The White House on Tuesday accused Republican governors in Texas and Florida of preventing lives from being saved by taking steps to oppose COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
While speaking to reporters at the daily press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked what the Biden administration would do in response to Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott issuing an order that contradicts the federal government's announced requirement that businesses with 100 or more employees force their workers to be vaccinated. Specifically, she was asked if the administration would sue Texas for opposing the federal vaccine mandate, and she did not give a direct answer.
"These requirements are promulgated by federal law, so when the president announced his vaccine mandates for businesses — that, of course, we're waiting on OSHA regulations for as a next step — that was pursuant to federal law," Psaki said.
"Our intention is to implement and continue to work to implement these requirements across the country, including in the states where there are attempts to oppose them," she said.
Abbott on Monday issued an executive order prohibiting entities in Texas from requiring that individuals get COVID-19 shots if they object "for any reason of personal conscience." Similarly, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday told reporters that his administration is considering a law that would shield workers from being fired if they don't abide by vaccine requirements.
Psaki accused Abbott and DeSantis of "putting politics ahead of public health."
"Over 700,000 American lives have been lost due to COVID-19, including more than 56,000 in Florida and over 68,000 in Texas, and every leader should be focused on supporting efforts to save lives and end the pandemic. Why would you be taking steps that prevent the saving of lives, that make it more difficult to save lives across the country or in any state?" she said.
Psaki added that President Joe Biden would use "every lever at his disposal" to get people vaccinated and end the pandemic.
But technically speaking, there is no federal vaccine mandate lever for Biden to push, at least not yet. Though the president held a press conference announcing new vaccination mandates for private companies with more than 100 employees on Sept. 9, his administration has not yet put forward any regulations that would enact that requirement. Neither the White House, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nor the Department of Labor has issued official guidance for the purported federal vaccine mandate, the Federalist reported last week.
Biden did sign an executive order on Sept. 9 that directs the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force to develop requirements that federal contractors "provide adequate COVID-19 safeguards to their workers performing on or in connection with a Federal Government contract or contract-like instrument." The executive order does not establish a vaccine mandate directly; rather, it instructs federal contractors to follow the guidance that the task force will issue. As for private businesses that don't contract with the federal government, the White House told the press that OSHA will issue an emergency rule to mandate vaccination, but it hasn't done so yet.
That's why Psaki didn't say the federal government would sue Texas. It's also why no state attorneys general have filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration to stop the vaccine mandate. There's nothing to sue over.
Still, many big businesses have used Biden's proclamation as cover to go ahead and implement vaccine mandates while pointing the blame at the federal government.
"Everybody loves this cover," Minneapolis employment lawyer Kate Bischoff told Bloomberg Law in September. "Many were already looking down the road at doing this, but the fact that they get to blame Biden is like manna from heaven."