Are Biden's Mandates Legal? ... and GOP Cynicism
GOP governors back every vaccine except the one people need most
Ari here—welcome back to longtime readers, and welcome aboard to those of you who just joined the list!
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Fall here is, school is back and so is Covid. That’s why there’s been lots of covid news lately, including:
Surging covid and delta in places like Florida
New partial vaccine mandates from the Biden administration
A spike in the “covid wars” in our politics
“Fauci My Florida”
Governor DeSantis (MAGA-FL) is waging his entire career on out-Trumping Trump on the Covid issue. Trump recently encouraged supporters to get vaccinated at a rally — something many called on him to do — while DeSantis made the false claim that one’s vaccination choice does not “impact” other people. (It does.) (Covid is contagious.) (I could go on.)
DeSantis is politicizing the Covid response, but not to appeal to voters in Florida. Majorities there back safety measures like masks. DeSantis is eyeing GOP primary politics, and what he thinks will be the most “hardline” position for Republican activists in Iowa, New Hampshire etc.
(He’s hawking t-shirts and beer koozies that say “Don’t Fauci My Florida.”)
Meanwhile, reports out of Florida show:
COVID cases and hospitalizations breaking all-time records
ICUs that are like “war zones”
The Feds have been sending in ventilators and nasal kits
Many policies take a long time to judge. Invest more in Pre-K, then watch for socioeconomic shifts in 30 years. The results of Covid policy arrive much faster.
The DeSantis approach is a failure. The results are in — just as most states that buck safety measures and vaccine pushes find they are experiencing the worst of the Delta surge now.
DeSantis is not confronting the real ‘trade offs’ in policy. He’s shirking his duties to his constituents in a long term bid for more power in the future. His failures also restrict the freedom that he purports to defend, from stopping schools from choosing how to protect students to barring private business from verifying that someone is vaccinated. Can he even do that? Several judges say not, blocking these unusual efforts (and appeals remain). The people of Florida are paying the price for DeSantis’s crusade.
Vaccine Mandates are Legal
As President-Elect, Joe Biden said he didn’t back vaccine mandates. His September turn to embracing a partial mandate, through businesses, is not what he wanted. It’s not what he planned. It’s what medical experts say became necessary given the U.S.’s unusually high rate of vaccine hesitance.
Is it legal?
The Supreme Court has upheld vaccine mandates for over a century. It declined to take a recent case testing one at a college. I can’t tell you what this Supreme Court will do in the future, any more than I can tell you whether Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac will let Lindsey Buckingham back in the band.
I can tell you the current law and precedent, though, and it supports sweeping vaccine mandates from the government. There’s even caselaw supporting school vaccines in the absence of an epidemic — a lower bar than what we face now.
The Covid Wars, Supersized
Covid is not simple. It’s new and scary and there’s no single perfect policy to handle every phase of it. Many countries have found their citizens angrily clashing over Covid and what to do about it — it’s not just some ‘American polarization’ story.
We know why — people felt trapped inside, afraid, disrupted; many faced direct or indirect disease, injury or death; and many more faced economic pain and job loss (an uneven burden). So there’s room for empathy here.
But not all policy debates are equal. The tradeoff between safety lockdowns and forcing small businesses into bankruptcy is real. “Opposing” Biden’s partial vaccine mandate based on “liberty”... while backing every other vaccine mandate is not real. It’s a contradiction.
It suggests either a kind of ignorance, or in the case of GOP governors caught in this tension, a blithe willingness to put covid war politics above the safety of their citizens.
That was the point exposed by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, who recently asked Nebraska’s Republican Governor Pete Ricketts about holding that hypocritical stance. Ricketts offered no good answer. Because there isn’t one. The evidence reveals some Republican leaders, from Florida to Nebraska, are more afraid of political criticism than policies that risk more preventable deaths.
Do you think our “covid wars” are getting better or worse? Share your view or experience in the comments and I’ll respond to some. And feel free to share this post so people hear about my newsletter. - Ari
P.S. My editor and colleague Calder McHugh runs his own Substack newsletter on sports and how they intersect with progressive politics. It just hit the one year mark so congrats to him and go check it out here if you’re interested:
I think you have captured our state of affairs very succinctly. Always on point. There is an incredible contempt for our institutions, rule of law, democratic principles, sound science, and the American people. I do think the Covid war will get worse before it gets better. And where are our Republican “ better angels”- champions for the common good? ( Your full interview with J Balvin was amazing !!!)
Ari, you were gentle, by assigning “ignorance” to some of these Republican governors. It is shear stupidity! When it comes to COVID-19, everybody wants to practice medicine or become a scientist. It unnerves me to see the financial losses to businesses, workers, and to the country, based on gamesmanship, Trumpism, and just plain, outright lies by Republican lawmakers, governors, political strategists and commentators. People’s social status and well-being gone: Jobs! Homes! Savings! Just think how far along the country would be, had we shut everything down, wore masks, and were vaccinated, soon as the vaccines were available. Simple! Common sense! So, yes, President Biden is right and you’ve established that it’s legal.