The Morning Jolt

White House

Biden Balks at Enforcing Coronavirus-Vaccine Mandate for Federal Employees

President Biden speaks at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minn., November 30, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

It is December already! On the menu today: The Biden administration wimps out on enforcing its own vaccine mandate for federal workers; it also learns that releasing 50 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve doesn’t have much of an immediate impact on gasoline prices at all; and the geniuses at The Atlantic suddenly realize that despite the president’s confident boasting, America is not “back” in a position of leadership on the world stage.

Biden Wimps Out on the Vaccine Mandate for Federal Workers

It turns out that the Biden administration doesn’t really have the will to enforce its own COVID-vaccination mandate.

It is highly debatable as to whether OSHA can make your employer pressure you to either get vaccinated or submit to regular COVID-19 testing. The administration is losing court case after court case on this. But the president’s authority over the federal government’s workforce is much stronger, and his message was clear: Get vaccinated or be prepared to lose your job.

As of a week ago — one day after the deadline for compliance — 92 percent of the 3.5 million federal workers covered by Biden’s mandate reported to the government that they are at least partially vaccinated. That sounds good, but that also means that roughly 280,000 federal workers aren’t vaccinated at all.

The government office with the lowest percentage of partially vaccinated employees was the Agriculture Department, at 86.1 percent. (If you need a moment to process your excitement at the thought of nearly 14 percent of all U.S. Department of Agriculture employees leaving their jobs, take it.)

Except . . . the Biden administration doesn’t actually want to fire federal government workers, and now we learn that the White House is kicking the can down the road on enforcing any disciplinary consequences for unvaccinated federal workers: “The American Federation of Government Employees said Monday that administration officials have told the union that agencies for now will continue offering counseling and education to the roughly 3.5 percent of workers who have yet to receive a vaccination or request an exemption.”

Counseling and education! That will show them.

If “counseling and education” is a sufficient step for federal government workers, why wouldn’t it be a sufficient step for private-sector workers? Why wasn’t that a sufficient step for the thousands of health-care workers in New York state who were fired from their jobs for not being vaccinated?

The problem with enacting a sweeping get-vaccinated-or-get-fired mandate is that at some point you must enforce it, and when you do, you will likely end up getting rid of good workers who just have an adamant refusal to get vaccinated or who are confident that their past infection and natural immunity gives them sufficient protection. Biden made a threat he wasn’t willing to carry out, and vaccine-skeptical federal workers called his bluff.

Watching Biden lose his nerve on the vaccine mandate has been like watching Ronald Reagan and the air-traffic controllers in reverse.

Hey, Whatever Happened to That ‘Immediate Relief’ for Americans on Gas Prices?

It is easy to forget that about a month before Joe Biden chose to release 50 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, he appeared in a CNN town hall and sounded skeptical about the proposal, contending that it would only reduce gas prices by about 18 cents per gallon: “I must tell you, I don’t have a near-term answer. There’s two things I could do. I could go in the petroleum reserve and take out and probably reduce the price of gas maybe 18 cents or so a gallon. It’s still going to be above 3 bucks.”

But as week after week of high gasoline prices dragged on, and dragged his approval rating lower, Biden came around to the idea. On November 23, the president announced the release, characterizing the move as “a tool matched to today’s specific economic environment, where markets expect future oil prices to be lower than they are today, and helps provide relief to Americans immediately and bridge to that period of expected lower oil prices.”

That “provide relief to Americans immediately” part hasn’t happened yet. According to the American Automobile Association, today, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline nationwide is $3.38. Yesterday, it was $3.39. One week ago, it was $3.39. One month ago, it was $3.40. The national average is about a $1.30 per gallon higher than it was at this time a year ago.

God help you if you’re in California — oh, how that sentence applies in so many ways — as the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the Golden State has increased from $4.60 to $4.70.

Mainstream Media Belatedly Realize Robert Gates Was Right about Biden’s Foreign Policy

A week ago in the Corner, I compiled headlines from China, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, and the reports that U.S. allies are griping that the Biden administration talks a good game about alliances but was actually retreating from the world: “As we look around the world, it may not just be American allies who see the Biden administration offering a lot of tough and confident talk, but not much tough and confident action. The administration wants to deter a lot of hostile states from taking more aggressive steps . . . with very limited results so far.”

The cover story in this month’s Atlantic magazine — right underneath their slogan, “We’re Too Delicate to Work with Kevin Williamson” — is by Anne Applebaum, under the headline, “The Bad Guys Are Winning: If the 20th century was the story of slow, uneven progress toward the victory of liberal democracy over other ideologies — communism, fascism, virulent nationalism — the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse.” She offers a grim portrait of ineffective sanctions, deep-rooted foreign efforts to influence and divide Western democracies, amoral global corporations helping the world’s worst regimes, and a U.S. leadership class that is largely either ignoring the worsening problems or watching and worrying but not actually doing much at all.

The lengthy essay offers quite a bit of criticism of President Trump, much of it justified from where I sit. But the word “Biden” appears just three times. For those who would excuse Biden by noting that he’s only been in office for ten months and some change, I would retort that there is no bolder, sharper, quicker, clearer Biden that is just waiting for the right moment to emerge. He’s 79 years old, and he’s not going to change. What you see is what you’re gonna get.

For example, on November 16, Josh Rogin of the Washington Post reported that “The White House is expected to announce that neither President Biden nor any other U.S. government officials will attend the Beijing Games” — a diplomatic boycott meant to communicate U.S. disapproval of a variety of Chinese policies.

But when asked about the decision on November 18, Biden sounded less than certain about the move: “It’s something we’re considering.”

Biden hemmed and hawed for eleven days, and then the Chinese government made the decision for him: “China does not plan to invite Western politicians who threaten a diplomatic boycott to the Beijing Winter Olympics, Chinese state media said on Monday, after U.S. President Joe Biden and Britain‘s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said their countries might limit an official presence at the Games.” Now if Biden does announce a diplomatic boycott, he’ll be boycotting an event he wasn’t invited to attend.

Slow-footed. Indecisive. Hesitant. Old.

Back in September I wrote that, “Biden, Antony Blinken, and the rest of the president’s team spent a lot of time patting themselves on the back and declaring that ‘America is back!’ after taking office. But as autumn arrives, they look naïve, unprepared, slow-footed, and in over their heads. A flailing president is a failing president.”

No less a figure than Susan Glasser of The New Yorker felt the need to insist that I was wrong and my grim assessment of Biden’s circumstances was “wildly overstated.”

On the day Glasser’s piece was published, Joe Biden’s approval rating was 45.8 percent, and his disapproval rating was 48.7 percent in the FiveThirtyEight average of public-opinion polls. This morning, in that same average, Biden’s approval rating is 42.9 percent, and his disapproval rating is 51.3 percent. Since then, gas prices have surged, inflation has gotten much worse, the full scale of the supply-chain crisis hadn’t yet been revealed, many public-health experts are going to Defcon One over the Omicron variant, and the administration is contemplating requiring seven days of self-quarantine for fully vaccinated, fully boostered international travelers who test negative.

Biden and his congressional allies, along with a handful of Republicans, did pass the infrastructure bill, so there’s that, I suppose.

ADDENDUM: A tiny bit of progress on another national problem: At those southern California ports, the number of ships at anchor waiting for a port spot to open up has declined from 86 ships on November 16 to 44 ships yesterday.

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