Jul 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

The Republicans' mixed mandate message

Illustration of several different speech bubbles that are shaped like arrows, all of which are pointing in different directions

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Republicans have expressed selective rage amid the rise of the Delta variant: They rail against the return of indoor masking but are far less vocal about vaccine requirements.

Why it matters: Masking may help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, but the real solution to the pandemic is getting more Americans vaccinated. Increased support for that — including the use of heavier-handed methods like mandates — will only increase its chance of succeeding.

Driving the news: President Biden announced Thursday that federal employees and contractors will be asked to provide their vaccine status. Those who don't attest to being fully vaccinated will have to wear masks, social distance and undergo frequent testing.

  • The administration has been careful to frame the policy as a choice rather than an actual vaccine mandate, though the net effect is similar.
  • The announcement followed a slew of similar policies issued earlier this week by health care organizations, state governments, private businesses and even the VA.

Between the lines: The GOP's response to such vaccine requirements has been much more muted than its reaction to updated CDC masking guidance saying that even fully vaccinated people should resume wearing masks indoors in high-COVID areas.

  • "Every time the CDC releases new guidance, not only does it contradict information they’ve already released, but it punishes Americans who’ve already done everything they were asked to do," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Thursday on the steps of the Capitol.
  • His remarks — made at a lectern bearing a sign that said "Country in Crisis" — didn't make mention of the new vaccine requirements.
  • While the federal government's policy hadn't yet been announced, it had been leaked to the media, and private employers like Google and Facebook had also announced their own mandates.

Yes, but: The governors in many red states have banned various forms of vaccine mandates, including from private businesses, government agencies and other employers.

  • And some federal lawmakers aren't happy with Biden's new policy.
  • "Vaccines mandates violate our rights to medical privacy and autonomy, and they are the start of a slippery slope toward excessive government control, bringing us closer and closer to mandated vaccine passports, school closures, and more draconian lockdowns," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a statement Thursday.

What they're saying: “All but the most fringey Republicans realize that vaccines are the biggest way out of this problem," said Brendan Buck, a senior aide to former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

  • "There’s certainly less agreement that masks are what is going to end the pandemic, and for that reason, they’re training their populist ire on masks more than vaccines."

What we're watching: For now, many vaccine requirements fall short of being mandates, although many private employers may not be able to afford to give workers a choice.

  • "Many in the private sector won't offer testing to accommodate those who don't want to get vaccinated. It's costly and logistically onerous," tweeted NYU professor Céline Gounder.
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