Biden: Requirement for all federal employees to get vaccine ‘under consideration’

Alex Edelman/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden said Tuesday afternoon that a mandate to require all federal employees to be vaccinated is now “under consideration.”

He said this one day after the Department of Veterans Affairs moved to require all health workers get a COVID-19 vaccine and shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited new science on the transmissibility of the delta variant and reversed its mask guidance.

“It’s under consideration right now,” Biden said when asked by ABC News if the federal government would expand the vaccine mandate. “But if you’re not vaccinated, you’re not nearly as smart as I thought you were.”

As he wrapped a visit to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, ABC News also asked the president about Tuesday’s new guidance from the CDC, recommending masks for vaccinated Americans in public, and whether it would cause confusion, but Biden continued to focus on those who remain unvaccinated.

“We have a pandemic because the unvaccinated — and they’re sowing enormous confusion,” he said. “The more we learned — the more we learn about this virus and the delta variation, the more we have to be worried, concerned.”

“And the only one thing we know for sure, if those other 100 million people got vaccinated we’d be in a very different world. So get vaccinated. If you aren’t, you’re not nearly as smart as I thought you were,” Biden continued.

Following his remarks, Biden released a statement saying the CDC decision is “another step on our journey to defeating the virus” and that he’d have more to say on Thursday when he will “lay out the next steps” to get more Americans vaccinated.

Regarding the CDC recommendation for students, Biden said it’s “inconvenient,” but gives them a chance to learn “with their classmates with the best available protection.”

He also acknowledged concerns that as cases rise and mask guidance is reversed that the U.S. could be heading back to restrictions and closures but said in the statement, “We are not going back to that.”

“In the meantime, more vaccinations and mask wearing in the areas most impacted by the delta variant will enable us to avoid the kind of lockdowns, shutdowns, school closures and disruptions we faced in 2020. Unlike 2020, we have both the scientific knowledge and the tools to prevent the spread of this disease,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, the CDC cited new science on the transmissibility of the delta variant and reversed its mask guidance to recommend that everyone in areas with high levels of COVID, vaccinated or not, wear a mask, as the virus continues to spread rapidly across the U.S.

“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendation,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday afternoon.

Throughout Washington there was a quick return to mask wearing for many who had grown accustomed to being without.

Vice President Kamala Harris, meeting with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Native American voting rights advocates Tuesday afternoon, wore a mask indoors for the first time since May 13.

Asked about the development, Harris gave a little shrug.

“None of us like wearing masks,” she said bluntly.

She noted that most people dying at this point are not vaccinated.

“People need to get vaccinated. That’s the only way we’re going to cut this thing off. No one likes wearing a mask. Get vaccinated. That’s it,” she said, then hitting her hand on the table for emphasis.

ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett and Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.