After President Biden announced an order this week mandating vaccination for some 80-100 million federal and private sector workers, Newsweek reported that the order doesn’t apply to members of Congress or their staffs.
As ABC 10 Sacramento (KXTV) reported, “The president cannot impose a vaccine mandate on Congress via executive order or in an agency or department regulation, according to the Congressional Institute.”
The president also can’t mandate vaccination for employees of the judicial branch.
It’s also a good question whether his mandate for federal workers is really enforceable, much less the mandate that would apply to private sector workers in businesses with more than 100 employees.
The lines are fairly clear for military personnel, as failing to accept a vaccine can make a service member non-deployable, and hence interfere with force readiness and mission accomplishment.
But most federal workers’ jobs don’t come with such requirements. Even where they do, government employee unions are watchdogs for restrictions and mandates affecting their members, when the measures aren’t demonstrably necessary for the performance of job functions. “Workplace safety” is a condition, not a job function, and has never been held to require the vaccination of everyone who might enter a workplace. “Deploying to the Congo,” on the other hand, may well emerge as a job function for military or other federal personnel, and require a slate of vaccines in preparation.
On Thursday the Washington Post corrected a story it had run reporting that an exemption had been granted for the U.S. Postal Service — which has constant daily interaction with the general public, to an extent almost no other agency does. The Post said its original report had been off on the facts.
But the postal workers’ union argued this summer against vaccine mandates for employees. As with the union exemptions from Obamacare’s provisions, unions will go to bat for their members to keep them from falling under mandates that have nothing to do with their contracted work product. The wording of the report on the Washington Post correction focuses on the fact that USPS technically operates outside the executive branch, and its inclusion in the Biden order is not because postal workers are federal employees, but because their workplaces fall under OSHA. That really just skirts the question of whether the unions agree with a vaccination mandate.
We may not have heard the last of the “exemption” for postal workers, in spite of Washington Post’s correction. It’s doubtful that the union’s position has really made an about-face since July.
The same basis for exemptions, meanwhile, would apply to practically everyone else in the United States.
Newsweek points out that earlier this year, Nancy Pelosi told the media she can’t mandate that anyone in Congress be vaccinated. “Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference on April 29 that the House couldn’t require members to be vaccinated,” Newsweek reported.
Newsweek quoted Pelosi, who said: “So—so here is the thing. We are—we cannot require someone to be vaccinated. That’s just not what we can do. It is a matter of privacy to know who is or who isn’t.”
There’s the point that the same logic applies to everyone else in America. America’s citizens have the same rights as members of Congress. Members of Congress and their staffs have constitutional rights only because all Americans have them. When it comes to rights, there are no “special” ones that apply to any branch of the government. Constitutional rights are the same for everyone.
But there’s also the point that what we elect members of Congress and pay them for is to zealously defend the rights of Americans. Biden may know he can’t levy mandates on Congress or the judicial branch, and it may be a prominent fact in his mind (or more accurately the minds of his team of managers) because Congress and the federal courts are just a few blocks away.
But if he needs help remembering the same truth about the rest of America, Congress needs to step up and remind him of it. State attorneys general are already doing so, but Congress and the states shouldn’t be at odds on this. Nothing could position a sitting member of Congress for 2022 like taking steps to oppose the extreme overreach of a vaccine mandate — one that Congress itself is conveniently exempt from.