A top federal official who oversees the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) responded to criticisms about a highly controversial COVID-19 vaccine rule that the federal government issued in late 2021 and insisted that his agency didn't pressure private companies after the Supreme Court rejected the mandate.
House Republicans during a Sept. 27 hearing criticized the agency for the emergency rule that was announced by President Joe Biden in late 2021, saying that tens of millions of private-sector workers would have been impacted. Ultimately, in early 2022, the Supreme Court blocked the administration from enforcing the mandate.
The federal vaccine mandate, announced in the fall of 2021, had applied to all private-sector firms with 100 or more employees, including both part-time and full-time staff. There were estimates at the time that 84 million people—or two-thirds of the private-sector workforce—would be impacted.
"That's categorically untrue. We didn't threaten anyone, and we didn't demand that anyone be fired. ... Congresswoman, I believe that the American people expect their government to take on the big problems that are facing them," Mr. Parker responded.
"More than a million people died from COVID [in the United States]."
"Mr. Parker, you're one of a number of officials in this administration who has come before this committee and tell us now that two plus two doesn't equal four. ... has there been some sort of memo going around? Why is the administration insistent on rewriting history?" Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.) asked.
Mrs. Miller then said that she would introduce amendments to "strip" OSHA of its "power and funding to protect the 84 million Americans who do not want to show you their vaccine papers ... they have gone far beyond their minor, limited mission."
In the hearing, Mr. Parker argued that the rule wasn't a vaccine mandate. The rule, he claimed, was an alternative for employees who didn't want the vaccine and could instead get COVID-19 testing.
“All you have to do is read that rule, and you will see that it is not a vaccine mandate. It gives employees the option of testing in lieu of a vaccine mandate,” Mr. Parker said.
OSHA didn't respond to a request for additional comment by press time.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court wrote: “The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it.
"At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have."
Months later, the Biden administration withdrew the rule after losing the Supreme Court case. In May, the Biden administration allowed the three-year-long public health emergency for COVID-19 to expire. A federal mask mandate for public transportation means and hubs was struck down in 2022 by a federal judge in Florida.