Psaki shrugs off possible DC trucker protest for Biden SOTU speech

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that “everybody can peacefully protest” when asked about the possibility that a disruptive trucker convoy could arrive in Washington during President Biden’s first State of the Union address on March 1.

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The threatened demonstration draws inspiration from truckers in Canada, who blocked a major cross-border bridge this week after snarling traffic in Ottawa for several days to oppose that country’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

“A group of US truckers say they’re planning a similar protest in Washington, DC — possibly for March 1 to oppose COVID vaccine mandates. That date obviously would coincide with President Biden’s State of the Union address,” USA Today reporter Joey Garrison said at Psaki’s regular briefing.

“As you know, the trucker convoy in Ottawa has been very disruptive and paralyzed parts of the city’s downtown. Is the administration making preparations to be ready for an upcoming Freedom Convoy planned for DC? And does the White House have any concerns about similar protests happening here in the nation’s capital?”

People walk near parked trucks as truckers continue to protest the vaccine mandates in in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
EPA / Kadri Mohamed

After replying that “I’d have to check with our team on security preparations,” Psaki told reporters: “I think what I would just reiterate here is that we know that [vaccine] requirements work.

“We have not seen a disruption as it relates to requirements to the industry. Where we have seen disruptions has been related to these convoys and protests,” she added. “Now, everybody can peacefully protest. We fully support that. But it’s important to note where the disruption is occurring.”

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In response to a different question, Psaki noted that the Canadian truckers have many grievances against the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in addition to their original anti-mandate cause.

“Truckers of Canada last night shut down the Ambassador Bridge [between Michigan and Ontario], which carries about a quarter of US-Canada trading goods,” noted reporter Jordan Fabian of Bloomberg News, who asked if the US is taking “any preventative steps … to address a possible blockade on the Michigan side of that bridge?”

“It is clear that these disruptions have broadened in scope beyond the vaccine requirement implementation,” Psaki said in response. “We are, of course, in touch with our Canadian counterparts. But I don’t have any updates in terms of specific steps.”

The US Supreme Court last month struck down Biden’s attempt to impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on private employers with 100 or more workers while leaving in place a more narrow mandate for health care workers. There are other US mandates for federal workers and federal contractors.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily White House press briefing on February 08, 2022.
Psaki said the administration has been in touch with its Canadian counterparts, but she didn’t “have any updates in terms of specific steps” if there is a US trucker protest.
Getty Images / Anna Moneymaker

Since last month, the US government has required non-citizen “essential” workers such as truckers to be vaccinated in order to cross US land borders.

Facebook removed a page last week promoting a planned “Convoy to DC 2022” over alleged links to the QAnon conspiracy theory — but visually striking images of protests in Canada gained widespread US coverage as well as support from some Republican politicians.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said he was “proud” of truckers protesting in Canada, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said, “The Canadian truckers are heroes, they are patriots and they are marching for your freedom and for my freedom.”

Supporters of the trucker convoy against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate block traffic in Windsor, Ontario.
Supporters of the trucker convoy against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate block traffic in Windsor, Ontario.
AFP via Getty Images / Geoff Robins

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency on Sunday, saying the situation was “completely out of control,” while Ottawa City Councilor Diane Deans described it as “a nationwide insurrection.”

Although Biden’s attempt to mandate vaccination for most US workers failed in court, many local governments have imposed their own vaccine requirements to enter public businesses or attend school and the White House is encouraging employers to voluntarily adopt vaccine mandates for staff.

US truckers previously threatened to bring large convoys to DC to protest Democrats. When Biden was vice president in 2013, a group threatened to shut down traffic on the Beltway and “arrest” then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for allegedly violating the Constitution. But those efforts flopped.

A major demonstration in DC would trigger intense security preparations to prevent a recurrence of the 2021 Capitol riot, when a wild mob disrupted certification of Biden’s victory in the Electoral College.

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