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Senate Republicans divided on effort to shut down government over vaccine mandates

While party leaders maintained their optimism a shutdown would be averted, a trio of senators threatened to force the issue.

WASHINGTON – Some Republicans are increasingly concerned about the political ramifications if some conservative senators shut down government to crusade against Covid-19 vaccine mandates.

The intraparty clash pits most of the Republican Senate caucus against a trio of members: Senators Mike Lee of Utah; Ted Cruz, from Texas; and Roger Marshall of Kansas, who insist that the Senate vote on a provision to block vaccine mandates.

“While 96 percent of Republicans don’t want to have it, it will be Republicans who will be blamed for it. And that’s very unfortunate,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, RS.D., who argued that Democrats want the Republican Party. . suffer the political pain. “Some of my Republican colleagues are playing into their hands. And if we have a shutdown, it could be a prolonged shutdown.”

Democrats see that demand as unsustainable. President Joe Biden, who has hailed vaccines as the way out of the pandemic, is unlikely to sign a bill reversing his terms. Shutting down the government would halt non-essential services but, if the administration has its way, it is unlikely to stop agencies currently responding to the pandemic.

Forcing the government shutdown to pressure Democrats to pass policies they would not otherwise support is a tactic Republicans have tried without success before, especially in 2013 under a Cruz-led effort to block the Health Care Act. At low price.

This time, the three Republicans are outnumbered in their own party. But to avoid a shutdown, the Senate will need unanimous approval, which means a single lawmaker can delay the process and drag it beyond the Friday night deadline.

The House appeared ready to pass the bill, which would keep the government funded until February 18, Thursday afternoon. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell maintained his optimism, telling reporters that a shutdown would be avoided: “We’re not going to do that.”

Still, when Senate Republicans gathered for lunch Thursday, there was little indication that the three senators pushing the vaccine provision would back down. Lee said he wants a vote on the amendment with a “simple majority” threshold.

Cruz stood firm and said that “annoying” politicians should not demand that people receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

“I think it’s wrong. It’s an abuse of power. It’s threatening the jobs of millions of Americans,” he said.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., Said he, too, opposes the vaccine mandate, but called the effort by Cruz and others a fruitless exercise that could cause unnecessary harm.

“If I thought this would stop the mandate, I would consider this measure. But it is not,” he said. “I have argued against shutting down the government. I think it is going to unnecessarily scare our people.”

“Do I think this is good policy? No,” he said.

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana, said Democrats have been struggling to pass their own priorities and that if there is a shutdown, it could “change the dynamics of history” to the detriment of the Republican Party.

“When it comes to shutting down the government for a particular reason, we usually end up with balls in our faces,” Braun said. “Regardless of the merits of the case, they blame us for it.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Said his goal is “to get something done” and that the fact that the courts suspended the term is “appropriate.” Other Republicans noted that they may use a separate vehicle in the Senate to try to block the vaccine’s mandate.

The tactic evokes the 2013 government shutdown, which was also prompted by demands by Cruz, then a senator in his first term, to block the Affordable Care Act by demanding that it be included in a funding bill. required. It led to a 16-day government shutdown and did not achieve the goal. Polls showed Republicans took the brunt of the blame, though that didn’t stop them from winning big in the following year’s midterm elections.

Cassidy said he hopes a shutdown, if it happens now, will be shorter, noting that the Senate could wait for right-wing objectors.

“The weekend is over. There are essential services that will continue, and those are the only ones that will continue into the weekend,” he said. “And by Monday, no one will notice the difference.”

Marshall’s predecessor, Pat Roberts, a Republican who served in the chamber for 24 years and retired in January, visited the Capitol on Thursday and sought to talk him out of it.

“It’s always counterproductive. It’s a loser,” Roberts told NBC News. “I just told Roger. I said get off that. Make your point, but you don’t want to shut the government.”

“There’s some kind of a strange notoriety that some new members get: ‘Oh, man, if I could just make my point by shutting down the government, wow,'” he said. “You make virtually everybody mad at you.”

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