She’s said stuff like this before but today she’s reading from a prepared statement, a sign that they really want this message to penetrate. They’re not supporting passports. There’ll be no federal mandate to carry one and no federal database of vaccinated people for businesses to consult. The White House says N-O to restricting travel based on whether you have antibodies or not.
Of course, if local governments or private entities want to require proof of vaccination, that’s a different story.
That’s what NRO’s Wesley Smith is worried about. Yes, fine, great, says Smith, Fauci and now Psaki have said that the federal government won’t lay down any rules about vaccine passports. So what? Why would they need to issue their own orders and risk legal challenges if they can simply nudge private industry to require passports instead? It’s the Biden/MLB thing all over again. The president didn’t ask baseball to boycott Georgia, Psaki noted yesterday, he merely said that he’d strongly support them if they chose to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta. Same goes for vaccine passports potentially. He’s not asking, let alone ordering, anyone to require them. He’ll just “strongly support” you if you choose to require them yourself.
Or will he? Psaki’s unclear here on how enthusiastically the administration might endorse other authorities laying down rules about vaccine passports. Watch, then read on.
.@PressSec Jen Psaki on possibility of the federal government supporting vaccine passports: "The government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential."
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 6, 2021
Why is a pro-vax, pro-restriction outfit like the Biden White House so leery of vaccine passports? Three reasons.
1. As noted yesterday, there are equity concerns. If access to vaccines and passports could be distributed fairly across the population, that’d be one thing. But minorities have faced more barriers to vaccination than the general population has; those who live in rural areas may have more difficulty too; and if the passport were built as a smartphone app, senior citizens and the poor would have difficulty getting a handle on it. All of that would make for entire classes of people being disproportionately shut out of public spaces.
2. With a federal mandate in place, some businesses that otherwise wouldn’t have required passports may feel obliged to do so and that’ll create different logistical headaches. “Many businesses are worried about the impracticality of enforcing a vaccination requirement, particularly at theaters, concert halls, restaurants, hair salons, and any other business that relies on indoor gatherings,” Stat explained a few days ago. “Doing so, some said, could alienate some customers, hurt revenue, and even lead to safety concerns.” Would small businesses be given an exemption from the mandate? If so, how small? Shouldn’t we want small businesses to comply more strictly than large businesses, since small businesses typically crowd customers into a smaller indoor space? The Biden administration would find itself wrestling with questions like that as some business owners inevitably threw up their hands and stopped enforcing the mandate on their premises in order to avoid the hassles.
3. Passports will further politicize the pandemic. Populist Republicans from Tucker Carlson to Ron DeSantis to Marjorie Taylor Greene to Donald Trump Jr have already inveighed against vaccine passports, staking the issue out as a new cause celebre of the MAGA right:
If you’re a republican in office and you’re not vocally and aggressively opposing “vaccine passports” it may be time to find another career.
This concept could be the greatest affront on our freedoms in recent history and if you don’t see that it’s a problem.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) April 6, 2021
If the White House goes all in on passports we’ll end up in a new culture war over the issue, one that makes the mask wars look like a skirmish by comparison. And unlike in that case, the public may not tilt towards Democrats on this one. Asking someone to wear a piece of cloth over their nose and mouth when they’re around strangers is less of an imposition than demanding that they be injected with a substance and then have to show their papers in order to move freely about the country. This may be a political loser for the left. Worse still for Biden, the more bitter the culture clash gets, the more it risks reducing vaccine uptake:
“The idea of a vaccine passport has become politicized quickly, making it a wedge separating people rather than a bridge to our goal of increasing vaccination,” said epidemiologist Brian Castrucci, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, which has partnered with a longtime Republican pollster to study and create pro-vaccination messaging aimed at conservatives…
Bauer said that the backlash over vaccine passports — which would include people’s vaccination records — is in line with long-standing skepticism over government-run identification systems and that it is partly attributable to the word “passport.”
“‘Passport,’ you think about it in terms of limitations to movement,” he said. “Part of the conservative or backlash to the shutdowns and masking orders and whatever has been about inhibiting their freedom of movement or freedom to go out and go to a bar or go to a sports game or whatever they want to do.”
The more you have Biden and other Dems hooting at vaccine-hesitant Republicans that they need to get their shots or they can’t fly or go to bars anymore, the more those Republicans will resent it and feel tempted to refuse out of spite. The smart play for Sleepy Joe, then, is to defang the issue by not giving Carlson et al. a foil on it. Let Republicans decide whether to get inoculated or not without any cultural resentments influencing their decisions. You’ll get more of them to take the plunge that way. And, almost as important for Dems, you’ll take away a political hot potato from the GOP which they might have been able to put to good use in the midterms.