OnPolitics: SCOTUS blocks COVID vaccine-or-testing mandate

Dr. Manjul Shukla (not pictured) transfers a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a mobile vaccination clinic in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Dr. Manjul Shukla (not pictured) transfers a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a mobile vaccination clinic in Worcester, Massachusetts.
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Good afternoon, OnPolitics readers!

President Joe Biden announced his latest move to curb the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic yesterday.

The federal government is sending military medical teams to six states – New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico – to help hospitals overburdened by COVID-19.

Biden's announcement comes as hospitalizations for COVID-19 are setting records. Some hospitals are delaying elective surgeries as states are deploying National Guard members to health care facilities.

Biden also announced that the federal government plans to purchase another 500 million at-home rapid COVID-19 tests. That will double the number of at-home tests the administration can distribute free to people across the country.

Testing status update: The first batch of 500 million tests, which Biden announced in December, have yet to be distributed. Biden said a website for Americans to request free tests will be rolled out next weekwhen Biden also plans to announce steps to make high-quality masks available for free.

Biden's low approval rating on COVID: For most of his presidency, Biden's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic had been his top polling strength. But a new poll found his support in this area has cratered, with 39% of Americans saying they approve of Biden's response to the coronavirus, compared to 55% who disapprove.

It's Amy and Chelsey with today's top stories out of Washington.

Supreme Court halts Biden's vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers

The Supreme Court halted enforcement of one of President Biden's signature efforts to combat COVID-19, ruling that his administration doesn't have the authority to impose sweeping vaccine-or-testing requirements for employers that would have covered tens of millions of Americans.

The unsigned opinion, which came days after the justices heard arguments in the emergency appeal, marked the second time the nation's highest court unwound a key pandemic policy of the Biden administration, once again concluding that federal officials had exceeded the power given to them by Congress. The court in August blocked Biden's eviction moratorium, ruling that it, too, amounted to government overreach.

"Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly," the court wrote. "Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category."

At issue in the case was whether Congress gave the Occupational Safety and Health Administration authority to require vaccines or testing in a 1970 law. The law permits the agency to set an emergency rule when a "grave danger" exists that could expose workers to "substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful or from new hazards." Biden officials argued COVID-19 presents just such a danger.

Mandate stands for healthcare workers: The court in a second unsigned opinion permitted another vaccine mandate on people employed at health care facilities that receive federal funding through Medicare and Medicaid. That measure, which takes effect this month, is estimated to affect 10 million workers.

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema defends filibuster in Senate speech

In a blow to Biden's legislative agenda, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., spoke out Thursday against changes to the Senate filibuster rule proposed by the president and progressive Democrats to push through voting rights legislation.

“Eliminating the 60-vote threshold will simply guarantee that we lose a critical tool that we need to safeguard our democracy from threats in the years to come,” Sinema said.

The moderate senator's statements preceded Biden's scheduled meeting with Democrats on Capitol Hill to rally the party around altering the rule.

Sinema, who has said she supports the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, says she wants more cooperation between Democrats and Republicans to protect voting rights.

“We need a sustained robust effort to defend American democracy, an effort on the part of Democrats, Republicans, Independents and all Americans and communities across this country,” she said.

Until next week, OnPolitics readers: How did Martin Luther King Jr. Day become a federal holiday? Here's the history. — Amy and Chelsey

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: OnPolitics: SCOTUS blocks COVID vaccine-or-testing mandate