Lawmaker Opinion on Federal Employee Vaccine Mandate Breaks Along Party Lines
As President Biden announced an executive order requiring all federal employees and contractors to get vaccinated against COVID-19, he accused some Republican officials of sabotaging efforts to end the pandemic.
Democrats on Capitol Hill lauded Thursday’s announcement that all federal employees will be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19, without exceptions for those who choose to submit to regular testing for the virus, while Republicans mostly decried the directive.
President Biden announced that he had signed two executive orders establishing a mandate that all federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated, or they will face disciplinary procedures up to and including termination. “Limited” exemptions will be available to those who require religious or medical accommodations, the White House said Thursday.
Additionally, the White House has directed Labor Secretary Marty Walsh to use the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s authority to issue emergency rules to require all companies with at least 100 employees to establish vaccine-or-testing mandates, and provide paid leave for employees to get vaccinated.
During Thursday’s announcement, Biden took aim at some Republicans, whom he accused of sabotaging efforts to keep people safe during the pandemic. Republican governors in multiple states have banned rules requiring the wearing of masks in public schools or barred businesses from requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination to enter their facilities.
“We’re in a tough stretch, and it could last for a while,” Biden said. “What makes it incredibly more frustrating is we have the tools to combat COVID-19, and a distinct minority of Americans, supported by a distinct minority of elected officials, are keeping us from turning the corner.”
Democratic leaders on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which has advanced several bills over the last year and a half aimed at beefing up agencies’ efforts to provide a safe work environment for federal employees amid the pandemic, lauded the new vaccine mandate.
“As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government is setting the standard on implementing workplace safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. “With high numbers of coronavirus cases across the country caused by the Delta variant, especially in regions with low vaccination rates, the Biden administration is taking a crucial step to protect American lives and slow the virus’ spread.”
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., whose district contains the largest number of federal employees in the country, said Biden made “the correct call” to require feds to get vaccinated.
“The rise in cases and deaths with the Delta variant is deeply tragic and frustrating because it was completely avoidable,” Beyer said. “Given the choice between allowing this virus to continue to spread, which would mean many thousands more preventable deaths and vast harm to our economy, and comprehensive action to protect the country, President Biden has rightly chosen the latter.”
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., who serves as ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, by contrast, said in a statement that requiring vaccines is the wrong way to improve vaccination rates, accusing the Biden administration of contributing to vaccine hesitancy with alleged “false statements” about the pandemic. Comer did not elaborate on which statements he believed were false.
“President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed gave us vaccines in record time, and they have proven to be amazingly effective,” Comer said. “However, efforts to take away personal freedoms are the wrong way to go about getting more people vaccinated and moving out of the ongoing COVID crisis. Instead, we need to look at what’s behind many Americans’ concerns, much of which is a consequence of ambiguous and even outright false statements about COVID from the Biden administration and Dr. [Anthony] Fauci.”
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., railed against the use of vaccine mandates altogether.
“Vaccine mandates are wrong,” he said. “Vaccine mandates with no exceptions are insane. This White House is mixing politics with medicine—a toxic combination. Ultimately, vaccines (and any medical treatment) should be a decision made between patients and doctors, not the federal government. This principle applies as much to federal employees as it does any American.”
Vaccine mandates have a long and mostly uncontroversial history in the United States. George Washington required all soldiers to be inoculated against smallpox during the Revolutionary War, and schools and colleges across the country already require students be vaccinated against a variety of diseases.