President Biden, in his first remarks since unveiling an extensive plan to push two-thirds of American workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, said Friday that his sweeping mandates would withstand challenges by Republicans who said they plan to defy them.
“Have at it,” said Mr. Biden, who was delivering remarks at a middle school in Washington. “I am so disappointed, particularly that some of the Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities.”
A day earlier, the president unveiled a series of sweeping actions through a combination of executive orders and new federal rules. His administration moved to mandate shots for health care workers, federal contractors and the vast majority of federal workers, who could face disciplinary measures if they refuse.
“I do not know of any scientist out there in this field that does not think it makes considerable sense to do the six things I have suggested,” Mr. Biden added.
Republicans quickly moved to call the Biden administration’s plan unconstitutional, and a handful of Republican governors, including Brian Kemp of Georgia, have threatened to challenge the mandates in court. Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said on Twitter that her organization would sue the Biden administration.
Legal experts say that broad provisions given to the federal government and the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus could ultimately protect against legal challenges. Jennifer Shinall, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, said in an interview that the mandate for federal workers is almost certain to encounter lawsuits, but these are likely to fail.
“As long as there are provisions for workers not healthy enough to get the vaccine and probably to some extent religious accommodations,” Ms. Shinall said, “I think that the legal challenges fail.”
Initially reluctant to enact mandates, Mr. Biden is now moving more aggressively than any other president in modern history to require vaccination. There is substantial focus on keeping schools safely reopened for in-person learning: The slate of new requirements would apply to those who teach in Head Start programs, Department of Defense Schools, and schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education. Collectively, those schools serve more than 1 million children and employ nearly 300,000 staff, according to the plan released by administration officials.
The president traveled to Brookland Middle School on Friday with Jill Biden, the first lady, a college professor who returned to teaching this week. Her return to the classroom will give one of the most influential people in the White House the ability to speak firsthand about the challenges administrators, teachers and students are facing.
“We cannot always know what the future holds, but we do know what we owe our children,” Dr. Biden said on Friday. “We owe them a promise to keep their schools open as safe as possible. We owe them a commitment to follow the science.”