On July 8 2021, a number of partisan outlets asserted that Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra said it was “‘absolutely the government’s business’ what medical decisions you make for yourself and your family”:
FRIGHTENING BIDEN ADMIN CLAIM: IT’S ABSOLUTELY GOVERNMENT’S BUSINESS TO KNOW YOUR PERSONAL MEDICAL DECISIONS
… Becerra, representing the Biden administration, thinks not only is it “absolutely” the government’s business what medical decisions you make for yourself and your family, but it’s also the taxpayers’ business too. You sir can go fornicate yourself while your assistant health secretary watches.
Fox News was quick to cover Becerra’s July 8 2021 CNN appearance with anchor Brianna Keilar, in “HHS Secretary Becerra: ‘Absolutely the government’s business’ to know which Americans haven’t been vaccinated.”
That article also used a partial quote and partial paraphrase, and it began:
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Thursday [July 8 2021] it was “absolutely the government’s business” to know which Americans haven’t been vaccinated yet against the coronavirus.
Responding to GOP criticisms of the Biden administration’s planned “door-to-door” campaign to encourage unvaccinated Americans to inoculate themselves, Becerra told CNN the government has had to “spend trillions of dollars to try to keep Americans alive during this pandemic.”
“So it is absolutely the government’s business, it is taxpayers’ business, if we have to continue to spend money to try to keep people from contracting COVID and helping reopen the economy,” he said.
Using half of Becerra’s quote and augmenting it with a purported paraphrase is a common low-effort disinformation tactic; a tweet embedded by Fox News used the same linguistic arrangement (“‘it is absolutely the government’s business’ to know if you’ve been vaccinated”):
HHS’ @XavierBecerra on Biden's controversial door-to-door vaccination program: “The federal government has spent trillions of dollars to keep Americans alive during this pandemic. So it is absolutely the government’s business” to know if you’ve been vaccinated. pic.twitter.com/PiYp0Peogd
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) July 8, 2021
Readers who saw headlines or paraphrasing would likely assume that Becerra said some version of the phrase: “it is absolutely the government’s business to know your personal medical decisions.” In most mentions of the segment we located, similar or identical wording appeared.
CNN provided a transcript for Sec. Becerra’s July 8 2021 appearance on the show “New Day”; a timestamp on the screen indicated that the exchange occurred around 8:17 AM EST. Keiler prefaced Becerra’s appearance to discuss debate over plans to knock on people’s doors to discuss vaccination as she introduced him:
KEILAR: Amid growing concerns over the fast-spreading delta variant, the Biden administration’s new efforts to knock on doors to encourage more Americans to get vaccinated is not without criticism from some on the right.
Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw tweeting, how about don’t knock on my door. You’re not my parents, you’re the government. Make the vaccine available and let people be free to choose. Why is that concept so hard for the left?
Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs tweeting: It’s none of the government’s business knowing who has or hasn’t been vaccinated.
Joining me now is Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra who is helping in this effort to get Americans vaccinated.
Sir, thank you so much for being with us. I wonder if you can answer that criticism. It’s none of the government’s business knowing who has or hasn’t been vaccinated. What do you say?
Keilar posed a question about Republican criticism of the door-to-door campaign. Becerra then made the remarks subsequently paraphrased everywhere:
XAVIER BECERRA, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Brianna, perhaps we should point out that the federal government has spent trillions of dollars to keep Americans alive during this pandemic. So it is absolutely the government’s business. It is taxpayers’ business if we have to continue to spend money to try to keep people from contracting COVID, and helping reopen the economy.
And so it is our business to try to make sure Americans can prosper, Americans can freely associate. And knocking on a door has never been against the law. You don’t have to answer, but we hope you do. Because if you haven’t been vaccinated, we can help dispel some of the rumors you heard and hopefully get you vaccinated.
Keilar said that the country is seeing a decline in vaccinations, and “folks who say more needs to be done,” and stated that “Biden needs to get behind proof of vaccination” at events. She then asked Becerra for his response, touching again upon resistance around disclosure of vaccination status:
KEILAR: … It matters for everyone, including the vaccinated.
What’s your response to that? Having people say, yes, I am vaccinated, and proving it, or at least having them attest to it?
BECERRA: Well, there are any number of ways to try to continue to make progress, and the president has demonstrated he is open to moving in any direction we can to help Americans get safe, be safe, feel safe. And so, we’ll continue to provide Americans access. So, we’re going to go where you are so that you can get vaccinated and we’ll do everything we can.
And what we’ve done is allowed the states through our governors, our mayors, and county supervisors to determine how best to approach people in their neighborhoods.
KEILAR: So why not model — why not model that? I hear you saying leave it to local leaders, leave it to governors. Why not at least model how you let people into an event?
BECERRA: Well, Brianna, you heard — you read off some of the comments of some representatives in Congress, and that particular type of thinking is not — it’s out there and we want to give people the sense that they have the freedom to choose.
But we hope they choose to live and we’re going to make it possible for them to have a good life.
And, by the way, protect their family and loved ones at the same time. We hope people make the right choices. We want them to have the right information.
But we are America. We try to give people as much freedom and choice as possible. But clearly when over 600,000 Americans have died, the best choice is to get vaccinated.
Notably, Keilar (not Becerra) returned to more direct vaccination campaigns, pressing Becerra about how “more needs to be done” to raise rates of vaccination:
KEILAR: I mean, and I don’t mean — actually, I do mean to keep pressing on this. but I will ask you this as a parent of small children who don’t have the choice, I don’t have the choice to vaccinate them, right? So we’re living our lives in a certain way.
I worry about the health of my children. There are tons of people in this situation.
And so I know you want to give people the freedom, but it’s not just about their freedom. It’s also about the freedom of other people. And, look, I know that young people have much better reactions if they get COVID. There are a lot, including some with cardiac problems who certainly don’t.
So how do you — I mean, isn’t it worth modeling the correct behavior to protect those people?
In Becerra’s response, he confirmed that was important. Keilar then reiterated a point about “verification,” meaning the presentation of proof of vaccination.
BECERRA: Certainly modeling that behavior, the correct behavior, is important.
KEILAR: But verification?
BECERRA: Well, so, Brianna, you’re touching on an issue that’s as old as the republic. And that is our personal freedoms, our personal responsibility. When you take to a vehicle and you drive with your children in that vehicle, you assume that everyone will be as responsible as you will behind the wheel. Unfortunately, not everyone is.
And so do we prevent or prohibit people from driving because they won’t be as responsible as you? We, again, give people choices and we try to have people be responsible.
COVID is no different. The vaccine is no different. We want people to be personally and community responsible, and we hope that they’ll understand it’s not just their lives, their loved one’s lives, but perhaps your children’s lives as well.
Just after noon on July 8 2021, Becerra tweeted about the way in which his comments were presented out of context:
Some comments I made today are being taken wildly out of context. To be clear: government has no database tracking who is vaccinated. We're encouraging people to step up to protect themselves, others by getting vaccinated. It's the best way to save lives and end this pandemic.
— Secretary Xavier Becerra (@SecBecerra) July 8, 2021
Several posts and tweets asserted Becerra said “‘it is absolutely the government’s business’ to know Americans’ vaccination status — and as he stated in the tweet, his statements were taken out of context. In the exchange with Keilar on CNN, Becerra said “it is absolutely the government’s business,” and added that it is the taxpayers’ business “if we have to continue to spend money to try to keep people from contracting COVID, and helping reopen the economy.” Keilar pressed Becerra on the subject of encouraging unvaccinated people to get vaccinated, and Becerra repeatedly addressed the matter as being one of personal choice.