WASHINGTON — A group of ultra-right-wing Republicans in the House is pushing to briefly shut down the federal government at the end of this week over COVID vaccine mandates.
The House Freedom Caucus is sending a letter to Senate Republicans on Wednesday “encouraging them to take every step necessary” to delay a measure funding the government after Friday’s deadline until they get a commitment that Congress won’t fund the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates, Rep. Chip Roy said.
“As you know, the current government funding mechanism expires on Friday night, thus the Senate Republican conference enjoys important leverage against those mandates,” the House Freedom Caucus wrote in the letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell obtained by BuzzFeed News. “We therefore write to request that you use all procedural tools at your disposal to deny timely passage of the CR unless it prohibits funding — in all respects — for the vaccine mandates and enforcement thereof.”
The plan would likely be short-lived if it happens: With Democrats in control of the House and Senate, and McConnell saying he’s uninterested in a shutdown, it’s likely that a short-term funding measure will be agreed to soon. But because of procedural rules, it’s possible the group of Republicans will be able to delay the process and trigger a short shutdown if they get enough Senate support. Republican Sen. Mike Lee suggested to Politico on Wednesday that he was on board with the move, saying he “can’t facilitate” a funding resolution “without addressing the vaccine mandates.”
It’s so far uncertain how many Republicans back the plan. McConnell told reporters on Tuesday that “nobody should be concerned about a government shutdown.” And the plan does not seem to be a priority of the majority of the Republican caucus — a source in the room for Wednesday morning’s House Republican conference said the funding question didn’t even come up.
Roy told BuzzFeed News that the "entire Freedom Caucus" supported the funding fight against vaccine mandates.
"We've got the Senate with significant numbers of senators that are having this conversation, had a serious conversation about this at their lunch yesterday in the entire Senate Republican Conference," Roy said. "And I think this is an opportunity for both Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy to demonstrate leadership when we need it."
The push against President Joe Biden’s mandates comes as courts continue to delay their implementation. A federal judge on Tuesday at least temporarily blocked a mandate for healthcare workers, which had been scheduled to start next week. And it also comes as uncertainty spirals around the Omicron variant, which could complicate the global effort to fight the coronavirus.
Some Republicans have already begun pushing false conspiracy theories about the variant. Rep. Ronny Jackson — former president Donald Trump’s onetime doctor — tweeted over the weekend that the variant was somehow a way for Democrats to “cheat” next year’s midterm elections.