The GOP is threatening to shut down the government to block funding for federal agencies implementing Biden's vaccine and testing mandates.
But the mandate hasn't taken effect yet and has even been stayed by federal courts.
Conservatives appear to be angling for a "symbolic win," a conservative expert said.
Congress is inching closer to a government shutdown in two days as conservative lawmakers threaten to oppose a short-term funding bill over President Joe Biden's vaccine and testing mandate for large employers.
There's just one problem with their combative approach: the directive hasn't taken effect yet and it will likely be tied up in courts for a while.
A group of 11 Senate Republicans that include Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Mike Lee of Utah are threatening to hold up swift passage of a short-term government funding bill (known as a continuing resolution), something that requires the consent of all 100 senators in the upper chamber. It's thrown a huge wrench in bipartisan talks to extend federal funding into either January or February 2022.
It mirrors earlier demands from conservative hardliners like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Chip Roy of Texas to shut down the government if new spending legislation doesn't strip out funding for the mandate. Failure to pass a stopgap measure means the government would partially closes its doors after 11:59 pm on Friday, leading to the third shutdown since 2017.
The vaccine and testing mandates are reviled among many Republican lawmakers, who view it as a case of gross federal overreach. They've tried repeatedly to eliminate it in Congress but lack the necessary votes.
Biden issued it in September as cases from the Delta variant surged, mandating private employers with 100 workers or more to require shots or set up regular testing in workplaces. It was supposed to take effect in January, but GOP officials in 23 states sued to prevent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from carrying it out. A federal court blocked the measure in early November.
Judi Conti, the government affairs director at the National Employment Law Project, said it would probably take several more weeks for the case to travel through federal courts.
"Anybody who was planning to try to shut the government down over a mandate that isn't even going to take effect yet - because it's tied up in the courts - is getting ready to inflict an awful lot of cruelty on federal employees and contractors across the country for absolutely no reason," Conti said in an interview.
She added that a government shutdown would threaten to jeopardize the flow of paychecks to federal workers. They'd eventually get back pay, but some could struggle to cover day-to-day expenses like groceries and rent during a shutdown. For often low-paid contractors like janitors, it's a different story: Conti says they'd lose out on their wages entirely.
Conservatives appear to be angling for a "symbolic win," according to Philip Wallach, a regulatory expert and senior fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.
"It makes sense in as much it's something that their base constituents care a lot about and something they think is weak given the court rulings so far," Wallach told Insider. "The CR is their point of maximum leverage right now."
Some Republicans are scratching their heads at the conservative hardliners. "I just don't quite understand the strategy or the play of leverage for a mandate that's been stayed by 10 courts," Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota told reporters.
With few signs of the feud being resolved on Wednesday, Republican leaders tried projecting confidence that the government ultimately wouldn't shut down. "I think we're going to be okay," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Friday.