Biden Tests Limits of Presidential Power in Pushing Vaccinations


In a fund-raising email sent on Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican who has issued antimask orders, wrote, “Joe Biden has declared war on constitutional government, the rule of law, and the jobs and livelihoods of millions of Americans.”

But top aides to the president do not appear to be shaken by what they say was an expected response from those quarters. White House officials believe he has clear authority to compel federal workers to be vaccinated as a condition of their employment by the government. And they say requiring hospitals and other health care organization to vaccinate its workers — a mandate that covers as many as 17 million people — is a reasonable condition in exchange for taking federal health care reimbursements.

The most novel part of the president’s announcements on Thursday relate to his use of the emergency authority provided by Congress under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 as a way to require most American workers to submit to vaccination against the virus.

White House officials said OSHA was likely to take at least three or four weeks to write the new standard, partly because it must complete certain time-consuming steps to ensure that the rule passes legal muster. Among them are rigorously demonstrating that workers face a grave danger at work, that the rule is necessary to defuse that danger and that it is feasible for employers to carry out.

OSHA must also sort through a number of practical questions, such as who pays for the testing and what kinds of tests are acceptable.

In the case of the Covid-19 vaccine, the administration will argue that the death and illness caused by the Delta variant of the coronavirus poses a “grave danger” to workers across the country, and that the vaccine is an extremely effective way of preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Those arguments are likely to be included as part of a preamble to the regulatory language that officials at OSHA and the Labor Department are drafting, according to a White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss regulations that are still under development.