Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., on Wednesday blocked a Republican request to quickly pass a bill to end the Biden administration’s ban on the entry of foreign travelers who aren’t vaccinated for COVID-19.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, brought up his FREEBIRD Act on the Senate floor, and asked his fellow senators to agree to the bill that the House passed last month. The bill would end the requirement that was imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“In the spirit of freedom, in the spirit of self-determination and sanity, I am here today to try to pass this, to try to pass by unanimous consent the FREEBIRD Act, which will restore the right to explore and experience the world by allowing non-immigrant, non-citizen travelers to be vaccinated only if they choose to do so,” Lee said on the floor.
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“It’s time to end the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for foreign visitors, prohibit using federal funds to carry out this requirement, and prevent the CDC from ordering future COVID-19 vaccine mandates for foreign travelers,” he added. “It’s just costing too much.”
Lee noted that Biden last year declared that the pandemic is over and that top tennis competitor Novak Djokovic has now missed two major tournaments because he isn’t vaccinated.
When Lee asked if there were any objections to unanimously passing his bill today, Welch rose to object.
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“This public health emergency is going to end,” Welch said, hinting at the Biden administration’s plan to end the emergency on May 11. “The administration is actively, day in and day out, in the process of taking the steps that are going to unwind this.
“My view is that this is an area where executive responsibility has to be carried out in an orderly way, not just to address this question of ending the vaccine mandate, but there are other matters that are affected if this public health emergency is abruptly ended that may do harm to Vermont,” he added. Welch said he’s worried that expanded telehealth and health care assistance could be affected if Lee’s bill were to pass.
“Because of my concern about the collateral consequences of stripping the administration, in effect, of a capacity to have that orderly unwinding, I object,” he said.
Lee said he regretted Welch’s objection to quick, unanimous passage and said nothing in his bill would put limits on healthcare access for Americans.
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“We could join the ranks of civilized nations of the world who have seen what a barbaric piece of nonsense this sort of restriction is, and we could do it right now,” Lee said. He also rejected the idea that the Senate should wait for administration “experts” to decide when the emergency ends, given how much experts got wrong about COVID.
“The American people who we serve, who hired us to make laws, have to sit there and take it, and we pretend, ‘Sorry, there’s nothing we can do, we gotta wait for the experts to end this problem,’” Lee said.
“This has got to stop. I’m not going away, this issue isn’t going away,” Lee added. “I don’t want to wait until May 11. I don’t want to wait until those bureaucrats pull their heads out of wherever their heads happen to be at the moment.”
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