Senate votes to block Biden vaccine mandate, which has already hit roadblocks in court

The Senate voted Wednesday to block President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate on private employers in the latest blow to his push to flex federal power to boost vaccinations in the U.S.

The measure to block the mandate heads to the Democratic-held House. It faces a tougher path to passage in the House, and the Biden administration has threatened a veto if it reaches the president’s desk.

Because the mandate itself has a slim chance of becoming law, the measure to overturn it will have little practical effect. A federal court has already halted the administration’s Covid vaccination and testing requirements for private businesses with 100 or more employees.

Even so, the vote underscores resistance to the Biden policy even among Democrats who represent red states. It reflects the White House’s struggle to increase U.S. vaccinations and booster shots as the highly mutated omicron variant — which has shown the potential to evade protection offered by a two-dose vaccine regimen — starts to gain a foothold around the country.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer denounced the plan on Wednesday. He said blocking the mandate would damage U.S. efforts to contain the pandemic as a potentially more infectious variant gains hold.

The worst thing we can do is to tie our own hands behind our backs, and let these new variants spread and grow and new ones after omicron and so many others. But that is what Republican-pushed, anti-vaccines would do, he said.

The vast majority of Democrats in the House will oppose the measure and it may not see a vote. Even so, if it came to a vote only four House Democrats would need to defect for it to get through both chambers.

At a time when COVID is on the rise, a new variant is on the loose, and more Americans are choosing to be vaccinated, it makes no sense for Congress to reverse this much-needed protection of our workforce, OMB said in a statement.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit forced the Biden administration to halt implementation and enforcement of its vaccination and testing requirements last month. Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt, in an opinion for a three-judge panel, said the Biden policy was fatally flawed and raised serious constitutional concerns.

More than two dozen lawsuits have been filed in federal courts across the country challenging requirements. Republican attorneys general, private businesses and national industry groups such as the National Retail Federation, American Trucking Associations and National Federation of Independent Business want the requirements overturned. Labor unions have sued to expand the policy to cover smaller businesses and protect more employees.

The Justice Department asked a multidistrict litigation panel last month to consolidate the litigation in a single court through random selection. The consolidated case was transferred to the U.S Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Ohio, which has a Republican-appointed majority.

The Biden administration asked the Sixth Circuit to reinstate the vaccination and testing requirements, warning that delaying the policy would cost lives and increase hospitalizations. The Justice Department filed the motion on Nov. 23, only days before the heavily mutated omicron variant came to the world’s attention.

Simply put, delaying the Standard would likely cost many lives per day, in addition to large numbers of hospitalizations, other serious health effects, and tremendous expenses. That is a confluence of harms of the highest order, the Justice Department argued in its motion.