White House Doesn't Deny Vaccine Mandate for Domestic Flights Could Be Coming

COVID-19 vaccine mandates for domestic air travelers could be next on President Joe Biden's agenda, after he announced sweeping mandates on the U.S. workforce this week.

"We are always looking at more we can do to protect and save lives," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday, when asked whether the Biden administration might be open to the idea. "Obviously, he made a significant and bold announcement yesterday, so I don't have anything to predict or preview for you, but we'll continue to look for ways to save more lives."

The non-denial came just a day after Biden announced mandatory vaccines for potentially millions of people, including federal workers, federal contractors, businesses with more than 100 employees, most health care workers and federal school employees.

"Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective, and free," Biden said Thursday in announcing the new initiatives that are still being developed, mostly on agency levels. "This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated."

The announcement this week has drawn backlash among Biden's critics—chiefly among them some Republican governors—who have deemed it a government overreach. Several governors have vowed to challenge the new vaccine mandates in court.

Since taking office in January, Biden has frequently dismissed the idea that he would issue a vaccine mandate. His turn this week leans heavily into regulatory powers under the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and other agencies to implement. Timelines and specific guidance are still being developed for many of the provisions.

Psaki said Biden was "channeling" frustrations of people across the country when he made the mandates decision.

"We didn't anticipate that when there was a vaccine approved under a Republican president—that the Republican president took—that there would be such hesitation, vehement opposition in some cases, from so many people of his own party," Psaki said of the reversal. "We didn't anticipate that."

Vaccines have been free and available to anyone 12 and older since May. It's unclear exactly how many of those people will be touched by the new mandates announced this week.

Soon after Biden took office in January, he issued an executive order directing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) and other related agencies to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop a temporary federal policy to require the use of face masks on domestic flights and other forms of public transportation. It's recently been extended through January.

Biden announced Thursday that the TSA would double fines for travelers who defy mask mandates on planes to up to $1,000 for first-time offenders and $3,000 for second offenders.

"If you break the rules, be prepared to pay," Biden said. "The anger you see on television toward flight attendants and others doing their job is wrong; it's ugly."

Biden's next vaccine mandates could include flights
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about combatting the coronavirus pandemic in the State Dining Room of the White House on September 9, 2021, in Washington, D.C. As the Delta variant continues to spread around the United States, Biden outlined his administration's six-point plan, including a requirement that all federal workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images