White House rebukes Abbott, DeSantis for efforts to resist vaccine mandates

The White House on Tuesday took aim at Republican governors for opposing coronavirus vaccine mandates for businesses, accusing them of “putting politics ahead of public health.”

The sharp remarks from White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiDemocrats ready to put a wrap on dragged-out talks 'Saturday Night Live' flashes back to the 'ghost of Biden past' Unanswered questions remain for Buttigieg, Biden on supply chain catastrophe MORE came in response to news that Texas Gov. Greg AbbottGreg AbbottAbbott signs new Texas congressional maps into law The Memo: Will COVID-19's dip boost Biden? GOP leaders escalate battle against COVID-19 vaccine mandates MORE (R) had signed an executive order banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates from being implemented by any “entity” in the state, a direct challenge to President BidenJoe BidenOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Methane fee faces negotiations White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege The No Surprises Act:  a bill long overdue MORE’s forthcoming vaccine requirement for large private sector organizations.   

“Governor Abbott’s executive order banning mandates and, I would also note, the announcement by Gov. DeSantis this morning essentially banning the implementation of mandates, fit a familiar pattern that we’ve seen of putting politics ahead of public health,” Psaki told reporters during a briefing Tuesday afternoon.

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“Over 700,000 American lives have been lost due to COVID-19, including more than 56,000 in Florida and over 68,000 in Texas, and every leader should be focused on efforts to save lives and end the pandemic,” Psaki continued. “Why would you be taking steps that prevent the saving of lives that make it more difficult to save lives across the country or in any state?”

DeSantis indicated in remarks at a press conference earlier Tuesday that he could take similar action to block vaccine mandates by implementing a law shielding workers from being terminated for not abiding by them. Florida's health department also fined the county of Leon more than $3.5 million on Tuesday for violating the state's ban on COVID-19 vaccine passports. 

A number of Republicans vowed to fight Biden’s vaccine rule in court when he announced it in September, accusing the president of overstepping his authority. Legal experts believe Biden will be on strong footing with the rule.

Biden announced the new requirement a month ago as part of a suite of aggressive actions to get more Americans vaccinated against COVID-19. The private sector mandate requires businesses with more than 100 employees to require their workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face a fine.

The emergency rule is being developed by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Officials have said it is expected to take several weeks, but as of Tuesday there was no update on when the emergency rule will be unveiled.

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“There isn’t a big historic precedent for this, and we want to get it right,” Psaki told reporters Tuesday when asked why the rule making was taking so long, adding that the administration wants to implement the rule with as much clarity as possible for businesses.

The Labor Department said later Tuesday that OSHA has submitted the initial text of the emergency rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), bringing it a step closer to being finalized. 

In the meantime, the White House has been encouraging businesses to implement mandates on their own. Psaki noted on Tuesday that the opposition to mandates from Abbott and DeSantis is out of step with iconic companies headquartered in their states, like American Airlines and Disney. American Airlines and Southwest said on Tuesday they still intended to abide by Biden's mandate. 

Psaki also noted that school districts in both states have requirements for vaccines against other illnesses, like Polio and Chicken Pox. “Bottom line is, we’re going to continue to implement the law,” she said, noting that Biden will use “every lever at his disposal” to get more Americans vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Updated at 8:03 p.m.