Biden Vaccine Mandate Exposes GOP Struggle With Divisive Issue Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stands on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, on Sept. 13, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
By Fran Beyer | Tuesday, 14 September 2021 12:19 PM
President Joe Biden’s sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate exposes a GOP struggle to balance a mandate revolt from GOP governors and the party’s base — and a need to appeal to swing voters ahead of next year’s election, The Hill reported.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a childhood polio survivor and a vocal supporter of the vaccines, declined to comment to The Hill on Biden’s mandate.
But GOP governors like Nebraska’s Gov. Pete Ricketts have called it a constitutional issue, The Hill noted. And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. — McConnell’s counterpart in the House — tweeted an all-cap "no" to vaccine mandates.
According to The Hill, polls show a majority of Americans favor requiring vaccinations for office workers returning to the workplace. But opinions fall largely along party lines.
McConnell seems open to the idea — at least on a local basis.
"If I were governor, I’d leave the issue of masks and vaccines up to school boards and employers," he told The Owensboro Times last month, The Hill reported. "I don’t think it’s the business of government, certainly not the federal government."
McConnell is keenly aware the party has to do better with women voters, particularly in the suburbs, where a CNN poll showed that 55% favor a vaccine mandate for workers returning to the office, The Hill reported.
"As a political matter, Biden is likely to find some running room here because most people have probably already gotten a shot and so they probably don’t mind that others would need to get one as well, but I think the real question is will a mandate cause an unvaccinated person to [get the shot], and I think it’s unlikely to be persuasive," Scott Jennings, a Kentucky-based GOP strategist who has advised McConnell’s past campaigns, told The Hill.
"My suspicion is he’s going to find some support for it. All the Democrats will be for it. Some Republicans will be for it as a polling matter, especially, I would think, senior citizens. And my guess is independents are probably tilting in this direction," he added.
Other Republican strategists think bucking Biden’s vaccine mandate is a winning issue for GOP officeholders and candidates.
"This is a big winning issue for Republicans because I don’t think many people think that this is constitutional. There aren’t many people who make the case that OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] has the power to do this unilaterally," Brian Darling, a former Senate aide and GOP strategist, told The Hill.
"You’re seeing a big backlash, you’re seeing a lot of conservatives who are upset about it — even people who are vaccinated," he added. "I’m uncomfortable with the federal government forcing people to get shots if they’re not comfortable with it.
"It’s a tough issue, but it’s a winning issue for Republicans if they play it right because the American people don’t like mandates."