Biden under pressure to drop vaccine mandates for federal defense contractors over national security concerns
EXCLUSIVE — Republican lawmakers are pressuring President Joe Biden to drop or pause his vaccine requirements for federal defense contractors over fears they will compromise national security supply chains.
The Washington Examiner reviewed a letter Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville sent to the White House Tuesday afternoon claiming that Biden's "federal contractor vaccine mandate will have negative effects on our national security" and called on the president "to remove — or, at a minimum, delay and clarify — vaccination requirements on private companies and academic research institutions that are actively supporting the Department of Defense."
"I share your desire to see our country through the COVID-19 pandemic as quickly as possible, and, I — like you — have elected to take the vaccine. But your administration’s mandate is short-sighted, ill-conceived, and threatens our national security," Tuberville wrote in a letter sent to the White House on Tuesday. "The American warfighter is ultimately harmed when skilled workers leave the defense contractor workforce, a foreseeable consequence of your order."
Tuberville specifically noted that Alabama alone employed nearly 100,000 federal contractors in 2020, and "more than 5,000 contractors who support the Department of Defense."
"They provide capabilities to the Pentagon that are often difficult to replicate. Losing any sizable share of a small firms’ workforce means a direct reduction in the ‘economy and efficiency’ that your Order purports to seek to advance. When these firms are unable to perform, our country is at risk," he continued. "It is quite possible that your mandate will result in individuals leaving the workforce to avoid the vaccine, thus, resulting in increased worker absences and labor costs, and decreased efficiency. During this time of increasing worry about the technological advances of near-peer adversaries, we should focus on policies that will ensure our national security interests are protected. This order does the opposite."
"We will lose several thousand people," Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes said on CNBC Tuesday. "It’s not just the prime contractors, but it’s also all of our subcontractors that need to follow that mandate as well."
Tuberville's letter follows on the heels of a similar offering from nearly a dozen Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee . On Oct. 22, those lawmakers petitioned the White House and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to suspend the Pentagon's vaccine mandate for contractors over fears that it could lead to military supply chain problems.
"We strongly urge you to reconsider the manner in which you are seeking to address this issue so as not to harm the livelihood of civilian contractors, industry partners, and strategic goals of our armed services," the letter reads. "Those who adamantly refuse the vaccine will accept termination. We will lose critical experience in skilled labor. We will lose opportunities for mentorship and on-the-job training from veteran craftsmen. In the long-term, we will miss quality control standards. We will face endemic cost overruns and rework as decades of lessons are not passed to the next generation."
Roughly 40 of the 690 employees working at United Launch Alliance 's Decatur, Alabama, factory walked off the job Monday over the federal government's vaccine mandates and pledged to continue protesting in the days leading up to the deadline. ULA is a joint venture funded by Lockheed Martin and Boeing that contracts to both the Department of Defense and NASA.
"Since the beginning of the pandemic, the health and safety of the ULA team and everyone in our buildings have been at the forefront of our COVID-19 response. We are monitoring daily White House, Department of Defense, and customer direction to ensure our COVID-19 policies are compliant. We have received multiple contract modifications in the last few weeks that flow firm requirements to the company from our U.S. government customer that require all ULA employees to become vaccinated," a ULA spokesperson told the Washington Examiner. "The COVID-19 pandemic has affected virtually every facet of life over the past 18 months. COVID-19 also is a challenge for our business, a business that is critical to national security and civil space endeavors. ULA decided to require vaccinations to ensure the health and safety of our employees and to align with our U.S. government customer and industry direction. This places ULA in a much better position to meet the nation’s needs and our manifest commitments while protecting the health of everyone at our facilities."
A number of other Republicans, specifically in Southern states, have launched separate broader efforts to combat Biden's vaccine mandates. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott all took executive action prohibiting the implementation of Biden's pending Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule requiring all companies with 100 employees or more to require COVID-19 vaccinations.
Ivey's order, signed the same day Tuberville sent his letter to the White House, will block state agencies from penalizing employees or businesses who do not comply with Biden's vaccination requirements. State agencies must still notify employees and businesses if subject to federal penalties but will make clear that the state does not condone the punishment.
"The federal government’s outrageous overreach has simply given us no other option but to begin taking action, which is why I am issuing this executive order to fight these egregious COVID-19 vaccine mandates,” Ivey added in a statement.
Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn also introduced the Keeping Our COVID-19 Heroes Employed Act on Monday, a piece of legislation that would prevent COVID-19 front-line workers from losing their jobs if they refuse to get vaccinated.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr are also reportedly planning to file a lawsuit against the Biden administration over the president's vaccine mandates, and more than a dozen other Republican-led states have threatened to take legal action.
The White House did not respond to inquiries on the subject by press time, but senior officials have repeatedly characterized vaccine mandate opposition from Republicans as prioritizing individual political prospects over the public health concerns of their constituents.
"Our intention is to implement and continue to work to implement these requirements across the country, including in the states where there are attempts to oppose them," White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated during a briefing in mid-October. "I will say since you gave me the opportunity, Gov. Abbott's executive order, banning mandates and I would also note the announcement by Gov. DeSantis this morning, essentially, banning the implementation of mandates, fit a familiar pattern that we've seen of putting politics ahead of public health."
"I think it’s pretty clear when you make a choice that’s against all public health information and data out there that it’s not based on what is in the interests of the people you are governing. It’s perhaps in the interests of your own politics," she concluded.
Washington Examiner Videos