- The Senate voted to overturn Biden’s vaccine-or-test mandate for private businesses with at least 100 employees.
- Every Republican senator and two Democratic senators supported the resolution reversing the federal mandate.
- The Biden administration insists the policy is necessary to increase vaccination rates and slow the pandemic.
Every Republican US senator and 2 Democratic senators — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and John Tester of Montana — voted to overturn President Joe Biden’s vaccine-or-test mandate for private businesses with more than 100 employees on Wednesday.
Biden announced in September that the Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration would require large companies to ensure all their employees are either fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022, or have them tested on a weekly basis and masked in the workplace.
Legislative efforts to overturn the policy are likely doomed — the measure is unlikely to pass the House and would be vetoed by the president.
Many opponents of the private employer mandate, including GOP lawmakers, have misleadingly framed the rule as a strict vaccine mandate. In reality, the policy allows companies to decide whether their employees can opt out of vaccination and instead be tested on a weekly basis.
Conservative Senate Democrats side with Republicans
Republicans and some Democrats argue the vaccine and testing mandates will hurt the economy and American workers and amounts to federal overreach. Several Republican state attorneys general sued to overturn the policy last month and an appeals court ordered OSHA to suspend the policy.
While Republican lawmakers largely say they are pro-vaccine, some are also downplaying the severity of the ongoing pandemic. Sen. Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican who has led the effort to repeal the rule, claimed without offering evidence that there are minimal risks of COVID-19 transmission at the workplace.
“Hardly any transmission is occurring at the business level, or what you do during the day,” Braun said during a press conference Monday.
At Wednesday’s GOP press conference, Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas warned there will be an “economic shutdown,” “brownouts,” increasing inflation, and other hardships if the mandates are enforced.
But Democrats — including some who are viewed as politically vulnerable — argue that increasing vaccination rates is essential to protect the economy and workers at risk of contracting the virus in the workplace.
“I think it’s important that, for the purposes of Nevada’s economy, we keep our businesses and people safe, and the only way we’re going to do that is make sure we either get people vaccinated or a test,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who is up for re-election in the swing state of Nevada in 2022, told Insider on Wednesday. “People have the ability to test.”
Democrats also warn that rates of hospitalization for COVID-19 in their states is simply unsustainable and say vaccination is the only way out of the crisis.
“In New Hampshire, we have the highest rate of transmission of any state in the country,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire told Insider. “Our hospitals are at capacity, our healthcare workers are overworked, and we need to make sure that people get vaccinated.”
Despite his home state governor’s recent criticism of the policy, Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan told Insider he was voting against repealing the OSHA rule because he is “tired of having a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
“I have no tolerance for people who — unless they have legitimate objections — are not getting vaccinated,” he said.
Though most Democrats back Biden’s COVID-19 policies, both Manchin and Tester announced well ahead of the vote that they would vote to repeal the rules for private businesses.
“I have long said we should incentivize, not penalize, private employers whose responsibility it is to protect their employees from COVID-19,” Manchin said in a statement, announcing that he would cosponsor the measure.
“I mean, I’m vaccinated, my staff’s vaccinated, my family’s vaccinated,” Tester told Insider on Wednesday. “The reason I’m doing this is because I’ve heard from businesses that it’s really hard.”
Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, both facing potentially tough re-election battles next year, declined to tell Insider how they would vote when asked on Wednesday.
Both ultimately voted against the measure.
Full vaccination status calls for either a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson or two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Beginning this week, employers are required to provide paid time off for their employees to get vaccinated and sick leave if they need time to recover from side effects of the shot.
The OSHA rule for private employers is distinct from more stringent federal mandates for healthcare providers, Medicare and Medicaid providers, and federal government contractors.
Republicans and other critics also argued that those who have recovered from COVID-19 are protected through so-called “natural immunity” and should be exempt from getting vaccinated.
While studies have found that a COVID-19 infection provides some immunity, those who are vaccinated appear to have stronger protection against reinfection. OSHA has said it’s not workable to exempt people who’ve been infected.
Republican lawmakers argued that enforcing workplace rules will only harden opposition to the vaccines. But the mandates have significantly increased the number of vaccinated people in recent months. Still, Republicans insist that workers are being unfairly punished.
“If you want to earn a paycheck in America, you have to get vaccinated, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso said, “but if you want to sit at home and collect a welfare check under Joe Biden’s economy, then it doesn’t matter to him whether you’re vaccinated or not.”