'I'm not Moses': Roger Marshall urges audience to stand up against federal vaccine mandates

Jason Tidd
Topeka Capital-Journal
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, answers questions during a roundtable discussion over vaccine mandates and labor shortages for local union workers Friday at  800 S.W. Jackson St.

Sen. Roger Marshall said he has "no words" to change the minds of people who are unvaccinated for COVID-19.

The Republican senator spent about 45 minutes Friday afternoon in Topeka discussing opposition to federal vaccine mandates with about 75 unmasked union workers.

"I should start by saying I've had the vaccine," Marshall said, adding that his family is split on the issue. "I think that this is a personal choice, and I respect anybody who has decided not to, and certainly I don't believe in a federal vaccine mandate."

He didn't say whether he believes the vaccine is safe and effective.

"I talked to the national media and they tell me, if you just go back to Kansas and explain this to people, they would understand and they would get the vaccine and I'm just not explaining it right," he said. "And I tried to tell them no, I think folks understand."

Marshall said plenty of information is publicly available.

"Some of it's true, some of it's not true," he said. "Some of it's exaggerated. Some pieces of the truth are left out. There's a lot we don't know. There's a lot we don't know about this virus. These vaccines have already been around a year, and I understand some people's hesitancy."

Slightly more than half of the state's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. All but two of the state's 105 counties currently have high community transmission of the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unvaccinated people have 'made up their mind'

Asked afterward why he didn't spent a portion of the meeting trying to convince unvaccinated people to get vaccinated, Marshall told reporters that he already did that via a public service announcement with other doctors in Congress. That PSA was announced in April.

More:Sen. Roger Marshall joins in on effort to combat COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

"So that ship has sailed, the people in this room have made up their mind," he said.

"I think at this point in time, having had this conversation now with thousands of people just like them that decided not to, they don't want preached at, they don't want talked down to and I think really anything in that direction backfires and they just dig their heels in even more."

Marshall, who is an obstetrician and gynecologist, said the only way to convince unvaccinated people to get the shot is through individual conversations with their doctor or pharmacist.

"There's no words that can come out of my mouth, the president's mouth, anyone's mouth that is going to convince them," he said, pointing to a lack of trust in government. "If a doctor loses your reputation, you'll never get it back. The CDC and this White House have lost their reputation."

'Elections have consequences'

Union leaders apparently didn't participate in Friday's meeting.

"I was expecting some leadership from the different unions to show up and kind of do a roundtable," Marshall said. "I don't know what happened."

The event, which had originally been scheduled for a union hall, was moved to the crowded basement of a downtown office building that houses Marshall's new Topeka office.

"This ain't all of us, our gutless union (expletive) up and we couldn't all be here," one worker said.

Marshall told the collection of union workers — primarily from various energy companies and law enforcement — that they needed to put pressure on their national leadership to challenge the federal mandates.

"I'm going to keep fighting," he said. "But I'm telling you, unless your national organizations start pushing back on this White House — I'm not Moses. I'm just a U.S. senator from the state of Kansas."

He also urged people who are against the vaccine mandates to put pressure on Democrats.

"You all may have to unify across the nation and have a march at the mall just to show the White House," he said.

"I've been there, on the sixth," one audience member replied. "That's pretty risky."

The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol disrupted congressional proceedings to certify Biden's electoral victory. Several Kansans are facing criminal charges connected to the events. That same day, Marshall voted against counting the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania.

At Friday's meeting, as attendees complained about Democrat control of the federal government, Marshall said, "Elections have consequences."

"Do you really think he won that election?" one person asked the senator.

Marshall didn't answer the question.

'Where's her house?'

Marshall warned of an exacerbated workforce shortage and said Biden doesn't understand the effects of his mandates.

"This is real people with real jobs," he said. "We're not going to have electricity. We're not going to have police officers. We're not going to have nurses."

Many of the unvaccinated workers threatened to leave for jobs in other states.

"Then what are you going to do here when there's nobody to put your power back on?" one person said.

One worker urged his company to stop selling electricity to government agencies so they won't be subject to the federal contractor mandate. Others suggested going on strike to "shut everything down."

"Where's her house?" one person said of the governor. "We'll disconnect her power."

Marshall asked attendees why they decided against the vaccine. Some said they doubt the safety of vaccines. Some promoted at-home remedies and said they took vitamin D and zinc when they got sick from the coronavirus. Others raised health privacy and HIPAA concerns.

Freedom was the overriding theme of the town hall, as well as concerns that a vaccine mandate prefaces godless socialism and a future loss of constitutional rights.

"If we line up to get the vaccine, we all fall in line, do what we're told — what's next?" one person said. "... Your guns, no freedom of speech?"

"This guy in the White House — I refuse to call him the president — but where does he get the thinking he can invade our bodily sovereignty?" asked another person.

Religious and medical exemptions aren't enough to appease some of the anti-mandate individuals.

"It's none of their business what my religious beliefs are. It's none of their business what my doctor says," one person said of his company. He compared their vaccine incentives to "sell your soul for $500."

The crowd laughed after one person asked about the sentiment of "if you don't take the vaccine, you're basically a killer."

'I'm doing the right thing'

"Deep down inside I'm still this rural doctor from Great Bend, Kansas," Marshall said. "I believe in the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship, and every one of your situations is unique. Your history, your clinical history, is unique. There are pros and cons, there are risks and benefits of this vaccine. And you all are using common sense, and I respect your decision point."

Marshall has been a proponent of natural immunity. He said that people who have already been infected with the virus "have better immunity than those that had just the vaccine."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that vaccination offers better protection than natural immunity.

More:Natural immunity is good. Getting vaccinated after being sick with COVID-19 is better.

Marshall said workers should ask to meet with the governor, attorney general and legislative leadership. He said questions about the possibility of a special session are "above my paygrade."

He expressed doubt that any state action would stop the mandates, but "maybe it slows it down. ... I just hope it's enough to stop it until we get a court injunction."

"I know you're gonna walk away some saying we didn't accomplish anything, but this still is encouragement to me that I'm doing the right thing," Marshall said at the end of the meeting. "The swamp in D.C. would think that I'm upside down on this. They would tell me that the supermajority of Americans believe in a mandate, and I just don't think that's the truth."