Why Biden bet it all on mandates

“Months ago, because of the potential political blowback, no one wanted to resort to mandates,” a senior Biden-administration official told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk more freely. “But then it became clear that we didn’t have any other choice, because, essentially, we had pulled out all the stops. We tried trusted messengers [to promote the vaccines]. We made it very convenient. It wasn’t enough.”

Biden’s bet, while risky, grows more solid by the day. Republicans are making a counterargument that they believe their base wants to hear, which would be fine if their base were sufficient to wrest control of Congress from the Democrats. Biden is trying to appeal to a wider audience. Two of the most prized voting blocs in an election—suburban and independent voters—favor Biden’s vaccine-mandate plan by solid margins. They don’t see the vaccine requirement as government overreach; for them, it’s a step toward reentering a world they remember from two years ago.

“Republicans could be making a real mistake on the long-term play on this issue, especially heading into the midterms,” Rob Stutzman, a longtime Republican strategist based in California, told me. “Voters are looking at this through a personal lens, not a political lens. If I’m vaccinated, I’m really annoyed that we’ve had a second surge that was made worse because of the unvaccinated. And I’m annoyed because that means I have to put a mask back on and I have kids in school who are now at risk.”