Republicans Put Vaccine Mandates on Agenda for Midterm Elections

  • GOP seeks to tie Democrats to unemployment, inflation
  • Public opinion favors requiring workers to get Covid vaccines

Fighting federal vaccine mandates is becoming a central pillar of Republicans’ health care agenda, one supporters say could help carry them into power in Congress next year.

Republicans say requirements that some people get vaccinated against Covid-19 or risk losing their jobs are deeply unpopular among Americans and worsen employment and inflation — two major issues they want to tie to Democrats and the Biden administration going into the 2022 midterm elections.

“It’s the most important thing I’m hearing about in my district and in red states,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), the sponsor of the resolution, said. “Blue states, too, this is unpopular.”

This could be a risky move: voters seem to support at least some vaccine mandates, recent polling shows.

Samuel Corum/Getty Images
People line up outside of a free Covid-19 vaccination site in Washington on Dec. 3, 2021 as the city’s health department steps up providing shots and boosters.

Senate Republicans united to force a vote on a measure to block President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for large private businesses. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as Wednesday. Two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), say they’ll join Republicans in supporting it.

The resolution currently lacks enough sponsors in the House to get a vote, but it does have support from the entire House Republican caucus.

Congressional Republicans are trying to build support for more Congressional Review Act votes around federal vaccine mandates for health care workers and federal contractors. Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and James Comer (R-Ky.) both have resolutions on these mandates.

They want to focus on the mandate as a sign of a heavy-handed government response to the pandemic, not an opposition to Covid vaccines. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told reporters Wednesday Republicans want to encourage vaccinations, but not require them. “Encouraging and requiring are two different things.”

Democrats and the White House defend the mandates as necessary to reduce the transmission of Covid-19 and deaths stemming from the virus.

“It is anti-science, it is anti-common sense,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer(D-N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday. “It makes no sense.”

The White House signaled Biden would veto any resolution rolling back the mandate for private businesses to have their workers vaccinated.

“We know it works,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday. “That’s why the administration and the president will continue pressing forward.”

Public Opinion

A Politico/Morning Consult poll from November found that 55% of registered voters said they either strongly or somewhat support a mandate for large employers. Other mandates polled similarly, with a majority of those asked saying they’d support a mandate.

The survey found 63% of Republican voters opposed to the mandates.

A Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday found about half of voters said they support a mandate for private companies.

State-level polling varies but shows support for the mandates even in Republican-controlled states, according to data collected by The COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States, a project by researchers with Northeastern University, Harvard University, Rutgers University, and Northwestern University. A requirement to get a Covid vaccine got approval from 65% of those polled in Texas and almost 64% in Utah. In Montana, just 47% of those questioned said they approved.

Pressing Democrats on the mandates goes beyond the policy, Republicans say.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said the GOP is making the case that they, not Democrats, can get the country beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. He said much of the messaging boils down to getting people back to work and children back to school with little or no government interference.

“We’re going to get you as close to normal as possible,” O’Connell said.

Republicans in Congress say they want Democrats to vote on the record on vaccine mandates and hope to win over swing-state Democrats. By doing so, they can make the case that Democrats are holding down employment with requirements to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

“Let’s see if they put their political careers ahead of a bad idea or a bad idea in front of their political careers,” Braun said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloombergindustry.com

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