Just days before Washington, D.C. is set to implement its vaccine mandate, congressional Republicans are moving to block it.
On Wednesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R–Fla.) introduced a bill that would nullify D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's order requiring people to show proof of vaccination before entering bars, restaurants, gyms, and other indoor public venues.
BREAKING: Today I introduced legislation with 19 Republican co-sponsors to nullify the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine passport mandate in Washington, D.C.
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) January 12, 2022
Starting Saturday, the mayor's order says, people 12 years or older will need at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot in order to visit these businesses. Come February 15, they'll have to have the full two shots.
The hope is that barring the unvaccinated from much of public life will encourage them to get the jab.
"Vaccine requirements have resulted in more persons who were vaccine hesitant deciding to get vaccinated, thereby protecting themselves, those with whom they come into contact, and helping maintain hospital capacity," the order says.
Republicans on the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent Bowser a letter this week arguing that her mandate would not be effective at preventing the spread of the omicron variant and urging her to withdraw the order.
"Like the Democrat lockdowns of 2020, the latest left-wing vaccine passport fad will not prevent the virus from spreading," says the letter. "This sweeping mandate, however, will harm the District's economic recovery and lock many Americans out of their capital city."
To prevent those economic harms, Gaetz's bill would nullify both the order issued by Bowser last month and any "substantially similar" orders from the mayor.
Thanks to D.C.'s home rule arrangement, which makes Congress the ultimate legislative authority over the city, Gaetz and his 19 Republican co-sponsors have the power to invalidate such rules. Democratic majorities in both chambers all but guarantee that's not going to happen.
The best Gaetz's bill could do is prompt some reflection among city officials about whether their vaccine requirements will actually do any good.
Like just about every COVID mandate that has emanated from D.C.'s city hall, this vaccine requirement is a mess of arbitrary exemptions and unexplained particulars.
Bowser's order bars the unvaccinated from eating inside restaurants. They are, however, allowed to grab a takeaway order. You don't need to be vaccinated to attend a service at your local church. But you would have to be vaccinated in order to attend a non-religious event in the same church building.
City officials have not always been forthcoming about the order's details. Its initial text, for example, was totally silent on whether it applied to museums. (Washington has more than a few of those.) Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio clarified just this week that they're not covered.
Bowser's order technically allows for religious exemptions to its vaccine requirements, but the mayor hasn't given much guidance on how this would work in practice. "I don't know exactly what they're going to show other than attestation from themselves that they have a religious objection," Bowser said at a press conference last week. When I asked the mayor's office whether businesses had to honor the city's religious exemption, they pointed me to an FAQ that doesn't address that question.
Meanwhile, the number of new cases being reported in D.C. is falling fast. Public health experts predict that this latest wave will subside quickly over the next week or so across the East Coast. Requiring that people have at least one shot to eat inside a restaurant come Saturday but not to mingle in a museum isn't going to change that trajectory.
Gaetz's bill is doomed to fail, and the congressman is not a great champion of any cause. The pushback he's giving to D.C.'s vaccine requirements is still appreciated.