U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, others look to end military vaccine mandate

Nov. 30—U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C, could be one of 13 Republican senators to delay a final vote on a bill that would recommend fully funding the pit production facility at the Savannah River Site until until the Senate votes on an amendment ending the Department of Defense's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Graham, South Carolina's senior senator, was one of 13 senators to sign a letter authored by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to the Republican Senate leadership expressing their opposition to invoking cloture on the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

The National Defense Authorization Act is one component of how the Department of Defense receives its funding. The act recommends funding levels and establishes policies on spending. The funds are provided in Department of Defense appropriation bills.

In the Senate, invoking cloture is the limitation of consideration of debate on a matter to 30 hours. A vote of three-fifths of the Senators is required to invoke cloture.

The Senate is the last stop before the bill heads to President Joe Biden for a signature.

The House voted 329-101 to approve the 2023 NDAA on July 14. U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., was one of 149 Republicans and 180 Democrats to vote in favor of passage.

Wilson said the act builds upon the two-site solution for nuclear pit production by including full funding for ongoing operations at the Savannah River Site.

"It also establishes a framework to manufacture 80 war reserve plutonium pits with requirements for 30 pits at Los Alamos and 50 pits at the Savannah River Site," Wilson continued. "This is the best way to manage the cost, schedule and risk of such an important undertaking. "

Paul said the Department of Defense's COVID-19 vaccine mandate has ruined the livelihoods of men and women who have honorably served their country in the letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., Republican Conference Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo.,

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued direction to the secretaries of each military branch to begin implementation of vaccination programs for unvaccinated members of the military on Aug. 25, 2021.

"While the Department of Defense certainly must make decisions that will bolster military readiness, the effects of the mandate are antithetical to readiness of our force, and the policy must be revoked," Paul wrote. "The United States simply cannot afford to discharge our brave men and women in uniform and lose the investments we have made into each and every one of them due to an inept bureaucratic policy."

The letter says around 3,400 members of the military have been discharged as of April for refusing to get vaccinated, that it costs around $65,000-$90,000 to bring someone into the military and train for initial job, and that military recruitment is down 23% from annual targets.

"Therefore, due to costs and recruiting challenges, losing thousands of troops due to their vaccination status is a readiness issue that the DOD should take seriously," Paul said.

The other senators to sign onto the letter are Sens. Rick Scott, R-Fla., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Mike Braun, R-Ind., Dr. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo.