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Three months ago, as California Gov. GAVIN NEWSOM was turning around his fate in the state’s recall election, many Democrats came to the conclusion that they’d struck political gold. Mandates to get the Covid-19 vaccine weren’t just extremely valuable public health policy but they were electorally powerful too.
Now, moderate and frontline members of the party are singing a different tune.
In recent comments, several high-profile Democrats have stated their opposition to vaccine mandates, specifically applied to private businesses. The most recent Democratic lawmaker to voice her concern was Michigan Gov. GRETCHEN WHITMER. Once considered to be Biden’s vice president, Whitmer said she opposes mandates, citing the impact on the state’s workforce — as Michigan grapples with upticks in cases and residents are split on whether or not to get the vaccine.
“We’re an employer too, the state of Michigan is,” Whitmer said on Monday, according to the Daily News in Greenville. “I know if that mandate happens, we’re going to lose state employees. That’s why I haven’t proposed a mandate at the state level. Some states have. We have not, we’re waiting to see what happens in court.”
Whitmer isn’t the only Democrat now sounding these notes. Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) has said he does not support requiring businesses with over 100 employees to ensure that their workforces are vaccinated from Covid-19. Sen. JON TESTER (D-Mont.) has thrown a bit of shade on it too. Gov. PHIL MURPHY (D-.N.J.), shortly before an unexpectedly close re-election win, shied away from embracing a strict vaccine mandate for teachers and other public workers. Gov. KATHY HOCHUL (D-N.Y.), who is running for election after taking over for disgraced former Gov. ANDREW CUOMO (D-N.Y.), has stated her opposition to a “broad-based mandate for all private-sector workers in New York.”
The souring of some Democrats on the mandate comes as the courts strike legal blow after legal blow against a series of vaccine mandates President JOE BIDEN unveiled in September, and it’s prompting concerns in the party that they’re ending up with the worst of all worlds: a blunt policy that won’t go into effect but that will saddle them politically.
“On one hand, it’s just another thing added to the pile of shit that he’s already been dealing with,” a Democratic strategist told us. “On the other hand, it’s just one more front that he and his team are going to have to fight.”
The White House, so far at least, seems unbowed by it all. Aides are convinced that the mandates are necessary to finally tamp down the pandemic, which they believe is Biden’s political end-all, be-all. And they point to an uptick in vaccination rates after businesses and other institutions implemented their own mandates as evidence that they work.
“We know it works. That’s why the administration and the president will continue pressing forward,” White House press secretary JEN PSAKI said of vaccine mandates at today’s briefing.
Biden himself was initially skeptical of requirements that people be vaccinated against the coronavirus, out of a belief that most Americans would jump at the chance to get their shots if they were free and easily accessible. He wanted to steer clear of the politicization that has hampered much of the Covid-19 response, viewing mandates as a concept that could easily spark blowback.
“The concern all along was that mandates can be polarizing, that they have the potential to further entrench people in their resistance,” said CELINE GOUNDER, who advised the Biden transition on the Covid-19 response. “They really tried with incentives over the summer, hoping they didn’t have to go the route of mandates.”
The Delta variant’s emergence — combined with growing GOP opposition to the vaccination campaign — upended that calculation. Faced with a resurgence of cases, plateauing vaccination rate and few alternatives, administration officials by September concluded any political damage done by imposing mandates would be far outweighed by the price that Biden would pay if he failed to rein in the pandemic.
“It’s also important to keep in mind the importance this issue had on the presidential election. Swing voters in particular strongly disagreed with Donald Trump’s failure to act and ignorance towards the severity of the virus,” said ADRIENNE ELROD, a Democratic strategist and former Biden campaign aide. “Voters wanted leadership and a plan, and President Biden delivered.”
The White House is quick to point to polling showing voter support for its requirements for health care workers and large employers to be vaccinated. Aides also credit the mandate, or threat of it, with helping ramp up vaccinations. But the mandates have yet to make it past court challenges.
In certain races — and for certain politicians — the mandate does remain a potent political issue, in addition to a virtuous health policy. With a month left in office and a potential run for governor in his future, New York City Mayor BILL DE BLASIO announced a mandate for private sector employees. Political insiders viewed it as a way for De Blasio to lure more liberal downstate Democrats to his side, should he run for governor.
As for the White House, there are no regrets or plans to go back on the mandate embrace.
“They can’t backpedal now — nor should they. That would be insane. It would fuck every local elected official who has tried to follow their lead and cause mass confusion,” another Democratic strategist told us, adding that the White House is “on solid ground, both politically and morally.”
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From the University of Virginia’s Miller Center
Which future president helped win a case forcing all New York City railroad companies to seat Black passengers without prejudice on their streetcars?
(Answer at the bottom.)
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: The vice president’s office really liked this Los Angeles Times story by ERIN B. LOGAN and MARISSA EVANS about KAMALA HARRIS presiding over the White House’s first Maternal Health Day of Action Summit. Deputy communications director HERBIE ZISKEND and assistant press secretary RACHEL PALERMO both shared the piece, as did LILIÁN SÁNCHEZ, the associate director of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs. The headline: “Harris pushes for expansion of maternal healthcare, Medicaid postpartum coverage.”
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: The lede of this Bloomberg story by ERIN MULVANEY: “The Biden administration’s mandate for federal contractors’ employees to be vaccinated will be halted nationwide, amid a slew of challenges from states that say the president overstepped his authority in requiring the Covid-19 shots.”
LIVE BY THE POLLS, DIE BY THE POLLS: This White House is a fan of pushing out polls to back themselves up. There wasn’t a lot to boast about in the new Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday, in which Biden has a 57 percent disapproval rating.
This paragraph stood out: “Nearly a year after Mr. Biden won the presidency by nearly 4.5 percentage points in the popular vote, he draws 46% support in a hypothetical 2024 rematch, essentially tied with Mr. Trump, who was favored by 45%. Some 46% of voters say they would continue Mr. Biden’s policy course, while 48% say they’d rather return to Mr. Trump’s policies.”
HARRIS’ BRAIN TRUST: EUGENE DANIELS got some details on the private meeting between the vice president and nearly 20 members of Black Women Leaders and Allies, a coalition of groups focused on civil rights issues. The Black community, they stressed, wants to see more of her, and they want to be called on more to help out where they could, serving as her “ambassadors.”
BANK COP YANKED — Biden’s choice for a key role policing the nation’s banks withdrew her nomination Tuesday after facing pushback from several moderate Democrats, a rare defeat for the president on one of his personnel choices, VICTORIA GUIDA reports. SAULE OMAROVA, the nominee for comptroller of the currency at the Treasury Department, also met with fierce resistance from Republicans and business groups over her advocacy for a dominant role for government in finance.
FCC FIRST: The Senate voted 68-31 to approve JESSICA ROSENWORCEL to lead the Federal Communications Commission and serve another five-year term with the regulator. Rosenworcel, who has been serving in an active capacity, will be the first permanent female chair of the FCC.
The Senate also today confirmed DEIRDRE HAMILTON to be a member of the National Mediation Board, 52-48. Hamilton’s confirmation shifts the agency, which helps resolve labor-management disputes in the U.S. railway and airline industries, to a Democratic majority.
A WARNING — Biden today issued a warning to Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN — telling Putin the U.S. and European allies would join together to impose “strong” economic penalties and other punitive actions on Russia should it mount an invasion of Ukraine, QUINT FORGEY reports.
Read today’s edition of NatSec Daily for more: To stop Putin, Europeans ‘need to step in and do more.’
U.S. Strikes India deal in bid to loosen China’s grip on solar panels (WSJ’s Stu Woo and Phred Dvorak)
The CIA is deep into cryptocurrency, director reveals (Motherboard’s Jordan Pearson)
An inernal document shows DHS officials advised against Haitian deportations (Buzzfeed’s Hamed Aleaziz)
The surgeon general’s latest advisory highlights the youth mental health crisis (NPR’s Morning Edition)
He held a video call with Putin, which lasted roughly two hours. Following the call, the president spoke with French President EMMANUEL MACRON, German Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL, Italian Prime Minister MARIO DRAGHI and U.K. Prime Minister BORIS JOHNSON to talk about their response to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders.
The vice president delivered remarks discussing the Maternal Health Day of Action, and steps the administration is taking to address maternal health specifically.
She also participated in a one-on-one discussion about maternal health with the U.S. Olympian ALLYSON FELIX.
When deputy national security adviser JON FINER worked for former Secretary of State JOHN KERRY in the Obama administration, the two traveled together a lot. And the pair of New Englanders bonded over their shared love of Boston sports teams.
Finer revealed in a 2016 Valley News profile that he would watch “an embarrassingly large amount of Red Sox, Bruins and Patriots games” on his computer while traveling.
Not only would he try to catch the games in his free time, but he and Kerry would also “occasionally toss a football around post-transatlantic flights to get the juices flowing,” Finer’s childhood friend MARK TURCO said.
We asked the NSC if Finer snuck in some time to catch the Pats victory over the Bills last night but they did not respond.
CHESTER ARTHUR, who helped the plaintiff win Jennings v. Third Ave. Railroad Co. in 1855. ELIZABETH JENNINGS had been forced out of the white section of a Brooklyn streetcar after refusing to leave and sued with the support of the African-American community. By 1861 the New York City public transit system was fully integrated.
For information on Arthur and the rest of the presidents, visit millercenter.org.
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Edited by Emily Cadei
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