Sen. Thune: Vaccine mandates will have ‘countereffect,’ must be overturned to save jobs

The U.S. Senate will vote Wednesday evening on repealing President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees. The measure is expected to pass with support from Democrats Joe Manchin and Jon Tester. But the bill faces an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled House. Sen. John Thune, the second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, joins Judy Woodruff with more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The U.S. Senate is set to vote this evening on repealing President Biden's vaccine mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees. The measure, which needs 51 votes, is expected to pass, after Democrats Joe Manchin and Jon Tester announced their support.

    But the bill faces an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, and President Biden is likely to veto it, should it land on his desk.

    I spoke about this moments ago with Senator John Thune. He's the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate.

    Senator John Thune, thank you very much for joining us.

    Let me just ask you flat out, what is the argument for not having the government require large employers to make sure that their employees are either vaccinated or are tested once a week?

  • Sen. John Thune (R-SD):

    Well, I think several arguments.

    One is just the impact it would have on the work force. All of us have heard from our employers in the states. I think the number in South Dakota is on somewhere on the order of about 30 percent of workers wouldn't be able to go to work if this vaccine mandate were put into place.

    And I think the belief that a lot of us have — and I'm pro-vaccine. I'm vaccinated. I encourage people in South Dakota and everywhere else I go to get vaccinated all the time. But I think it's really hard to have a federal government through a regulatory agency impose this kind of a mandate.

    And I think the courts have already determined that they don't have the constitutional authority to do that. All we're simply doing is putting Congress on the record. And I think, tonight, we will have a bipartisan vote in favor of overturning this mandate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, when you know, Senator — I mean, there's more evidence coming in every day these vaccines are effective. And, in fact, there's more evidence today that, with a booster, they are very, very effective in preventing COVID.

    Why wouldn't you want to see everything possible done to see that people don't get this virus and save lives?

  • Sen. John Thune:

    Well, and I think that's why we should do everything we can to encourage, persuade, whatever it takes to get people in a voluntary way to exercise their individual freedom and responsibility to get that done.

    I honestly think, Judy, that, in some respects, mandating this will have the countereffect. I think it's going to — it's going to push people away who otherwise you might be able to persuade to get this vaccine.

    I think that — I don't think people sometimes understand, when you have government in Washington, D.C., issuing requirements and mandates like this, the effect that it has on people who view these issues to be personal issues, in some cases, religious issues, in some cases, medical issues.

    And, sometimes, you can work through that, and encourage them and get them vaccinated. But, in some cases, you can't do that. And I just think that, in cases where you can't do that, a lot of these employers — and I know a lot of them — are working really hard to keep their workplaces safe.

    And by requiring and mandating this vaccine, it's going to cost them a lot of jobs. And I can tell you — and I have talked to employers in South Dakota where they're talking about 50 percent, 40, 50 percent reduction in workers as a result of this, and that has a crushing effect on the economy.

    And in some cases, these are employers that are doing important, important work like caring — their health care workers and people who are caring for people's health.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I did see report that health care companies in South Dakota have resulted in — when they require their employees, something like 97-plus percent of their employees got the vaccination. And I also would point out that there's an option of being tested every week.

    But I just want to ask the question a different way, because people have been urged to get the vaccine ever since the vaccine came out. You still have people resisting. And it's been pointed out that fewer Republicans, a significant percentage fewer Republican, people who identify as Republicans, are willing to get the vaccine.

    Does listening to Republican leaders like you and others say mandates are wrong, does that end up discouraging people from getting the vaccine?

  • Sen. John Thune:

    I don't think that's true. In fact, like I said, I think mandating it actually discourages the people who we're trying to reach with this.

    But, that being said, the point that you make, there are health care providers in South Dakota, but they have done that on their own volition. It hasn't been a federal government mandate. And I respect the right of an individual employer, if they decide to do that, a business. I'm not saying you can't do that. I think that's — it's a free country if you want to do that.

    I just don't think the federal government ought to be mandating it. And I think we all want to encourage the maximum amount of people to get vaccinated. I think that makes us all safer. And we're seeing good success in our state of South Dakota and across the country.

    But I think the mandate is something that — and people in rural areas, maybe we're different this way, but I look at — the vote we're going to have today is going to be a bipartisan vote. My neighbor from Montana, Jon Tester, who represents a state not unlike South Dakota, is going to be voting against this mandate as well.

    And I think it's partly just this perception that people in some states and a lot of people across the country have that, when government, big government, tells you to do something like this, it steps on, infringes on their constitutional rights and freedoms and sense of personal responsibility.

    So I think there's a better way to do this than the mandate. And I just think that it's going to — this — we will have a bipartisan vote tonight to overturn this mandate. But a lot of that, as I said, is already happening in the courts, because I think the courts have also found that — this to be unconstitutional.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Different — and a different question about all this, and that is about the politics of it.

    On the one hand, a number of Republicans saying they oppose President Biden, Democrats saying a mandate is a good thing to do, but, on the other hand, Republicans saying President Biden is responsible for COVID not being under control.

    I mean, does that compute?

  • Sen. John Thune:

    Well, I don't think — I think they're — in politics, people — both sides are going to try and take advantage of a situation and perhaps politicize it.

    I don't think that's what we ought to be doing with an issue like a health care crisis. I think we ought to be encouraging people to make the right decisions, and giving them the science and the facts and the data and informing them as best we can about what's the best way to protect themselves, their families, their communities.

    And so I would hope at least on this that we could kind of keep the politics out of it. I think that President Trump, to his credit, worked really hard to get a vaccine in place. President Biden, to his credit, has worked hard to try and get people vaccinated.

    But I don't think mandating it is going to accomplish that objective. And I think that's it's backfiring on them, I believe. And I think that's why you're going to have a bipartisan vote today to overturn it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator John Thune, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, thank you very much.

  • Sen. John Thune:

    Thanks, Judy. Appreciate it.

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