McConnell pushed back against the idea of a government shutdown to derail Biden's vaccine mandate, as threats by the GOP's right test his power

McConnell pushed back against the idea of a government shutdown to derail Biden's vaccine mandate, as threats by the GOP's right test his power
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell outside the Senate chamber.Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • A group of GOP lawmakers are threatening a govt shutdown in a bid to defund Biden's vaccine mandate.
  • "I think we're going to be okay," McConnell said Wednesday of the prospect of averting a shutdown.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was cautiously optimistic about the prospects of averting a government shutdown by some Republican senators seeking to defund President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate.

"I think we're going to be okay," he said when asked Wednesday about the prospect of a shutdown, which would see federal agencies and programs begin to run out of funding unless a deal can be reached by midnight Friday.

McConnell's statement was a subtle shift from his confident position the previous day, when he told reporters: "Nobody should be concerned about a government shutdown."

The last-minute crisis was partly caused by a group of right-wing GOP senators, who on Wednesday upended weeks of delicate discussions between McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on a stopgap deal to fund the government into the new year.

The senators, which include Sens. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Ron Johnson, are threatening that unless Democrats strip funding from Biden's mandate for large companies to get their employees vaccinated by January, they will block passage of the government-funding bill, meaning federal agencies will close down.


It was unclear how many GOP senators support a measure blocking the funding bill, but it could be as many as 11, which is the number of senators who signed a letter vowing to "use all means at our disposal to oppose" Biden's mandate. (Under Senate rules, the objection of just one senator could delay the vote.)

McConnell would not provide details on Wednesday of discussions between the Republicans who oppose a shutdown, and those who back it.

Politico reported that in a Wednesday meeting of the Republican caucus, the idea of bringing a bill to defund the vaccine mandate to the Senate floor next week was touted as a plausible alternative route for Republicans seeking to express their opposition, but avoid the potential costs of a shutdown.

But the crisis exposes a rift that has opened between McConnell and the right wing of the GOP, and a test on McConnell's grip on power.

McConnell, who had polio as a child, has urged Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and expressed surprise at the strength of vaccine hesitancy in the US.


Meanwhile, some GOP senators, including Cruz and Johnson, have pushed misinformation about the vaccine and rallied around opposition to Biden's vaccine mandate.

Many of the senators on the GOP right are ardent supporters of former President Donald Trump, and likely feel emboldened by Trump's recent insult-laden attacks on McConnell, who has accused Trump of inciting the January 6 riot.

McConnell has declined to openly criticize senators in the GOP pushing vaccine misinformation, but, according to reports, sees little political gain in forcing a shutdown over vaccine mandates.

He has in recent weeks sounded bullish over the prospect of averting a shutdown and a second crisis over raising the government debt ceiling. That issue needs to be resolved by December 15 to avert an economically catastrophic US government debt default.

But his capacity to make good on the pledges will depend in his ability to rein in dissidents in his party, and time is running out.