President Joe Biden is trying concentrate the anger of America's inoculated population against refusal of 25% of eligible Americans get vaccinated for COVID-19.
Biden announced Thursday far-reaching federal requirements that could make millions of people go to the hospital, nearly 8 months after declaring war on coronavirus. Biden embraced those who aren't ready to give up, as an encouragement in the face of a rising number of cases. This is amidst a tightening economy and straining the nation’s health system.
Biden stated from the State Dining Room, "We've been patient but our patience wears thin." "And your refusal cost all of us."
He said that the unvaccinated minorities can cause "a lot of harm, and they are."
This speech was Biden's most public expression of frustration over the COVID-19 pandemic. It also marked a departure from his usual talk of national healing. He basically criticized a small group of Americans for holding back the majority. He was particularly harsh about public officials who exploit vaccine fears for political gain.
Biden stated that "a distinct minority" of Americans supported by a minority of elected officials are keeping us from turning the corner. "These pandemic politics make people sick and cause unvaccinated people death," Biden said.
Biden's assertive posture was a reflection of a calculation that far more Americans would support his action than will be drawn towards the visceral anger directed at him by some on the right -- as evidenced, he said, by the fact a supermajority has been vaccinated.
Biden also tried to defend himself on the most important issue to voters, arguing that it was driven by self-interest.
His poll numbers have fallen to their lowest level since his presidency, due to the resurgence in the virus. A AP-NORC August poll found 54% approval of Biden's pandemic stewardship, a decrease of 66% from the previous month. This was due to a decline in Republican support and independent political voters.
This summer, there has been a slowdown in the fight against the virus. The approval drop coincides with the decline in approval. Biden blamed August's slower than expected job growth on the spike in cases and warned that the country could face an economic penalty if the virus isn't controlled.
Two months ago, Biden declared the country's independence from the pandemic. Even though more than 75% Americans have received at least one vaccine, the U.S. now sees 300% more COVID-19-related infections per day, nearly twice as many hospitalizations and almost double the number of deaths, compared to last year.
Biden warned that "We are in the tough stretch" and that it could continue for some time.
He predicted that the human toll would not exceed last winter's, even though most Americans were vaccinated.
Biden addressed the fears of Americans who had received the vaccine and said that he understood the anger of those who hadn't. "I understand your anxiety about getting a breakthrough." Biden said that his administration was working quickly to secure booster doses for the mRNA vaccines by the end of this month in order to provide greater protection against the more transmissible variant.
Officials at the White House insist that Biden is not trying to incite anger. However, he said that he hopes that reflecting on the frustration of the majority of Americans -- along with new vaccine requirements -- will be a positive step towards putting the virus under control. They argue that the only way to defeat the virus is to overcome the resistance of the 80 million people still waiting for a shot.
This is a refreshing change of tone for a White House which spent most of the year trying to avoid any criticism from those waiting to get vaccinated.
Federal, state, and local governments spent billions of dollars on education, advertising, and outreach to spread the word about the safety and efficacy vaccines. They gave away cars, beer, tuition, and even cars. The White House remained steadfast despite criticisms from Republicans about Biden's handling the vaccination rollout.
Officials said that as more Americans pulled up their sleeves, Biden became more comfortable. He first took on the misinformation spread by his administration about the shots, and now has to impose the vaccination requirements that his administration previously avoided.
Biden, despite his stiffening posture, has so far resisted any coercive demands, including the requirement of shots for domestic flight travel.
Yet, Biden's opponents responded quickly.
Mississippi Republican Governor. Tate Reeves tweeted "The vaccine itself can save lives, but this is a terrifying and unconstitutional decision." This is America and we believe in freedom from tyrants.
Ronna McDaniel (chairwoman of the Republican National Committee) called it an "unconstitutional and un-American federal decrement." South Carolina Republican Governor. Henry McMaster replied without nuance: "Rest assured. We will fight them until the gates of hell in order to protect every South Carolinian's liberty and livelihood."
The White House is preparing for legal challenges. They believe that millions of Americans will be able to get shot even if some mandates are removed. This could save lives and prevent the spread of the virus.
Biden has found unexpected allies in the business community. They are eager to see normalcy return after 18 months of disruption caused by pandemic influenza. Although they may not agree with Biden's tax increases, they seem to have accepted his argument that the country cannot afford to allow those who aren't vaccinated to "undo progress" on strengthening the economy.
Joshua Bolten, president and CEO of Business Roundtable, said that the group welcomes the Biden Administration’s continued vigilance against COVID.
Jay Timmons, President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, stated that "we look forward to working together with the administration to ensure that any vaccine requirements do not negatively impact the operations of those manufacturers who have been leading through this pandemic to keep Americans safer."
Despite the outrage of his opponents, Biden can find comfort in some data points.
A poll by Axios/Ipsos was conducted July 30-Aug 2, and 58% of Americans (including 79% of those who have been vaccinated) said that they blame the unvaccinated in increasing COVID-19 rates and the spread of new variants. Multiple responses were allowed in the poll, but those who blamed the unvaccinated for the rise in COVID-19 cases and the spread of new variants to the U.S. were more likely to respond than those who blamed other causes such as people traveling from other countries (32%), or Donald Trump (28%).
White House aides point out a clearer metric: the more than 220 million Americans who have had a shot.