Sullivan takes issue with Biden vaccine mandate, asks employers to delay enforcement

a person speaks into a microphone
Sen. Dan Sullivan in Anchorage in July 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan says employers should disregard President Biden’s vaccine mandate, keep unvaccinated workers on the job and wait for the courts to rule.

“I think the president is going to lose that case in every court in America,” Sullivan said, weighing in on the hot-button issue with a speech on the Senate floor Monday. “So if you’re a business leader, here’s my respectful request: Hold off, wait for the litigation to play out.”

Sullivan said Alaskans have many reasons for not taking the shot, though he said he is vaccinated.

“I think people should get vaccinated,” he said. “I just don’t think the president of the United States has the constitutional authority to say, ‘Do it or you’re going to get fired.’”

Biden has said private sector employees who refuse the vaccine can opt for weekly testing instead.

RELATED: Alaska’s COVID hospitalizations have hit a new high

Wendy Parmet, a public health law professor at Northeastern University, believes the executive branch clearly has the power to set stricter rules for the federal workforce and contractors.

“The president was careful to tie the vaccine mandates to areas where the federal government has broad and clear constitutional authority,” she said in a phone interview.

Biden’s mandate for companies with more than 100 employees is coming through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Parmet said vaccination would be a departure from OSHA’s usual concerns.

“But certainly there’s a strong argument, given the threat that the pandemic has posed in the workplace, that OSHA has that authority,” she said.

A lot will depend on the details of the OSHA rule and what kind of exemptions it allows, she said.

The rule hasn’t been published yet.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.

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