EXCLUSIVE: The conservative House Freedom Caucus is pushing back on President Biden’s latest door-to-door vaccine push decrying the home visits as a “deeply disturbing” violation of Americans’ privacy.
Rep. Andy Biggs, the chairman of the House of Representatives‘ right-wing group with a history of ruffling feathers, is leading the effort to call on the White House to explain the “constitutional and statutory authority” for conducting the door-knocking coronavirus vaccination campaign and demanding answers on whether the federal government is tracking individuals’ private health information.
“Door-to-door vaccine checks on Americans are a blatant abuse of government authority and a pure power play by the Biden administration,” Biggs, R-Ariz., said in a statement to Fox News. “The federal government has no right to track the private health information of Americans or to intimidate people into getting the vaccine.”
Biggs and 31 other Houser Republicans sent Biden a letter Friday – obtained exclusively by Fox News – demanding answers on the vaccination effort.
“Your administration’s decision to go door-to-door to coerce individuals to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is deeply disturbing and violates the privacy of Americans,” the GOP lawmakers wrote in the letter first obtained by Fox. “The private health information of millions of Americans should never be a matter of concern for the federal government. Americans must be free to make their own personal health choices.”
The White House has been dealing with backlash from conservatives since Biden pitched his plan Tuesday on increasing the vaccination rates in America as the country is grappling with a surge of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.
“Now we need to go community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood and often times door-to-door – literally knocking on doors – to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus,” Biden said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also referred to the “door-to-door” effort on Tuesday while listing the five objectives of Biden’s COVID response earlier in the day at her briefing, citing “targeted community door-to-door outreach” to “get remaining Americans vaccinated by ensuring that they have the information they need on how both safe and accessible the vaccine is.”
The White House had since defended the effort as needed to save lives and sought to dispel any misinformation about potential government overreach. Psaki said the door-to-door campaign has been going on since April and consists of community volunteers – not government bureaucrats – and is targeted in pockets of the country with low vaccination rates. She said the government is not tracking or keeping a database of individuals who have been vaccinated.
“These are grassroots voices across the country. They are not members of the government, they are not federal government employees,” Psaki said during a Thursday press briefing. “They are volunteers, they are clergy, they are trusted voices in communities that are playing this role and door-knocking.”
Community members have been doing this since April and it has been effective, with vaccination rates among adults going up 3% in Alabama and 4.4% in Florida, Psaki said.
After Biden first mentioned the idea of going door-to-door, Republicans in Congress were quick to push back against it.
“How about don’t knock on my door. You’re not my parents. You’re the government,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, tweeted. “Make the vaccine available, and let people be free to choose.”
“The government now wants to go door-to-door to convince you to get an ‘optional’ vaccine,” Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., wrote.
Psaki said the criticism has been “frustrating” for the administration.
“When people are critical of these tactics it’s really a disservice to the country, and to the doctors, faith leaders, community leaders and others who are working to get people vaccinated,” she said. “This is about saving lives and ending this pandemic.”
Psaki also insisted that the government is not keeping records of who is or is not vaccinated, although they are aware of the rates of vaccination in different parts of the country.
“The federal government does not have a database of who is vaccinated. That is not our role, we don’t maintain a database along those lines and we don’t have plans to,” she said.
While the government may not be keeping track of who is vaccinated, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra said Thursday morning on CNN’s “New Day” that it is “absolutely” the government’s concern because of the money they have spent.
“The federal government has spent trillions of dollars to try to keep Americans alive during this pandemic. So it is absolutely the government’s business,” Becerra said. “It is taxpayers’ business if we have to continue to spend money to try to keep people from contracting COVID and helping reopen the economy. And so it is our business to try to make sure Americans can prosper, Americans can freely associate.”
As for any concerns of the government invading Americans’ privacy, Becerra noted that they would not be forcing anyone to do anything.
“Knocking on a door has never been against the law,” he said. “You don’t have to answer, but we hope you do because if you haven’t been vaccinated we can help dispel some of those rumors that you’ve heard and hopefully get you vaccinated.”
The vaccine push comes as the Delta COVID-19 variant is now the likely dominant strain in the U.S., overtaking Alpha to account for 51.7% of infections, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Delta variant is the more transmissible strain and is estimated to spread 40-60% more readily than the Alpha variant. The surge of this variant has been of particular concern for health officials in regions with low vaccination rates, particularly in the Midwest.
Meanwhile, Republicans remain more skeptical about getting the shots. Fox News polling in June found that 55% of Republicans surveyed said they got the coronavirus vaccine, compared to 78% of Democrats and 59% of independents.
The Biden administration came up just short of its July 4 goal of having at least 70% of adult Americans at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19. According to the CDC, just over 67% of adults in the country had received at least one vaccination shot as of Thursday.
Biggs told Fox News the White House should be spending its time focused on the surge of migrants at the southern border and other issues.
“Instead of meddling in private medical decisions, the Biden administration should focus on addressing the border crisis, the rampant rise in inflation, and the crime wave that is plaguing American cities – all crises it created,” Biggs said. “The door-to-door spying on Americans is one more example of the burgeoning surveillance state by the national government.”
Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer and Alexandria Hein contributed to this report.