Courtesy of/Folger Shakespeare Library
A view of the Capitol from the entrance of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Courtesy of/Folger Shakespeare Library
Strident opposition to D.C.'s vaccine mandate for businesses — which goes into effect Jan. 15 — is growing among national Republicans, with one member of Congress going so far as to compare the mandate to Nazism and another introducing a bill to overturn it.
The mandate, which was announced by Mayor Muriel Bowser in December, will require many businesses — from gyms and theaters to bars and restaurants — to require that patrons over the age of 12 show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before entering. (Montgomery County is similarly considering its own mandate.)
Bowser said at the time that the mandate was a means to encourage more people to get vaccinated; while even those who have gotten the shots can catch the highly transmissible omicron variant, city officials have said that an overwhelming majority of recent hospitalizations and deaths from the virus have been among the unvaccinated. (Similar trends have been observed in other parts of the country.)
Many prominent Republicans have expressed opposition to any such mandates, and some are now focusing their ire on D.C. On Monday, Republican members of the House Oversight Committee called on Bowser to rescind the mandate.
"Like the Democrat lockdowns of 2020, the latest left-wing vaccine passport fad will not prevent the virus from spreading. This sweeping mandate, however, will harm the District's economic recovery and lock many Americans out of their capital city," they wrote in a letter to the mayor.
On Tuesday, The Hill reported that some conservative Republicans — including Rep. Bob Good (R-Virginia) — went further, asking their colleagues to boycott the Capitol Hill Club, a favorite Republican gathering spot, as a way to express their opposition to the city's upcoming mandate. "My constituents want to know that I am fighting vaccine mandates at every level. I'm not afraid to say publicly that we should stand up and say 'no' to Mayor Bowser's vaccine passports," he tweeted.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), who has been accused of spreading misinformation about COVID vaccines, offered his own thoughts on Twitter: "Dems think it's racist to require voter ID but are happy to segregate the unvaxxed and require anyone leaving their home to have a photo ID, mask, and proof of vaccine," he wrote. "Big Brother Dems want to divide us. How will they enforce?"
That sentiment seemed tame in comparison to what Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) tweeted early Wednesday morning, when he compared the mandate to Nazism and seemed to imply that D.C. would eventually round up and kill people who opt not the get vaccinated. "Let's recall that the Nazis dehumanized Jewish people before segregating them, segregated them before imprisoning them, imprisoned them before enslaving them, and enslaved them before massacring them," he wrote, also encouraging people not to comply.
As The Washington Post's Aaron Blake recounted in a December story, instances of Republicans comparing pandemic responses to Nazism are not new; Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-North Carolina), for example, said last March that proposals for vaccine passports "smack of 1940s Nazi Germany." Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) has also made such comparisons, with one particular incident drawing condemnation from GOP leaders and prompting her to visit the Holocaust Museum. (Weeks later, she returned to the theme, calling people who promote vaccines "medical brown shirts.")
In a tweet on Wednesday afternoon, the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland responded to Davidson. "Exploiting of the tragedy of all people who between 1933-45 suffered, were humiliated, tortured & murdered by the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany in a debate about vaccines & covid limitations in the time of global pandemic is a sad symptom of moral and intellectual decay," it wrote.
For its part, the American Jewish Committee called Davidson's comparison "beyond repugnant."
As strong as some of these opinions on D.C.'s vaccine mandate are, many are largely symbolic — mostly because Democrats control Congress. But that hasn't stopped some members from saying they plan to turn their concerns into legislation. Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he would introduce a bill to overturn D.C.'s vaccine mandate for school kids that goes into effect in March. And this week Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) introduced a bill that would nullify D.C.'s vaccine mandate for businesses; 19 other Republicans co-sponsored the measure.
It would be far from the first time that the District grapples with Republican intervention in local public health issues. In 2007, Congress lifted a Republican-sponsored ban on needle exchange programs in D.C. that lasted nine years. At the time D.C. officials said the ban — which came as the city battled the HIV/AIDS epidemic — likely cost lives and increased healthcare costs. In a 2015 study, researchers at George Washington University found that after the ban was lifted, needle exchange programs prevented 120 cases of HIV transmission and saved $44 million over a two-year period.
Later this month, protesters are expected to gather in D.C. for a rally to oppose vaccine mandates, and organizers have told participants who are not vaccinated that they should look for hotels in Virginia instead of D.C. "We wanted to supply hotel blocks near D.C. so that all of our guests, regardless of vaccination status are welcome," they wrote.
D.C. officials, though, are unfazed by some of the criticism they are getting.
"D.C.'s public health experts formulated the vaccine requirement as part of our omicron action plan to keep residents and visitors safe," said John Falcicchio, D.C.'s deputy mayor for planning and economic development. "We understand that some may disagree, but we have been moved by how well our residents, visitors and businesses have implemented mitigation measures and know they will do the same with the vaccine requirement."
According to D.C. data, an estimated 87% of D.C. residents are partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.