Biden visits Elk Grove Village to reinforce vaccine message
President Joe Biden came to the suburbs Thursday to urge employers to require COVID-19 vaccinations, using an Elk Grove Village construction project as a backdrop to help make his point.
"We can end this thing," Biden said, adding that hospitalizations and cases have decreased nationwide. "It's easy. For God's sake, get vaccinated."
Biden chose Elk Grove Village's Technology Park for a tour and visit of a Microsoft data center being built by Clayco, a Midwestern company that is requiring COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing for employees. He was surrounded by others who've enacted vaccine requirements, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Scott Kirby, CEO of Chicago-based United Airlines.
"Today, I'm calling on more employers to act. My message is require your employees to get vaccinated," the president said.
Chicago-based United in August required all of its 67,000 U.S. employees to be inoculated against COVID-19 and announced in late September it would begin firing those who did not comply.
"The reaction has been positive, and I don't feel like we've been going on a limb at all. We were just doing the right thing," Kirby said Thursday."
Now, the company's vaccination rate is over 99.7%, he said.
Biden made an economic argument for shots, referencing a White House report that estimated higher rates could return 5 million people to the labor force. "Even Fox News requires vaccinations," he said in a mock whisper.
Biden, who required vaccination for U.S. troops, cited Department of Defense statistics showing a jump from a 67% rate of inoculations to 97% as of Friday.
But Biden also warned unvaccinated Americans are "overcrowding our hospitals. They're leaving no room for someone with a heart attack. Our doctors and nurses are running dry."
The president was met at O'Hare International Airport by Pritzker and Lightfoot, who made introductory remarks along with U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg, whose district includes the Elk Grove Village Technology Park.
Biden singled out Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson several times, then shook his hand and thanked him after finishing his speech.
"That means a lot. I was very proud," Johnson said.
While getting a photo with Biden, Johnson said he joked, "'Mr. President, never before have two of the most powerful men in the world gotten a picture together until now.' Biden laughed," the mayor said. "He's very personable."
Several dozen demonstrators stood on Higgins Road near the entrance to the Technology Park, waving flags and holding signs with ranging from "Trump Won" to "Illegal Mandates."
Johnson said he's heard some political blowback from Republicans about Biden's visit. "I don't care," he said. "It's the president of the United States coming to our community."
Biden had canceled a Sept. 29 visit to the village amid negotiations over the federal debt ceiling, which the Senate voted to lift Thursday evening until December.
Members of Congress from the suburbs also met with Biden.
Because of widely ranging vaccination rates, "Illinois is a state where we're still lower than we should be," said U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove. "It's really sad and depressing. In the 6th District, which I represent, it's one of the most vaccinated districts and it's almost double the rate of some districts down south."
With mostly adults in attendance, 12-year-old Vikram Krishnamoorthi stood out in the crowd.
"I think it's great. I think I can learn a little bit about what's happening around me and it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Vikram, Rep. Krishnamoorthi's son, who attended with his grandparents.
When asked by his father if he wanted to meet Biden, "I said, 'Yeah, I really want to,'" Vikram said.
Krishnamoorthi said he was moved by the experience of introducing Biden in front of his son and parents.
"I was pinching myself when I saw Air Force One pull up in front of me," he said.
Biden on Sept. 9 introduced significant mandates for employers with more than 100 workers to require COVID-19 vaccines or weekly tests. He also instituted vaccinations at health care facilities accepting Medicare or Medicaid users, and for federal contractors.
Pritzker has instituted vaccination requirements for certain state workers as well as teachers and health care workers, and Lightfoot is requiring all city employees to get shots.
Clayco Executive Chairman Bob Clark is a longtime supporter of Biden and former President Barack Obama. Clark was a member of Biden's National Finance Committee during his presidential campaign.