Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee’s Senior United States Senator, Marsha Blackburn to the newsmaker line to discuss her added provision to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act that would protect servicemembers from the COVID-19 vaccine mandates and how working in the US Senate will change in 2023.
Leahy: On the newsmaker line, our favorite senior senator from Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn. Good morning, Senator Blackburn.
Blackburn: Good morning! It’s good to be with you.
Leahy: Senator Blackburn, you had a victory in the Senate. You added a provision that would protect service members from covered vaccine mandates. This is part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. Tell us about this amendment that you’ve added.
Blackburn: Yes, this is something I’ve worked on for months. And when we had the Defense Authorization Act in committee, believe it or not, back in June, I had this amendment, and it was defeated on a party-line vote. All the Democrats voted against it.
So I told them at that point, I said, when we take the NDAA to the floor, I’m going to offer this as an amendment because we should be protecting our men and women from being fired because they’re not getting a shot. And of course, what we have learned is you can be double vaxxed, double boosted, and still get COVID.
They have fired 3,300 Marines, 1,800 soldiers, 1,800 from the Navy, and 900 from the Air Force because of this mandate to get the shot. Many people had applied for a medical exemption. They have had COVID and they had antibodies. They didn’t want to get the shot.
Some had other medical reasons and adverse events from family members who had taken the shot. It’s not like they were trying to disobey. They were trying to make the best decisions. And finally, after all this work, I got bipartisan, bicameral support, and we had this mandate rescinded.
It will be rescinded within 30 days, and we’re going to be able to allow these service members to stay enlisted and serve in the military. It’s a good, solid first step and a big win for our men and women in uniform.
Leahy: Let me ask you the big question on this, Senator Blackburn. What about 10,000 members of the armed forces who have been fired and also the Tennessee National Guardsmen who have been fired because they wouldn’t take the COVID-19 vaccine? Will they get their jobs back?
Blackburn: That is going to be our next step process. This opens the door for us to begin that review. We do know, and as I have led on this issue and worked on this issue for the past six months, I have already heard from people who are in specialized areas or highly trained pilots who were called back because they couldn’t build out a squadron, they couldn’t build out a unit without them. That’s a really good sign. Common sense is beginning to prevail in this.
Leahy: You’re an optimist that the Biden administration anywhere has a lick of common sense.
Blackburn: (Laughs) I think that it is many of our commanders who have that common sense and are saying our focus should be on readiness. And with the U.S. Military, the focus there should be on readiness as you and your listeners well know. And it is distressing when extraneous components that are not a part of readiness come into play.
There are many vaccines. There’s a long list of proven, tested vaccines that people have to take for deployment into regions of the world, and we appreciate that. And what we’re saying here is, let’s use some common sense on this. This is not going to keep you from getting COVID. There are, for many individuals, reasons not to take certain vaccines.
Let’s bring that common sense back to the U.S. Military and provide this option for our men and women in uniform. As I said, big victory. Took us a while. We were able to build that bipartisan support. It should continue moving on through with the Defense Authorization Act, and we will have provided our men and women with the protection they need.
Leahy: How specifically will this amendment help? Let’s say a Tennessee National Guardsman who was dismissed for not taking the vaccine, and want to get back in, how will this help them get back in the Tennessee National Guard?
Blackburn: What this is going to do is, as I said, it is that next allows that next step. The vaccine amendment has been lifted. Now what it will do is allow the National Guard to revisit that policy. It will allow the opportunity for our guards and of course, the governor is the commander in Chief of the Guard.
And we have General Holmes, we have an awesome, incredible guard in Tennessee. It will allow them to revisit those exemption requests. It will allow them to revisit those terminations and will allow them, hopefully, to be able to make these numbers that have been terminated to make them whole.
Leahy: Did you have an opportunity, as you’re working on this, to speak with Governor Lee and say, hey, Governor Lee, all these guys that are out of the Tennessee National Guard because they refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine, now is the time to reinstate them? Did you have a conversation like that with him? And if so, how did he respond?
Blackburn: I was very pleased with the letters that Governor Lee and some of the other governors sent to the White House last week questioning this policy and supporting the amendment, the process of lifting or rescinding this mandate. That has been very helpful in this process.
And then Governor Lee put something up on social media yesterday thanking me for the work. I have not visited with him and I have not visited with General Holmes about how they’re planning to move forward.
Leahy: Probably a great idea to have that visit with them. Let me ask you another question for you. Turning the page a little bit. Give us some insight. The Senate in January, instead of being 50-50 with Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker, it’s going to be 51 D, 49 R. How is that going to impact your job?
Blackburn: Of course, with the House being under Republican control, we won’t be getting some of this ridiculous legislation that the Democrats have been sending over with the Pelosi-led House. But the way it will make a difference is with these judges.
They are putting up judges that I have to tell you, have never been a federal judge, a state judge, a county judge, a city judge, or a county fair judge, they have zero judicial experience. They’re activists.
And I anticipate that we at Senate Judiciary Committee will continue to see individuals who do not have appropriate experience on the bench being pushed forward for federal judgeships.
Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:
– – –
Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Marsha Blackburn” by Marsha Blackburn.