Do the executive orders exceed the president’s authority?
In September, President Joe Biden issued two executive orders mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for federal contractors and for federal employees. Specifically, federal employees must be vaccinated by November 22, while federal contractors must be vaccinated by December 8.
While those are certainly large numbers, both executive orders took a backseat in the headlines to another far more expansive rule that Biden also proposed the same day, which could affect tens of millions more Americans: mandating employees at private businesses with 100+ employees to either be vaccinated or tested weekly. However, this rule will come from the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), not from a Biden executive order. (The rule also hasn’t actually gone into effect yet.)
What the legislation does
New legislation would overturn Executive Orders 14042 and 14043.
A House version was introduced on September 24 as the Freedom from Mandates Act, H.R. 5360, by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ5). A Senate version was introduced a few days later on September 28 as the Stop Vaccine Mandates Act, S. 2879, by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the two executive orders would force many Americans to abide by something which Biden pledged as president-elect not to do: institute a vaccine mandate.
“The federal government may not force the American people to get a vaccine against their will. President Biden’s continued attempts to trample on the rights and liberties of Americans must not be tolerated,” Rep. Biggs said in a press release. “His vaccine mandates are just another example of using fear and division to pit Americans against each other and maintain his control. The American people must be allowed to make their own health care decisions. It is their right.”
“President Biden’s executive order excessively exceeded his power. Every American should be able to make the decisions that are best for them and their families,” Sen. Lankford said in a press release. “My family made the choice to get the vaccine and I encourage every Oklahoman to get vaccinated, but no American should be forced to be vaccinated… No American should have to choose between their conscience, their health, and their job.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the executive orders include exemptions for health reasons and religious beliefs. They also note that Biden is not mandating a vaccine for all Americans, which even many of the most progressive Democrats acknowledge is likely beyond his authority, but rather doing so specifically for federal employees and contractors, a workforce he leads.
“The health and safety of the federal workforce, and the health and safety of members of the public with whom they interact, are foundational to the efficiency of the civil service,” President Biden wrote in one of the executive orders. “I have determined that ensuring the health and safety of the federal workforce and the efficiency of the civil service requires immediate action to protect the federal workforce and individuals interacting with the federal workforce.”
“It is essential that federal employees take all available steps to protect themselves and avoid spreading COVID-19 to their co-workers and members of the public,” Biden continued. “The CDC has found that the best way to do so is to be vaccinated.”
Odds of passage
The House bill has attracted 26 cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in either the House Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, Oversight and Reform, or Ways and Means Committee.
The Senate bill has attracted one cosponsor, a Republican. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled Congress.