By NATASHA KORECKI and TINA SFONDELES
Not long ago, just talking about the idea of vaccine mandates made the White House skittish. As president-elect, JOE BIDEN said Americans would not be required to get vaccinated, and he said in April it would be a “tough call” to require the vaccine for members of the armed forces. The White House didn’t even establish a vaccine mandate for its own staffers until last month, despite the shot being available to them early in the year.
White House aides knew full well that a sizable portion of the population it needed to convince to get vaccinated was not a fan of President Biden, personally, or the government, generally.
If that tough-to-crack population thought the establishment was trying to compel them to get a shot in the arm, vaccines would only be met with fiercer opposition, the thinking went.
Today, that concept is being turned on its head. The Biden administration is increasingly all in.
Federal employees. The military. All must be vaccinated – or submit to frequent testing. Education Secretary MIGUEL CARDONA said today he supports mandating the Covid-19 vaccine for teachers and other school staff, as California just announced it would do. JESSICA CALEFATI notes that Cardona’s stance on mandates has sharpened just since Sunday, when he urged teachers to do their part and get their shots voluntarily on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
A chunk of Corporate America has followed suit, including United Airlines just this week and, earlier, Wal-Mart and Disney. Today, Biden met personally at the White House with four business and university leaders who have mandated vaccines for their workforces. “The President asked each of these leaders to talk to their industry peers about this important step to share best practices and encourage additional action,” according to the White House readout of their meeting.
The mandate momentum isn’t a coincidence. The White House talked to an array of business interests – from the Chamber of Commerce to small businesses – before the president in late July announced the federal workforce vaccine requirements, a White House official tells us.
A red flag went up, the White House official said, when in those discussions, CEOs revealed they didn’t even know what percentage of their employees had been vaccinated. “They’d say ‘well, we don’t know, we just encourage them to be vaccinated,” the White House official said. “It was very clear that that was a problem.”
One thing that’s made all of this easier: mandates have popular support. A new Morning Consult/POLITICO poll shows that a majority of voters support mandatory coronavirus vaccines. Most of those who oppose such a mandate are Republican.
BEN WAKANA, deputy director of strategic communications and engagement for the White House Covid-19 response team, said businesses were on board with the framework Biden laid out for federal workers last month, including requiring those to attest that they were vaccinated or else submit to regular Covid testing and mask wearing.
“I think what we did when we announced our protocols for the U.S. government was we gave people a framework, and you know it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all framework,” Wakana said. “You can ask people to get vaccinated or test weekly, you can require vaccinations, you can take your own path.”
The surge in cases due to the highly contagious Delta variant seems to have been most effective in spurring action, though.
United Airlines CEO SCOTT KIRBY, one of the business leaders at this morning’s White House meeting, said earlier this week that he came around to vaccine mandates in part because of the rapid spread of the new variant.
“The tipping point for me was seeing the statistics that 97 percent of the people in the hospital are unvaccinated and over 99 percent of the deaths are amongst the unvaccinated,” Kirby said in an interview Monday on NBC Nightly News. “That implies … it’s about 300 times more likely to die if you are unvaccinated than if you are vaccinated. And once you have that statistic in your mind, at least for me as a leader, there simply was no choice but to do the right thing for safety.”