In an impassioned speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) defended President Joe Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandate and criticized Republican opponents of the mandate.
Biden’s mandate, one of the largest vaccination mandates ever, is wide-ranging. It would require all federal employees to face the choice of getting vaccinated or losing their jobs. Biden also asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which creates and enforces workplace safety standards, to put in place an emergency order to require that private firms with 100 or more employees mandate vaccinations or weekly testing for the CCP virus (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
In total, the sweeping mandate would affect more than 100 million Americans. Exempt from the mandates are members of Congress, federal judges, and employees in both branches.
Republicans Are ‘Siding With The Virus’: Durbin
Durbin began his speech: “Less than two miles from this Capitol, there are 666,000 white flags stretching across the National Mall like a sea of suffering and loss. Each of these flags represents an American life lost to COVID.”
“With the rise of the Delta Variant, it’s not only the elderly and immunocompromised who are at risk,” Durbin noted, and pointed to increased rates of infection among children. Durbin continued, “COVID is once again overwhelming America’s health system.”
Durbin pointed to disparities in hospitalization between largely vaccinated areas like Chicago, where he said two in three people are vaccinated, and his own hometown of Springfield, where vaccination rates remain lower, at only one in three.
He argued, “So much of this suffering and expense could be avoided if we could take the politics out of the COVID debate and stop the spread of misinformation that is literally killing people.”
“The most important thing is that more people get vaccinated,” Durbin said. Vaccines, he claimed, are “safe, effective, and free.”
Despite this, Durbin said, “the U.S. ranks fifty-fifth globally for the percentage of people vaccinated—we are just behind Cambodia.” Those numbers, the senator continued, are “sad, inexcusable, and deadly.”
Durbin turned to arguments made by opponents of vaccines that they have a right to make their own healthcare decisions.
“Listen, all Americans respect individual rights,” said Durbin. “But,” he continued, “the only way to end the pandemic is for everyone to accept their personal responsibility for our shared wellbeing.”
“That is why I support President Biden’s recent action to strengthen America’s defense against COVID and bring this pandemic finally to an end,” Durbin ruled. He argued that “a strong majority of Americans support this policy.”
“Other nations have already instituted policies which encourage vaccinations—it’s time for us to do the same,” Durbin said. “More Americans have to roll up their sleeves and realize vaccination is the pathway to … life returning to normal,” he explained.
He then turned to efforts by some state-level Republican leaders to oppose the Biden administration’s wide-reaching vaccine mandate. Some of these have threatened to sue the president for the policy, viewing it as an overreach of his authority.
“In other words, these governors are saying to the president ‘stop the requirement for masks,’ ‘stop any requirement for vaccinations,” said Durbin. “In the war against COVID, [Republican lawmakers] are siding with the virus,” Durbin alleged.
He continued, “Their actions … will result in more illness, more death, and more harm to the economy.”
“They are exalting liberty over life,” Durbin proclaimed. “These reckless political actions have deadly real-world consequences,” he continued.
By contrast, he argued that Biden’s vaccine mandates “are reasonable, necessary, and a majority of the American people believe in them.”
The opponents of the mandate, Durbin suggested, should “fight the virus instead of the president’s ambitions to bring this pandemic to an end.”
Republicans Justify Opposition to Vax Mandate
In fact, state-level Republican critics of the policy are largely in favor of the vaccine, many having received one themselves and encouraging others in their states to get one as well. For these leaders, the issue is one of the rights of citizens to choose whether to get vaccinated.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey argued in a statement that “The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective tools to prevent the disease, but getting the vaccine is and should be a choice.” By mandating vaccines, said Ducey, Biden is trying “to shut down freedom.”
He conceded, “COVID-19 is a contagious disease, it is still with us and it will be for the foreseeable future.” But the Biden administration’s solution, he continued, “is hammering down on private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way.”
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who earlier in the year successfully defended Arizona election laws to the Supreme Court, immediately responded to the move with a lawsuit.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said in a forceful statement on the mandate, “Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian.”
Earlier in the year, after White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced a “door-to-door” vaccination campaign, McMaster responded similarly. In a letter to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, McMaster argued that “A South Carolinian’s decision to get vaccinated is a personal one for them to make and not the government’s.”
He also warned that “Enticing, coercing, intimidating, mandating, or pressuring anyone to take the vaccine is a bad policy which will deteriorate the public’s trust and confidence in the State’s vaccination efforts.”
Another critic of the vaccine mandate has been Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis has said of vaccines in the past that they “are saving lives.” He emphasized the benefits that they had in lowering infection rates and hospitalization rates, and encouraged Floridians to get vaccinated.
Still, after the national mandate was announced, DeSantis resisted the move and was doubtful that the executive action was legal. He said: “I do not believe that people should lose their jobs over this issue, and we will fight that. If they try to do that through a rule like the Department of Labor, I don’t think they have the legal authority to do that, but we obviously would want to support protections for people who are just trying to earn a living.”
Petr Svab contributed to this report.