The White House attempted to neutralize criticism ahead of its anticipated vaccination rules for federal employees.
President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak later Thursday about the administration’s vaccination strategy and next steps for countering the slowed rate of vaccinations as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads through communities.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the principal deputy press secretary, said the policy under consideration — requiring federal workers to attest to being vaccinated or subject themselves to regular Covid-19 testing — is similar to policies being implemented by local governments and businesses across the country.
“This is a really helpful way to ensure a safe workplace for employees,” Jean-Pierre said during the daily press briefing.
She even pointed her comments directly at Fox News’ Peter Doocy unprompted, a departure from the Biden administration’s circumspect approach to addressing the conservative media giant’s messaging on Covid-19 vaccinations.
“It also is not dissimilar to some of the protocols that you all have put in place in some of the newsrooms that you work in — including Fox, Peter — who to my understanding is asking for self-attestation to ensure a safe and healthy workplace,” she said. “So this is not an unusual matter.”
Multiple outlets have reported that Fox Corporation had implemented a policy called the “Fox Clear Pass” allowing employees to voluntarily self-report their vaccination status. Those who had gotten vaccinated would be allowed to skip the company’s screening protocols.
At the same time the Biden administration has taken pains to avoid the word mandate when referring to the get-vaccinated-or-get-tested approach. The rapidly building momentum in the federal government and elsewhere for such requirements has unnerved some of the president’s key labor allies, who believe such matters should not be implemented without the say-so of their constituents and risks alienating some union members.
Jean-Pierre, who said she did not want to get into specifics prior to Biden’s address, repeatedly emphasized that attestation policies still give workers the authority to make a decision for themselves.
“What I laid out as a strong consideration is a choice,” she said. “It is a choice that employees will be able to make.”
Shortly before he took the podium, Biden directed roughly 2 million federal employees to attest to their vaccination status or submit to regular testing. The directive covers both federal workers and on-site contractors, and those who do not affirm they have been vaccinated will be required to wear masks while working and be tested once or twice a week for Covid-19.
Biden is also instructing the Pentagon to plan for adding coronavirus to the list of mandatory immunizations to serve in the military, and urging governments across the country to tap coronavirus relief aid to offer $100 rewards to those newly willing to get vaccinated.
Earlier this week, the Department of Veterans Affairs said it would require Covid vaccines of frontline health care workers, such as doctors nurses and physicians assistants. And elected leaders in places like California and New York also announced they were adopting similar plans for public-sector employees and certain private-sector health care workers.
Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration sees the federal government as a “model for other companies and other organizations” in charting a safe return to office life that has been upended by the pandemic.
“A key goal of ours is to ensure we have a sustainable model to keep employers across the country,” she said.
The Department of Justice also recently released an opinion stating its Office of Legal Counsel does not believe that federal law bars businesses or public agencies from mandating coronavirus vaccinations, reassuring leaders considering such measures that they would be on defensible legal ground.
However the political debate surrounding vaccinations has only heightened as employers create distinctions between the vaccinated and unvaccinated and local governments in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere reimpose mask-wearing ordinances — regardless of vaccination status — at the behest of the CDC and public health officials.
The return of mask rules on Capitol Hill inflamed Republicans this week, and the furor only escalated Thursday following a Capitol Police bulletin that raised the possibility of arrest for congressional staffers and visitors who violate the House’s mask edict.