Sen. Joe Manchin III, a key swing vote for President Biden’s legislative agenda, is refusing to rule out supporting a GOP effort to defund the White House’s vaccine mandate in exchange for keeping the government open.
Mr. Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, argued Thursday he was still “working” through the situation and had yet to make a decision on the topic.
“I’ve been very supportive of a mandate for the federal government [and] for the military,” he said. “I’ve been less enthused about it in the private sector.”
Mr. Manchin’s refusal to rule out the possibility could pose a major problem for Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
At the moment, five GOP senators are threatening to use an arsenal of legislative procedures to delay consideration of a short-term funding bill meant to keep the government open past Friday.
The Republicans say they will stop obstructing passage of the bill if Democrats agree to strip out funding for enforcement of Mr. Biden’s vaccine mandate.
“President Biden is waging a cruel campaign to punish unvaccinated Americans,” said Sen. Roger Marshall, Kansas Republican. “My colleagues and I will use all means at our disposal to make sure no American has to choose between jab or job.”
Provided the opposition holds, Mr. Schumer will have to wait at least two days to break a filibuster on the bill depending on its introduction. If the effort succeeds, which by all estimates it will, the Senate will then debate the legislation for at least 30 hours before a final vote.
The time frame puts lawmakers well past the Dec. 3 deadline, meaning the earliest the bill could pass would be over the weekend or next Monday. All of that is contingent upon whether the five Republicans use other procedural motions to prolong the debate.
Mr. Marshall, a physician serving his first term in the Senate, said the GOP senators would end their opposition if the funding bill specifically includes language to prohibit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from enforcing the vaccine mandate.
He added such a provision could be added into the bill on the floor of the Senate using the amendment process. For that compromise to be acceptable, the amendment would have to pass by a simple majority, rather than the more conventional 60-vote threshold, Mr. Marshall said.
“We’re not okay with the 60-vote threshold. We’ve already been down that road … where all 50 Republicans stuck together,” he said. “I think this should be a 50-vote threshold.”
If Mr. Marshall and his allies succeed in their efforts to have the amendment pass via a simple majority, then Mr. Manchin’s vote could be crucial.
It remains to be seen how the West Virginia Democrat will vote if the opportunity arises. Earlier this year, Mr. Manchin opposed a similar amendment made by Mr. Marshall.