WASHINGTON, Sept. 10 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden and his aides have concluded something in recent weeks: Mr. Nice Guy’s approach is not working.
By introducing sweeping new vaccine mandates he once opposed, Biden is fighting what the White House sees as the sabotage of their program by an irritated and politically motivated minority.
After wasted months trying to persuade elected officials with bipartisan meetings and reluctant citizens to get vaccinated through soft outreach, Biden felt he had no choice but to call for more aggressive measures , according to interviews with nine senior collaborators and close allies.
The president’s exasperation was clear.
“What makes it incredibly more frustrating is that we have the tools to fight COVID-19, and a distinct minority of Americans – supported by a distinct minority of elected officials – is preventing us from turning the corner,” he said Thursday, referring to an estimated 80 million unvaccinated.
“We cannot allow these actions to obstruct the protection of the vast majority of Americans who have done their part and want to return to normal lives.”
Biden’s vaccination mandates for all federal employees and large corporations come as the number of infections in the United States rises, the use of face masks returns, newly opened schools are closed, hospital beds are growing. fill and some Republican-led states are defying the recommendations of health officials.
Some 100,000 Americans are expected to die from COVID by December 1, more than the same time last year, bringing the death toll in the United States to 750,000. The prospect of a return to normalcy that Biden has pledged just two months ago, during a July 4 celebration of “COVID Independence,” has given way in many quarters to uncertainty and fear.
Biden’s vaccine tenure marks a turning point, said Julian Zelizer, presidential historian at Princeton University.
“What you see is that he is facing the reality of… vaccine resistance,” he said. “It’s kind of like his first thoughts on Republicans on Capitol Hill, which you can persuade them with the right words and the right demeanor. I think the administration has realized that’s not true.”
As the growth in immunization rates began to slow, the White House launched a summer campaign that included cash offers, door-to-door activities and setting up workplace clinics, festivals and places of worship. They’ve recruited social media influencers – from soccer moms to fashion bloggers to Disney star Olivia Rodrigo – to help spread the word.
These efforts have largely crashed against a wall of defiance and disinformation. As the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads, the job growth rate in August was the slowest since January, and economists are reducing their growth forecasts for the coming months.
Biden’s economy and legacy are at stake. Ultimately, history – and Americans – will judge Biden by his ability to handle the COVID crisis, historians and analysts say.
“Everything stems from his ability to handle the pandemic, from our economic health to our physical health and his political stance,” Zelizer said.
THE PUBLIC SUPPORTS THE MANDATES, SAYS THE DEMS
The past two months have been politically difficult for the president, aides and allies said.
While anxiety over the virus has fueled concerns about the economic recovery, the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan has drawn criticism from Republicans and Democrats and raised accusations within the administration.
The president’s net approval among independent voters fell from 17 percentage points in February to zero in August, according to a Reuters / Ipsos poll.
The warrants are expected to bolster Biden’s popularity among the 75% of American adults who have received at least one vaccine, Democratic political consultants have said.
“Vaccinated people are a bit overwhelmed,” said Steve Schale, a strategist who heads pro-Biden political group Unite the Country Inc, referring to vaccine resistance. Private polls of Biden’s allies seen by Reuters show a broad public consensus that the pandemic remains a major problem requiring action and growing resentment against people who do not wish to be shot.
The issue can become like a tax on cigarettes, Schale said – a tax on the minority of people who smoke but favored by most Americans.
His group has found broad majority support for vaccine mandates along the lines proposed by Biden this week in five electoral battlefield states that have shifted from support for former Republican President Donald Trump in 2016 to Democrat Biden in 2020 – Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
With the slim majority of Congressional Democrats at stake in next year’s election, Schale said the party could thrive if the votes become “a referendum on whether people should take personal responsibility for getting out. the pandemic “.
Biden’s new terms will only energize his opponents, said Amy Koch, a Republican strategist from Minnesota.
“In this hyper-partisan environment, the fact that he is issuing decrees requiring vaccines without gaining any buy-in will certainly galvanize his critics,” she said. “The pendulum could turn back.”
Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Heather Timmons and Daniel Wallis
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