation funding the government through the end of the year, Marshall — along with Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas — stayed true to their promise.

In order quickly vote on a funding resolution, the Senate needed approval of all 100 members. Marshall told the gaggle of reporters that followed him Thursday he would not agree without a vote on an amendment to defund enforcement of the vaccine mandates. He called it an effort to save Kansas jobs.

With a large poster of union workers from Topeka in the background, Marshall said on the Senate floor he was attempting to protect people from being fired.

“This is an opportunity to right a wrong, for each member in this body to right a wrong,” Marshall, who was wearing a tie with characters from the comic strip Peanuts, said. “Let’s give employers certainty and employees peace of mind that they will still have a job this new year.”

Under a new state law, the chances someone in Kansas will lose their job over the vaccine mandate appear slim.

Before Thanksgiving, the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature passed a bill, signed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, that grants wide latitude for those who claim a religious exemption from vaccination and prohibits businesses from questioning those religious claims.

Moreover, anyone still fired despite the broad exemptions is eligible for unemployment benefits.

The Biden administration has also halted enforcement of the mandate, which was blocked by several federal courts as it makes its way through the judicial system. The mandate was originally not slated to go into effect until January 4.

While many medical professionals support mandates as a way to increase vaccination rates and defend against hospitalization and death from more severe forms of COVID-19, Marshall, a physician, has adamantly opposed them.

“It’s a political status thing for him. He sees that maybe he can get political capital from it. But I think we should spend our time on other issues,” said Kansas state Sen. John Doll, a Garden City Republican who voted against the mandate bill that passed the state Legislature.

As the funding deadline neared on Thursday, Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican of Utah, said the group would allow the bill to move forward if the Senate took a vote on an amendment preventing the enforcement of a mandate.

The new plan hinged on a hope that some Democrats — like Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia — had changed their minds since September, when there was a vote on a similar amendment to an earlier funding bill.

While the amendment only needed 51 votes to pass, several Republican Senators were not in the building Thursday, which guaranteed Marshall, Lee and Cruz would not have the votes they needed to revise the bill.

“I am glad that in the end cooler heads prevailed and the government will stay open,” said Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a speech on the floor prior to the vote.

The funding bill, called a continuing resolution, keeps the government open through February 18, when Congress will either have to pass another resolution or several appropriations bills to set new funding levels.

This is unlikely to be the last vote over COVID-19 mandates. Marshall has been working to get a vote on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would guarantee an honorable discharge to anyone fired for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

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