Sen. Lee blasts Biden vaccine mandate proposal on Senate floor

Utah senator says the idea the COVID-19 vaccine can be forced on Americans is “offensive.”

(Ken Cedeno | Pool) Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, argued on the Senate floor Tuesday that a federal vaccine mandate for some private businesses was unconstitutional.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee railed against President Joe Biden’s decision to force thousands of federal employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination or lose their jobs. He also turned his ire toward a proposed rule requiring some private companies to also mandate the vaccine or implement weekly coronavirus testing.

“President Biden now wants to force employers to act as a sort of medical police force. They must impose a vaccine mandate on their workforce or be forced to pay a heavy fine,” Lee said. “Threatening the employment of millions of Americans and making employers become enforcers is not how our country will return to normal.”

Earlier this month, Biden announced he was mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for all federal employees and contractors as a term of their employment, starting Nov. 23. That requirement also includes workers at federally funded health care facilities.

Biden also tasked the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop a rule requiring large businesses with 100 or more employees to either require employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Those who don’t comply would face financial penalties. That rule has still not been made public, so the specifics remain unknown.

Lee has declared legislative war on Biden’s push to require the vaccine. Last week he introduced nine bills targeting Biden’s forthcoming vaccine mandate.

“This is not how you will make more people decide to get the vaccine,” Lee said. “This is deeply personal, and the idea that it can be forced upon citizens by the federal government is offensive.”

Lee also argued the science surrounding COVID vaccines is not yet settled, so the Biden administration is treading into risky waters.

“A recent study from three hospitals in Israel shows that natural immunity was ‘27 times more effective than vaccinated immunity at preventing symptomatic infections,’” Lee said. “This mandate completely ignores existing evidence-based data lending credibility to the reality that millions of Americans may not need to be vaccinated because they have acquired natural immunity from previous COVID-19 illness.”

The study Lee cited indeed says that, but it also concluded that previously infected individuals can still benefit from vaccination, especially against the delta variant. Researchers found that previously infected individuals who got a single dose of the vaccine were about half as likely to be reinfected as those who did not get a shot. The study in question also has not yet undergone the peer review process.

On Tuesday Lee asked his Senate colleagues to pass, without debate, a bill exempting individuals from any federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate “on the basis of a personal belief.” That effort was shot down by Washington Democrat Patty Murray who said Lee’s proposal went too far.

“Tailored exemptions for legitimate religious and medical considerations already exist in current law,” Murray said. “This bill could undermine existing protections and create a massive loophole that would lead to more unnecessary and preventable deaths.”

After his bill was derailed, Lee said he would continue to push the issue.

“This is not and cannot possibly be constitutional. I’m going to be back tomorrow, the next day, and as long as it takes to keep addressing this issue,” Lee said. “Freedom matters and the Constitution matters. President Biden has ignored them both.”