Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn is renewing her push to end the firing of U.S. service members who have refused to take a COVID-19 vaccine under the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate.
The Tennessee lawmaker said Wednesday that protecting the troops is her top priority as Congress reconvenes in its lame duck session to consider the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – a must-pass spending bill that funds the military and other national security programs. Blackburn is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and has introduced two bills to protect service members from being discharged by President Biden’s COVID-19 policies.
“We’re continuing to push this. When you have a military that is not meeting either its recruitment numbers or its end strength numbers, then it is imperative that we look at this,” Blackburn told Breitbart News in an interview.
“We are reaching out to different members trying to make certain that they are fully aware of what we are trying to do, and working with leadership to make certain that we protect the men and women in uniform,” she said.
About 8,000 active-duty service members have been discharged from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps since Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin imposed the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in August 2021. Blackburn’s office noted in a press release Tuesday that the Army has only approved 55 religious exemptions for active duty soldiers, one exemption of a National Guard soldier, and one for an Army reserve soldier.
In October, the Army reported a 25% recruitment shortfall, missing its target by about 15,000 soldiers. Opponents of the vaccine mandate have cited the policy as a contributing factor to depressed military recruitment, but the Army has noted that only 23% of 17- to 24-year-olds in America are eligible for service due to failing test scores, obesity rates, concerns over sexual harassment in the military and bountiful employment opportunities as civilians.
Blackburn said that continuing to discharge service members for refusing to get a COVID-19 shot amid historic recruitment shortfalls is nonsensical.
She has introduced two pieces of legislation that would amend the NDAA. The first, introduced in July, would prohibit federal funds from being used to enforce the vaccine mandate against a member of the National Guard. The second, put forward in September, would limit COVID-related seperations until recruiting benchmarks are met and guarantee that service members applying for religious and health exemptions from the vaccine mandate continue to receive pay and benefits.
Blackburn argued that the military vaccine mandate is ineffective because some who receive the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots are still susceptible to breakthrough infections.
“You can get the COVID vaccine, but it does not prohibit you from getting COVID. And this has been proven time and again from people who have been double-vaxxed and boosted, but they still come down with COVID,” she told Breitbart News.
“To dismiss these men and women in the military, in the Guard, in the reserves, at our academies because they did not get a shot, is ridiculous. And it’s imperative that we stand up and protect our men and women in uniform,” she added.