President Biden has signed into law this year’s annual defense policy bill despite his opposition to a Republican-led measure included in the bill that repeals the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for military members, a rule put in place under his administration.
Mr. Biden, who signed the bill with little fanfare Friday, touted the crucial benefits for service members and critical Pentagon authorities contained in the $847 billion National Defense Authorization Act, but noted his concern for several provisions outlined in the bill.
The final bill, which historically has come with a string of policy riders, includes a 4.6% pay raise for military members, $800 million in additional security assistance for Ukraine and $10 billion in security assistance to Taiwan to thwart a potential Chinese invasion.
Among the president’s concerns is language barring the use of Pentagon funds to transfer detainees held at Guantanamo Bay — a perennial fight that has played out within the NDAA’s text for years over Democrats’ push to close the Global War on Terror-era facility.
“It is the longstanding position of the executive branch that these provisions unduly impair the ability of the executive branch to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo Bay detainees and where to send them upon release,” Mr. Biden said. “I urge the Congress to eliminate these restrictions as soon as possible.”
Mr. Biden also raised what he said are constitutional concerns contained in the bill, including provisions outlining executive branch reporting requirements to Congress.
The White House had called the vaccine repeal a mistake, but dodged questions about whether Mr. Biden would veto the massive bill as a result.
Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre this week ended speculation over whether the president would sign the bill into law.
“Clearly the president was opposed to rolling back the vaccine mandate, but we saw Republicans in Congress would rather fight against the health and well-being of the troops,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said.
She noted that more than 98% of active duty troops are vaccinated, meaning most of the military is already in compliance with the mandate.
The president made no specific mention of the Republican-led rebuke of his vaccine mandate in his statement accompanying the bill signing Friday.
Lawmakers backing the repeal, however, were quick to chime in.
“I am glad President Biden has decided to sign the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act into law with my measure to repeal the COVID vaccine mandate,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, said Friday. “Our military should be focused on confronting the New Axis of Evil — not woke political mandates.”
In addition to the vaccine mandate, Democrats and Republicans came together to add $45 billion to the Pentagon budget for 2023 — a rebuke of Mr. Biden’s much lower initial request, which many lawmakers argued failed to keep pace with inflation.
The final text also includes a hard-fought green light for the Navy to continue the development of its nuclear-tipped, sea-launched cruise missile program recently scuttled by the administration.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle lauded this year’s 4,400-page NDAA as proof of Congress’ ability to work across the aisle on a measure that has attracted bipartisan support on Capitol Hill annually for some six decades.
“For 62 consecutive years, the NDAA has served as the foundation of our national security priorities, fulfilling Congress’ sacred obligation to provide for the common defense of the American people,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington state Democrat, said Friday.
“This year’s bipartisan bill builds on this tradition by nurturing the underlying sources of our national strength: our people, our economy, our alliances and partnerships, and our democracy,” he said.