Will he, won’t he? Only Joe Biden’s staff knows for sure. Or do they? On the question of vaccine passports, it seems that there is a divide within the administration in terms of who can say what and whether legislation awaits further down the political pipeline. As one of the most burning Constitutional questions of the day, one would assume that the government spin doctors would have their message clearly defined. However, the confused and contradictory narrative being opined by various administration officials begs the question: Will Americans have to produce a vaccine passport to travel?
In an interview with ABC News on Friday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was asked if vaccine passports for international travel were in the works. He responded:
“We’re taking a very close look at that, you know, one of our principles that has guided us throughout this pandemic is the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and making sure that any passport that we provide for vaccinations is accessible to all and that no one is disenfranchised.”
Clearly, some level of discussion is taking place when details on how to avoid disenfranchising people are a key takeaway. However, within hours, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, was briefing journalists aboard Air Force One that this was most definitely not the case.
“We haven’t moved on our stance on this,” she said. “There will be no federal vaccination database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”
When pressed on the comments by Mayorkas, Jean-Pierre insisted that:
“The U.S. government recognizes that other countries have or may have foreign entry requirements… We will be monitoring these and helping all U.S. travelers meet those… there will be no federal mandate requiring anyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”
Yet, the astute observer will note that the DHS boss was almost certainly not referring to foreign vaccination passports such as those being discussed within the European Union. To reiterate, his express words were “any passport that we provide for vaccinations,” not, as Jean-Pierre assured the curious Fourth Estate co-travelers, passports provided by foreign governments.
So why the disparity?
Outsourcing Constitutional Questions
For all its flip-flops and backpedaling, the Biden administration has, to date, been surprisingly steadfast on its narrative over vaccine passports. In March, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that there is “currently an interagency process that is looking at many of the questions around vaccine verification,” adding that a “determination or development of vaccine passport or whatever you want to call it will be driven by the private sector.” And there’s the rub.
Rather than face the onslaught a federal mandate would surely invite, the administration appears set on bringing in this policy via the private sector – no doubt with incentives and encouragement from the government. By outsourcing this role, at least on a surface level, the Biden White House can avoid both scrutiny and lawsuits.
Secretary Mayorkas was not telling tales out of school, but rather, it seems, letting slip that any private sector COVID passports would be under the scope and purview of the government. The message appears clear, even if the messaging itself requires a little more spin: Vaccine passports are coming soon.
Read more from Mark Angelides.