NASHVILLE — A Republican effort to cut off funding for President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandates failed on a close vote in the Senate this week, with 50 Democrats voting to continue funding the mandates and 48 Republicans voting to block them.
Tennessee's Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty was one of two Republicans who missed the Thursday night vote. Senate Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota also was absent. Thune was attending his father-in-law's funeral, Bloomberg Law reported.
"Sen. Hagerty traveled to Tennessee Thursday afternoon to watch his oldest son — who is a high school senior — play in the state championship football game last night," Hagerty spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. "Sen. Hagerty regrets to miss any Senate vote, but as a father, nothing would have prevented him from seeing his son's final game."
Deere said Hagerty would have voted to cut off the funding, had he attended the Senate session.
U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., voted yes on the unsuccessful effort to defund Biden's order for employers, including those with 100 or more workers, to require vaccinations or regular testing.
"Businesses across the country are desperate for workers, and we are in the midst of a supply chain crisis," Blackburn said in a statement to the Times Free Press. "Getting vaccinated is a choice that should be between a patient and their doctor. No one should be forced to be fired or get jabbed."
Tennessee state Rep. John Ragan, an Oak Ridge Republican who along with GOP colleagues successfully pressed bills pushing back against COVID-19 mask and vaccine requirements during the General Assembly's special session in October, said he finds no fault with Hagerty not having been present for the vote on Thursday.
"People in political office are people," Ragan said in a Friday night telephone interview. "They have families, in this case children. And to expect them to completely give up family life and supporting their children is ridiculous.
"The issue is that life goes on," added Ragan, a former Air Force pilot. "Elected officials are people. And they're entitled to have a family life just like everyone else."
The Senate is divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats are in charge with Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, able to break tie votes.
Even if Hagerty and Thune had been in the chamber, Republicans would have had to persuade at least one Democrat — possibly Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to block the vaccine mandate. But Manchin voted no.
After the vote on the mandate funding, the Senate approved a last-minute stopgap funding bill and avoided a government shutdown. The 11-week funding measure passed on a 69-28 vote, extending federal funding until mid-February.
Nineteen Senate Republicans, including U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, voted in favor the House resolution extending funding until February.
Blackburn voted against it.
The continuing funding resolution passed the House earlier Thursday in an overwhelmingly partisan 221-212 vote. Republican U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee as well as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., were among those voting no.
"This government should be shut down," Greene said. "You want to know why it should be shut down? Because the people in here, the people in here cannot control themselves. The people in here don't understand how to balance a checkbook. And the people in here do not deserve the responsibility on how to spend the American people's money."
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois was the lone Republican House member voting to continue funding the government.
"With this agreement, there will be no government shutdown, and I appreciate the work of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle, including Leader McConnell, to reach this point," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. "The good bipartisan work that produced this agreement will give appropriators in both parties and in both chambers time to reach a comprehensive agreement on appropriations by Feb. 18 of next year.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., voted for the resolution continuing funding into February.
"I am glad that, in the end, cooler heads prevailed, the government will stay open, and I thank the members of this chamber for walking us back from the brink of an avoidable, needless and costly shutdown," Schumer said.
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