Biden vaccine mandate puts McConnell, GOP leaders in a tough spot

Republican leaders in Congress aren’t quite sure what to do with President Biden’s embrace of vaccine-or-test mandates. The idea polls well, but has sparked a revolt from GOP governors and the party’s base.

Biden’s aggressive move puts a spotlight on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a childhood polio survivor who has been outspoken in urging fellow Republicans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

McConnell’s advocacy for the vaccine sets him apart from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has done little to crack down on House GOP colleagues who spread misinformation about vaccines.

Contrast McConnell to Republican governors such as Nebraska’s Pete Ricketts and Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who are crusading against it as a defining constitutional issue.

While McConnell isn’t about to do battle with fellow Republicans, he appears more sensitive than other GOP leaders to how the party is viewed by swing voters — especially women and suburban voters, who fueled Democratic victories in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

McConnell seems open to the idea of requiring workers to get vaccinated, though in past comments he has said it should be up to employers, not the federal government, to enforce.

Loud in the House: McConnell has so far declined to comment about the specifics of Biden’s plan to force the issue on COVID vaccines. But McCarthy, his House counterpart, struck a much different tone on Sunday when he lashed out against Biden’s order by tweeting: “NO VACCINE MANDATES.”

Democrats pounced on McCarthy’s declaration, accusing him and other Republican officials who have balked at vaccine and mask mandates of putting lives at risk.

Polls show a majority of Americans favor requiring vaccinations for office workers returning to the workplace, but the breakdown of opinion falls largely along party lines. Some Republicans think it’ll be a winning issue, and seem eager for a fight.