In the midst of President Joe Biden’s speech Thursday announcing a vaccine mandate that will affect more than 100 million Americans, there was one line in particular that left me in a state of puzzlement.
Granted, a lot of us felt that way through most of the speech — thinking, “He can’t do this, can he?” However, I had a moment of more peculiar bewilderment when Biden announced that he would “sign an executive order that will now require all executive branch federal employees to be vaccinated — all. And I’ve signed another executive order that will require federal contractors to do the same.”
It’s not just that I knew there were a lot more federal contractors than there were employees in the executive branch. In 2017, Marketplace reported, there were 4.1 million contractors. In 2015, that was four out of every 10 federal employees, according to the Project on Government Oversight.
That may have been puzzling enough. But then, why just the executive branch? Apparently, Congress and the courts get treated to a present that those in the executive branch don’t, since Biden’s mandate doesn’t apply to the legislative or judicial branches.
Biden’s “patience” with the unvaccinated may be “wearing thin,” but he’s a bit more indulgent when it comes to other elected and appointed officials, apparently.
Part of it might be that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t believe she can ask for proof of vaccination. This spring, when asked whether she would require the jab among Capitol Hill lawmakers and their staffs, she said it couldn’t be done.
“So here is the thing. We are — we cannot require someone to be vaccinated,” the California Democrat said during an April 29 news conference. “That’s just not what we can do. It is a matter of privacy to know who is or who isn’t.
“I can’t go to the Capitol physician and say, ‘Give me the names of people who aren’t vaccinated, so I can go encourage them or make it known to others to encourage them to be vaccinated.’ So we can’t — we can’t do that.”
Clips of the news conference began recirculating in the wake of Biden’s speech last week:
“So, here’s the thing, we cannot require someone to be vaccinated. That’s just not what we can do.”
-Pelosi, April 29, 2021 pic.twitter.com/cgVT4ZFhGs
— Kyle Hooten (@KyleHooten2) September 10, 2021
Pelosi’s office apparently thought it was making things better when it told Newsweek on Friday that the speaker was only “referring to the institution in which she serves.”
“She’s saying she cannot force Members to be vaccinated, which is true,” her office said in a statement.
But the executive branch can? For that matter, how is the federal government going to force that on more than 4 million contractors?
If that’s the case, furthermore, how is the Department of Labor going to enforce a vaccine-or-test mandate on corporations that employ over 100 people?
How about the 17 million health care workers in facilities that accept federal dollars for Medicare or Medicaid that are now covered by vaccine mandates, with almost no exceptions? Representatives, senators and their staffs should be cake compared with all of this.
And it’s not as if some in her party aren’t calling for it. In August, a letter signed by a group of 19 Democrats led by Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver called on Capitol Physician Dr. Brian Monihan to mandate congressional vaccination or “at minimum, twice per week testing for those who are unable to verify positive vaccination status.”
“We know that your recommendations regarding the health and safety of the U.S. Capitol are free from partisan calculations and grounded in science, which is why we ask you to follow the science and require vaccination,” Cleaver wrote.
“The unfortunate politicization of COVID-19 and our life-saving vaccines have already caused our nation immeasurable loss and incalculable pain.”
The mandate would meet with strong pushback from congressional Republicans — but that’s never stopped either Pelosi or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Pelosi, apparently, wants neither the fight nor the onus of proving one’s vaccination status in the halls of Congress — or she doesn’t believe she can get away with it.
Rules for thee, not for me.
Moments after he announced that the executive branch and federal contractors would be covered by a vaccine mandate, Biden said this: “If you want to work with the federal government and do business with us, get vaccinated. If you want to do business with the federal government, vaccinate your workforce.”
If you want to legislate in the federal government, though, you’re just fine.
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