President Joe Biden announced on Thursday a number of new strategies to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, including vaccine requirements for companies with more than 100 employees, resulting in right-wing media and conservative lawmakers making outlandish and hyperbolic statements in response.
Biden’s “COVID-19 Action Plan” includes the proposal of a new rule for businesses that employ more than 100 workers, which would be regulated through the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Those workers would have to make a decision: either get fully vaccinated for protection against COVID-19, or submit to weekly testing.
In addition to this new rule (which will affect around 80 million workers), the Biden White House will also require 17 million health care workers across the U.S. to get vaccinated if their employer receives funds from Medicare or Medicaid. Federal workers within the executive branch of government will also have to be vaccinated, without an opt-out testing option.
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“If we can come together as a country and use those tools, if we raise our vaccination rate, protect ourselves and others with masking, expanded testing, and identify people who are infected, we can and we will turn the tide on COVID-19,” Biden said in a Thursday evening speech outlining his plan.
A number of conservatives expressed anger at the new rules on workplace vaccinations, with many of them callings for workers and companies to defy them. Some of those voices used chilling language that implied that more direct (and possibly violent) action against the government might be justified, a worrisome prospect given that a far right protest is planned to happen at the nation’s Capitol later this month.
Fox News, for example, reacted to Biden’s announcement by using alarming terminology on live television, showcasing banners and chyrons that described Biden as “an authoritarian” leader. One such banner also said that “Biden declare[d] war on millions of Americans.”
One commentator on the network called him a “tyrant,” while another said he was a “rotting bag of oatmeal.”
Right-wing websites also took part in the Biden-bashing. Breitbart described him as a “full totalitarian,” while Gateway Pundit called the new rules “tyrannical.” The Federalist called the moves “fascist.”
Notably, some of these organizations actually have vaccine rules in place that mirror what the Biden administration is hoping to implement. Fox News, for example, required its employees to submit their vaccine information earlier this summer, and regularly tests its staff for coronavirus regardless of vaccine status.
Republican politicians also used hyperbole in attacking Biden’s plans. Many of these attacks neglected to mention that employers and workers at large companies would have the option to opt out of vaccines with regular testing.
“Many of us were warning people that the Biden Administration was going to consider COVID mandates, and here we are,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-South Carolina) tweeted.
“This isn’t about science. It’s about a desperate politician abusing power to appease his radical base,” opined Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana).
While their criticisms of Biden are forceful, both lawmakers’ home states are facing incredible difficulties with the virus. Louisiana’s vaccination rate, at 43 percent, is the seventh-worst in the nation, and its average daily death toll presently ranks it as third-worst. In South Carolina, things are not much better: Its vaccination rate is just 44 percent, and its COVID death toll is the fourth-worst in the country.
Members of the far right House Freedom Caucus put out a statement decrying the vaccine rules as “invasive and unAmerican,” and an “attempt by the Biden Regime to expand its control over Americans’ daily lives.” And RNC chair Ronna McDaniel vowed that the party itself would sue the White House over any vaccine mandates, again using language that neglected to point out that the new rules offered an opt-out choice for workers that didn’t want to get vaccinated.
In spite of these exaggerated and omission-prone attacks against Biden’s plan, most Americans appear to be open to the proposed rules. Polling from Gallup last month found support for requiring proof of vaccination in a number of realms within American life, including going to an office or worksite.
Sixty-one percent of Americans in that poll said vaccine proof should be required for air travel, and 58 percent said it should be required for large-crowd events. Fifty-six percent of Americans in the Gallup survey also said workers should be vaccinated before they return to their in-person jobs.