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GOP Risks Gov't Shutdown Over Mandates 12/02 06:13

   The federal government could be heading for a temporary shutdown, with 
Republicans poised to stall a must-pass funding bill in their effort to force a 
debate in Congress on rolling back the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine 
mandates for some workers.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The federal government could be heading for a temporary 
shutdown, with Republicans poised to stall a must-pass funding bill in their 
effort to force a debate in Congress on rolling back the Biden administration's 
COVID-19 vaccine mandates for some workers.

   Conservative Republicans in the House and Senate who are opposed to Biden's 
vaccine rules want Congress to take a hardline stand against the mandated 
shots, even if it means shutting down federal offices over the weekend. But not 
all Republicans are on board. One GOP senator after another left a private 
lunch meeting Wednesday voicing concern they will be blamed for even a short 
stoppage of the federal government that will not play well with the public.

   Friday is a government funding deadline and the Republican objections -- 
particularly in the Senate, where any single senator can hold up proceedings to 
stall a vote -- could delay passage of legislation needed to keep federal 
operations running.

   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer opened the chamber saying Democrats are 
prepared to support the funding bill and urging Republicans not to engage in 
shutdown politics.

   "Our Republican colleagues, meanwhile, can either work with us to move the 
process quickly through the chamber, or they can engage in obstructive tactics 
that will make a government shutdown almost a certainty," said Schumer, D-N.Y.

   Political backlash over the Biden administration's coronavirus vaccine 
mandates has been building for months. The White House sees the vaccinations as 
the quickest way to end the pandemic that has claimed more than 780,000 deaths 
in the U.S. Wednesday sparked fresh fears, with the country's first detected 
case of a troubling new variant. During the last government shutdown battle in 
September, Republicans also tried to halt the vaccine mandate.

   As the political arguments mount over slapping vaccine requirements on some 
groups of workers, so too have legal challenges. Courts have been knocking back 
the Biden administration's vaccine mandates -- including a ruling this week 
blocking enforcement of a requirement for some health care workers.

   For some Republicans, the court cases, along with their own worries about a 
potentially disruptive government shutdown, are shifting them away from 
engaging in a high-stakes shutdown.

   "One of the things I'm a little concerned about is: Why would we make 
ourselves the object of public attention by creating the specter of a 
government shutdown?" said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a party leader.

   On Wednesday, one Republican, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, made the case to his 
colleagues to link the effort to halt the vaccine mandates to the spending bill 
during a private lunch meeting at the Capitol.

   The idea is to have the Senate vote to strip funding from the Occupational 
Safety and Health Administration to implement the Biden administration's 
requirement that private employers with 100 or more workers ensure they are 
vaccinated or regularly tested, senators said.

   Lee appears to have backing from a few senators and hardline Republicans in 
the House. "This is a chance to correct a wrong," said Sen. Roger Marshall, 
R-Kan., who launched a similar effort against vaccine mandates during the last 
government funding battle.

   But among most other Republican senators, enthusiasm for a shutdown ran thin.

   "I just hate to see a shutdown -- shut down the government -- because people 
have been through a lot," Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said while exiting the 
lunch session.

   Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters that with the new coronavirus 
variant: "There's too much chaos in our country right now, too much concern 
about omicron. The last thing we need is more confusion and fear."

   Minority leader Mitch McConnell has been opposed to the shutdown strategy, 
according to a Republican granted anonymity to discuss private conversations. 
He did not say a word during the private lunch, but publicly McConnell has been 
upbeat that there will be no shutdown of the federal government.

   "We're going to be OK," McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters in the halls of the 
Capitol.

   The Biden administration has pursued vaccine requirements on several groups 
of workers at it seeks to get more shots in arms to crush the virus, but the 
effort is facing one setback after another in legal cases.

   This week, a federal judge blocked the administration from enforcing a 
coronavirus vaccine mandate on thousands of health care workers in 10 states. 
Earlier, a federal appeals court temporarily halted the OSHA requirement that 
employers with 100 or more workers ensure they are fully vaccinated.

   The administration has previously implemented policies requiring millions of 
federal employees and federal contractors, including military troops, to be 
fully vaccinated. Those efforts are also being contested in federal courts.

   Polling from The Associated Press shows Americans are divided over Biden's 
effort to vaccinate workers, with Democrats overwhelmingly for it while most 
Republicans are against it.

   Some Republicans prefer an effort from Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., to simply 
vote to reject the administration's mandates in a congressional review action 
expected next week, separate from the federal funding fight.

   From the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki was confident the government 
funding bill would be approved by Congress and routine federal operations would 
not shut down this weekend.

   "We have every confidence they will move forward and prevent the government 
from shutting down," Psaki said.

   She was highly critical of Republicans seeking to prevent the mandates from 
going into effect.

   "These supporters of the former president are advocating for shutting the 
federal government down, so that 20% of the public who are refusing to get 
vaccinated or tested can be free to infect their coworkers, our children, 
filling hospitals," Psaki said. "They want to shut the government down in order 
to advocate for people to assert that on society."

 
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