WASHINGTON ― A small group of far-right Republicans are feeling confident about their strategy of shutting down the government as a protest against new COVID-19 rules for private-sector workers.
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), the leader of the Senate faction that has said it will refuse to allow a quick vote on a government funding bill, said he's gotten nothing but positive feedback for his stance.
"My phone has blown up and continues to blow up with the vaccine mandate issue, but not one Kansan has reached out to me to say, 'Don't shut the government down,'" Marshall told reporters Thursday.
Marshall and more than a dozen other Senate Republicans pledged last month to oppose any government funding bill that doesn't "defund" the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's directive for firms with more than 100 employees to require vaccination or weekly testing for their workers. The new rule was set to take effect in January, but has been placed on hold pending legal challenges.
Marshall claimed so many workers will refuse to be vaccinated, and therefore lose their jobs, that the rule will hurt the economy. He said the weekly testing alternative for workers who refuse shots would be "almost impossible" for employers to deal with.
"This is about an economic shutdown," he said. "It's not just about a government shutdown. I don't want to shut the government down."
The Senate needs unanimous consent in order to quickly pass a bill funding the government prior to the Friday deadline. Any senator can object, however, giving Marshall and others who agree with him leverage over the process.
There is one potential way out of the dispute. Marshall and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said they would be willing to allow quick passage of a bill funding the government if Democrats agree to a simple majority vote on an amendment defunding the vaccine mandate on businesses, which theoretically would have a better chance of passage. But votes on amendments to legislation are typically set on a 60-vote threshold, and it's unclear whether Democrats will agree to that idea.
Other Republicans disagree with the shutdown strategy, calling it a futile attempt to deal with an issue that may be moot already, since a pair of rulings by federal judges earlier this week already blocked the Biden administration mandates from going into immediate effect for both federal contractors and health workers. The Biden administration has also said it wouldn't punish federal workers who refuse to comply with the mandate until next year.
"It smacks of virtue-signaling when the courts have already put a stay on it and when the Biden administration isn't enforcing a vaccine mandate on federal employees," Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told HuffPost, referring to the shutdown strategy. "It doesn't accomplish anything besides making some people frightened who are counting on checks from the government."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the senator who single-handedly shut down the government in 2013 in a hopeless bid to defund Obamacare, said the court cases made a shutdown all the more important because they showed the mandates were illegal.
"They are blatantly lawless. Joe Biden knows they're lawless," Cruz said. "And Democrats don't care. They don't care about medical privacy. They don't care about individual autonomy. Instead, we have seen in the course of this pandemic Democrats being very comfortable with being petty tyrants."
If the government does partially shut down after Friday, the funding lapse would probably be brief, since the Senate can overcome a filibuster with cloture motions that just take a few days.
While Senate Republicans are leading the charge, House Republicans have cheered them on. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who served as Cruz's chief of staff and was the architect of his shutdown strategy, said it was worthwhile to shut down the government for a few days even if it doesn't affect policy.
Republicans should "go through this weekend and force people to understand that there's a seriousness and resolve and send a loud message," Roy said.
But Democrats are already previewing their messaging should the government shut down over the weekend, pinning the blame on the other side in a way that even most Republicans would like to avoid.
"Let's be clear: If there is a shutdown, it will be a Republican anti-vaccine shutdown," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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