White House Opposes Congressional Effort To End COVID Vaccine Mandate for Foreign Travelers

More than four months after President Joe Biden declared the pandemic to be over, the White House is fighting efforts to lift lingering and nonsensical COVID rules.


More than four months ago, President Joe Biden declared in a seemingly unscripted moment during an appearance on 60 Minutes that the COVID-19 pandemic was over.

But on Tuesday, hours before the president will deliver his annual State of the Union address to Congress, the Biden administration announced its opposition to a Republican-led effort to end a part of America's lingering pandemic policies: a vaccine mandate for all foreign travelers entering the U.S. by air.

"While COVID-19 is no longer the disruptive threat that it once was, the Administration opposes Congressional action to reverse the vaccination requirement for noncitizen nonimmigrants entering the United States by air," the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement. "This policy has allowed loved ones across the globe to reunite while reducing the spread of COVID-19 and the burdens it places on the health care system in the United States."

The statement was released in response to a bill sponsored by Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) to prohibit enforcement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) vaccine mandate for foreign travelers. In remarks on the House floor last month, Massie called the mandate "unscientific, illogical, [and] unconstitutional."

"Why do we make visitors to this country get vaccinated just to come visit their friends and family? Why are we separating families over this?" he said. "We need to end all the mandates."

The argument for a vaccine mandate for foreign travelers into the U.S. may have made sense during an earlier stage of the pandemic. When the mandate was imposed in November 2021, it was an obvious improvement over the ban on foreign travel that had been in place since March 2020. While far from ideal, it was a policy that reflected the changing reality of the pandemic—both as an acknowledgment of the effectiveness of the COVID vaccines and the importance of returning to something like pre-pandemic norms when it comes to the right of individuals to freely travel and associate.

Now, however, the mandate seems to make little sense in a world where COVID has evolved to be less of a serious health threat and where other similar policies have been tossed aside. Last month, the vaccine mandate for members of the U.S. military was dropped. Other mandates—like the ones that some cities briefly imposed on patrons of restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues—are similarly long gone or were never implemented because courts blocked them.

And whatever logic may have dictated the placement of extra burdens on foreign travelers at the beginning of the pandemic—when countries were trying and failing to slow the spread of the virus—certainly no longer applies. Once COVID became a global disease, any restriction on international travel made no more sense than imposing the same rules on people crossing from Virginia into Washington, D.C., every day.

As part of the statement issued Tuesday, the White House promised that the administration would "review all relevant policies, including this one" when the current public health emergency declaration expires on May 11.

"Just as the establishment of this public health policy was guided by science, any termination or modification of this policy should be as well," the White House statement says in part. "A vote for this bill undercuts that critical principle."

But what is that principle? That unvaccinated travelers from the United Kingdom somehow present a bigger public health risk than unvaccinated Americans moving from state to state? There's no evidence of that. In fact, because the mandate only applies to air travel, the supposed principle is even fuzzier. A Canadian flying into the United States must be vaccinated against COVID to protect America, the White House is effectively saying, but that exact same Canadian could drive across the border and no one would check his or her vaccine status.

There's no scientific principle underpinning the CDC's vaccine mandate for foreign travelers. If Biden won't do the obvious thing and lift the mandate sooner, he should at least get out of the way and let Congress do it for him.