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YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | Did Congress unfairly jump the line to get vaccinated?

The reaction among some to members of Congress receiving the COVID-19 vaccine during the first wave of inoculations demonstrates the degree to which the pandemic has been politicized. The real story involves the “continuity of government” plan.  
Attorney David Betras

I wish I could say I was surprised, but the reaction among some to members of Congress receiving the COVID-19 vaccine during the first wave of inoculations demonstrates the degree to which the devastating pandemic has been politicized. 

Instead of taking comfort in the fact that the men and women responsible for governing the country will be able to do so safely, critics are excoriating them for using their positions to “jump in line” and divert vaccines from front-line health care workers and nursing home residents.

That contention, like too much of what has been said and written in the eight months since the coronavirus put the U.S. in a chokehold, is not true. 

The real story and the reason our senators and representatives are being vaccinated now involves an obscure set of protocols that comprise the “continuity of government” (COG) plan.  

First developed during the Eisenhower Administration to ensure the nation could continue to function after a nuclear war, COGs have evolved along with the threats the U.S. faces. The COG was first activated by President George W. Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. At that time, a rotating staff of 75 to 150 senior officials were moved to and worked from two secret bunkers on the East Coast—well out of reach of terrorists.

In July 2016, President Barack Obama issued Presidential Policy Directive 40 which revised the Bush-era COG. PPD 40 directed all executive branch departments and agencies to develop plans that would enable them to “... continue to perform their essential functions during disasters or incidents that threaten to disrupt normal operations, including: natural, man-made and technological emergencies.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly meets the definition of an “emergency” under the order. That is why President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Dec. 7, directing all branches of the federal government, including Congress, to “…maintain the capability and capacity to continuously perform National Essential Functions, as defined by PPD-40, regardless of threat or condition …”

This means, in essence, that President Trump directed the members of Congress to roll up their sleeves and get the vaccination so they could keep doing the jobs they were elected to do. They did not pass a bill. They did not stamp their feet like spoiled brats. They did not elbow others aside by asserting privilege. They are simply abiding by the executive order and heeding the advice of Capitol physician Dr. Brian P. Monahan who urged all members to get inoculated.

At a time when our nation is so deeply divided, I was pleased to see that members at both ends of the political spectrum were following the law. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but when Mitch McConnell and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agree on something, my heart is filled with hope for the future. 

Their decision to be inoculated serves as both an example for those who question the safety of the vaccine and demonstrates that COVID-19 can be defeated if we all work together. 

I never thought I would say this, but I will follow Sen. McConnell’s example when it is my turn to get the shot.

—  Attorney David Betras, a senior partner at Betras, Kopp & Harshman LLC., directs the firm’s non-litigation activities and practices criminal defense law in both the state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Have a legal question you'd like answered here? Send it to