U.S. Senate Republicans were poised on Wednesday to try to up-end Democratic President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine and test mandate for private businesses, in a legislative push that appeared to have enough support from Democrats to succeed.
Republican Senator Mike Braun was expected to appear on the Senate floor to set up a vote for later in the day, under a law that allows Congress to overturn executive orders, an aide said.
The legislation, which would overturn administration rules ordering larger private businesses to require vaccinations or coronavirus testing for millions of workers, was likely to pass the Senate but would face strong headwinds in the House of Representatives and a threatened presidential veto.
The measure quickly drew partisan fire on the Senate floor.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat, blamed “anti-vaxxers” for the effort, which he likened to “what happened 400 years ago when people were clinging to the fact that the Sun revolved around the Earth.”
“We are in the middle of a public health crisis. Everyone sees the damage it causes,” Schumer said in a speech. “The way to solve this is to be driven by science.”
The chamber’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, branded the Biden mandate as an “illegal” and “absurd” government effort to micromanage the lives of private citizens. “This is not how things work in our country, period,” McConnell said.
The measure is not subject to Senate rules that require 60 of the 100 members to agree on most legislation, meaning it could pass with just a 51-vote simple majority. Two Senate Democrats — Joe Manchin and Jon Tester — have voiced support for the bill.
If passed, it would face an uphill battle in the Democratic-controlled House. The White House has also warned that Biden could veto the measure.
The initiative, along with a similar Republican effort that failed in the Senate last week after risking a government shutdown, underscores the intense political opposition facing administration efforts to combat COVID-19, at a time when health officials are trying to contain the highly contagious Omicron variant.
On Tuesday, a U.S. judge in Georgia blocked a Biden vaccine mandate aimed at federal contractors.
The United States has the world’s highest daily average of new coronavirus infections. The virushas infected 49.5 million Americans and killed more than 794,000, according to the Reuters COVID-19 Tracker.
The White House said in a statement on Tuesday that employers would face no burden from the mandate because the vast majority of American adults are fully vaccinated and the rule exempts small businesses.