Joe Biden defends vaccine mandates, says foes can ‘have at it’

President Biden on Friday dismissed critics of his far-reaching new COVID-19 vaccine mandates, saying that they could “have at it” and that the “vast majority” of people agree with him — despite polls showing slimmer public support.

Biden defended vaccine mandates for federal workers, employees of private companies of 100 or more people, health care workers and some teachers during a visit to a middle school in Washington, DC, adding that he is “disappointed” in those who oppose his policies.

“I think the vast majority — look at the polling data — the vast majority of the American people know we have to do these things. They’re hard but necessary,” Biden said in response to a reporter’s question.

Biden also took a swipe at Republican governors, such as Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, who have banned local school districts from imposing mask mandates on students. On Thursday, Biden committed federal funds to bail out any teacher or school district penalized for adopting a mask mandate in violation of state rules.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden said the “vast majority” of people agree with his vaccine mandates.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

“Look, I am so disappointed that particularly some Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities,” Biden said at the DC middle school on Friday. “This is — we’re playing for real here. This isn’t a game.”

Biden said critics of the vaccine mandates can “have at it” — as the rules are expected to be challenged in court and received a cool response from some labor unions.

Biden outlined the new mandates after his approval rating tanked in several recent national polls, including because of lower support for his pandemic management as the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 drives an increase in infections.

First Lady Jill Biden (R) speaks alongside US President Joe Biden
President Biden’s vaccine mandates apply to about 100 million workers.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

A recent Gallup poll, conducted Aug. 16-22, did find that a slim majority of the public — 56 percent — supports businesses imposing vaccine mandates on workers, but the poll didn’t inquire about government dictates, and a majority of independents and Republicans were opposed.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll, conducted Aug. 29-Sept. 1, found just 52 percent support for businesses mandating vaccination for workers.

That poll also found a partisan divide and independents were divided. Among opponents, 42 percent said they would rather quit if forced to choose between submitting to a shot or their job.

President Joe Biden visits Brookland Middle School in Washington, DC on September, 10.
President Joe Biden visits Brookland Middle School in Washington, DC on September, 10.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

An Associated Press poll conducted Aug. 12-16 found 50 percent support for businesses requiring workers to get vaccinated and 55 percent support for a mandate on government workers.

Biden’s vaccine mandates apply to about 100 million workers — or about two-thirds of the entire US workforce. Most federal workers and contractors must get vaccinated if they don’t qualify for religious or medical exceptions. And a new Labor Department rule will require companies and organizations with 100 workers or more to either impose a vaccine mandate or subject staff to weekly testing.

About 17 million employees of health care facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid payments and 300,000 teachers in the Head Start programs for poor children also must now get vaccinated.

According to CDC data, 75.3 percent of US adults have had at least one coronavirus vaccine shot. But vaccination rates vary among states and the national infection rate is as high as it was in late January, when few Americans were vaccinated.

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association came out against Biden’s mandate on federal workers and the American Federation of Government Employees said “[w]e expect to bargain over this change prior to implementation.”