White House welcomes fight with GOP governors over vaccine mandates


Republican governors have emerged as one of the most consistent foils to President Biden during his eight months in office, with a brewing fight over coronavirus vaccine mandates shaping up to be the next battleground.

Biden has seemingly embraced the clash with GOP state leaders, vowing to use executive powers to sidestep their opposition to mask and vaccine requirements in his efforts to get the pandemic under control.

After Biden last week unveiled a slew of new measures and rules to compel workers and federal employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, several GOP governors vowed to fight the mandates in court or with orders of their own.

But the White House, which has not shied away from sparring with the likes of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over orders blocking mask mandates in schools, believes it has the public’s support on the issue of vaccine requirements.

“I think [Biden] has played this just right,” said Jesse Lee, a senior adviser for communications at the progressive think tank Center for American Progress. “I think he and the American people have actually been aligned that it was the right thing to do to encourage people in a positive manner to get vaccinated until you couldn’t reach many people that way. Then you have to take a harder line.”

Biden on Thursday announced a six-part strategy that included an emergency Labor Department rule requiring all private employers with 100 or more workers to mandate vaccines or weekly testing for their workers. Biden also ordered federal employees to get vaccinated in the next 75 days, with limited religious and medical exemptions.

The president struck an exasperated tone in announcing the new measures, arguing that roughly a quarter of Americans eligible to get the shot were putting a supermajority of vaccinated individuals at risk.

White House officials on Monday pointed to public polling that seemed to validate Biden’s arguments.

A Politico-Morning Consult poll released Monday found 58 percent of respondents support mandating COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing for businesses with more than 100 employees.

Fifty-seven percent of the registered voters surveyed support requiring federal workers to get the shot, and 60 percent backed requirements for most health care workers to get vaccinated.

Separately, a CNN poll released the same day found 54 percent of respondents support requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for workers to return to the office. Majorities also supported vaccine mandates for students attending in-person classes and for attending sporting events or concerts.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain shared data from both polls on Twitter on Monday.

“The vast majority of the American people know we have to do these things,” Biden said Friday when asked about criticism of the new measures. “They’re hard but necessary. We’re going to get them done.”

The CNN and Politico-Morning Consult polls both found ideological divides on vaccine mandates. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to support them, according to the CNN poll, while the other survey showed respondents narrowly split over whether Biden’s new vaccine rules protected freedoms or infringed on them.

The partisan split was also reflected in the response of many Republican governors to the forthcoming rules. The GOP has grappled with how to oppose the president’s approach to the virus without being labeled an anti-vaccine movement, and many governors have settled on decrying federal government overreach as a result.

“I am working directly with my fellow governors to see how best we can push back against this federal overreach. I am as pro-vaccine as it gets, but I do not support this mandate from Washington as it is not the answer,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), a potential 2022 Senate candidate, said in a statement on Monday.

Biden said last week that GOP governors could “have at it” with their legal challenges, and some White House officials believe the Republican claims of government overreach are hypocritical given many of those same governors have attempted to ban mask mandates or vaccine passports.

Some legal experts believe Biden is on solid legal ground with his order, which will rely on authority granted by Congress to the president through the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 when it comes to imposing requirements on private employers.

Still, lawsuits are likely in the pipeline, ensuring the battle between Republican governors and the White House will rage on. Many Democrats view it as a fight the Biden administration will win.

“In any vaccination effort, a big part of it is ultimately going to be mandates like you have on every other vaccine. You can’t even get into elementary school without vaccines on a half-dozen diseases,” said Lee, the adviser who also previously worked in the Obama administration.

“Biden has done this exactly right,” Lee added. “He could have done it earlier, but I think some of the people that had gotten vaccinated — and it’s a pretty large percentage — might have been turned off. But he went as far as he could on this and now there’s no other options.”

Tags Chris Sununu Coronavirus Florida Greg Abbott Joe Biden Ron DeSantis Ron Klain Texas
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