Utah Sen. Mike Lee has joined a group of Senate Republicans who are plotting to use the threat of a government shutdown to defund the Biden administration’s vaccine or testing mandate for some private businesses.
The federal government officially runs out of money on Friday at midnight.
Politico reported Democrats are hoping to quickly pass a stopgap measure to keep the government funded past that deadline, but Lee and several other Republicans plan to object and draw out the process unless Democrats agree to remove funding for enforcement of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate.
In a statement provided to Politico, Lee said he cannot agree to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government without addressing the mandate.
“Given that federal courts across the country have raised serious issues with these mandates, it’s not unreasonable for my Democratic colleagues to delay enforcement of the mandates for at least the length of the continuing resolution,” Lee’s statement read.
Lee signed on to a letter in November vowing to block funding for the federal government that does not stop the mandate.
Senate rules require unanimous agreement from the members to move the funding resolution through rapidly. Only one senator needs to object to gum up the process. A shutdown could extend for several days while the two sides negotiate a compromise.
Sen. Mitt Romney is also opposed to the Biden vaccine or testing mandate for private businesses. Last month he joined a Republican-led formal challenge to the Biden rule.
“The COVID vaccines are safe, effective, and free. And I believe everyone who is eligible for a vaccine should get one. Since the Administration began rolling out vaccine requirements for federal employees and contractors, therapeutics have emerged which yield promising results in preventing hospitalization and death due to COVID. With therapeutics around the corner to treat COVID, the need for an emergency federal mandate is unnecessary,” Romney said in a statement provided to The Salt Lake Tribune.
A spokesperson for Romney didn’t say whether or not the senator would support a government shutdown in an attempt to block the federal mandate.
Lee has railed against Biden’s plan requiring private businesses with 100 or more employees to have workers either get vaccinated or undergo regular testing to stop the spread of COVID-19 since it was introduced in September. Businesses that don’t comply could face hefty fines.
The mandate is currently on hold after several states, including Utah, sued in federal court challenging the rule.
Threats of government shutdown is not an uncommon tactic for Lee when he tries to stop government actions or programs he disagrees with.
Shortly after he was first elected to Congress in 2013, Lee spearheaded an effort to shut down the federal government to defund Obamacare. That shutdown lasted 17 days. The backlash caused Lee’s approval ratings in Utah to plummet.
In 2017, Lee threatened a government shutdown to block funding for a controversial surveillance program he worried was spying on Americans.
In 2019, Lee signed on to a bill to automatically fund the government if Congress can’t pass a budget to prevent future shutdowns. The bill, which ultimately didn’t pass, would have would have slowly slashed the federal budget during a shutdown, while critics rebuked the legislation as a political ploy.