(The Hill) — President Joe Biden is facing the possibility of truck driver protests mirroring those in Canada over vaccine mandates that would come as the administration works to combat supply chain disruptions, vaccinate more Americans and strengthen the U.S. economy.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Wednesday warned police partners of protests similar to those in Canada that it said could even disrupt the Super Bowl or the State of the Union address.
DHS “has received reports of truck drivers potentially planning to block roads in major metropolitan cities in the United States in protest of, among other things, vaccine mandates. The convoy will potentially begin in California early as mid-February, potentially impacting the Super Bowl scheduled for 13 February and the State of the Union address scheduled for 1 March,” DHS wrote in a memo shared with police partners.
Protests in Canada have created a huge political problem for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and could become an issue for Biden soon while plans for a similar protest in Washington, D.C., next month are being made on social media.
For the last two weeks, protests in Ottawa have shut down traffic and aggravated citizens of Canada’s capital city as truckers honk in anger over requirements that truck drivers must be fully vaccinated to be permitted entry into Canada, a requirement the U.S. government has also implemented.
The protests have come to be seen as a reflection of fatigue with pandemic restrictions that exists around the world and is a threat to existing governments. Pandemic fatigue has been seen as a factor in Biden’s low approval ratings and the dismal outlook for Democrats in this year’s midterms.
It’s unclear how serious plans are for a similar protest in the U.S., though groups have announced plans on social media as the Canadian protests draw more attention.
“The People’s Convoy” group on Facebook is already plotting a “March for Freedom Convoy to DC 2022.”
Facebook posts from organizers state that truckers will arrive in Coachella Valley in Indio, Calif., on March 4 for a rally “to defeat the unconstitutional mandates.”
The convoy will then “roll out of California,” with details to come on forthcoming rallies.
The protests in Canada have been linked to far-right extremism, an issue for Biden and law enforcement following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In Ottawa, some protesters have been seen carrying signs and flags with swastikas on them, and one reportedly danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the city.
Trudeau has called the protesters a “fringe majority” and associated them with the rise of misinformation online and conspiracy theories. In the U.S., the original group organizing demonstrations in Washington was removed from Facebook after it hit more than 100,000 members because it violated the platform’s policies about QAnon.
The Grid reported on Tuesday that a GoFundMe page for the Canadian truckers, which raised more than $8 million before it was shuttered, could have been influenced by right-wing donors in the U.S. White House press secretary Jen Psaki this week didn’t have a comment about this reporting.
Biden announced in October a mandate that requires essential foreign travelers who cross into the U.S. by land borders to be fully vaccinated. The mandate includes truck drivers and went into effect in January soon after Canada’s mandate went into effect.
The White House has expressed worries about how protests might affect the free flow of goods and people across the U.S.-Canada border. Truckers this week blocked the Ambassador Bridge in Ontario, which 25 percent of trade between U.S. and Canada flows through.
The White House is watching the situation at the bridge “very closely” and the president is focused on it, Psaki said on Wednesday. She noted that the blockage “poses a risk to the supply chain” and could disrupt automakers because parts can’t travel.
While the protesters have been characterized as a fringe group in Canada, the vaccine mandate for truckers has received attention from Democrats and trade groups in the U.S.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.) called on the Biden administration last month to halt its requirement for truck drivers entering the U.S. over concerns from farmers and ranchers that the requirement will make it more difficult for them to get supplies such as fertilizers.
“[Tester] supports the right to peacefully protest, but shutting down the border does nothing to support Montana’s truckers, producers, or our economy, which is why these folks should stop blocking traffic and let travel resume,” a Tester spokesperson told The Hill on Wednesday.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trade group made up of more than 150,000 North American truckers, wrote to Biden on Monday requesting that professional truck drivers be exempted from the vaccination requirements for non-U.S. essential workers seeking to enter the U.S. via land ports of entry.
A spokeswoman said the trader group supports its members’ choice to legally and peacefully protest but would not officially participate as a trade association.
“We would like for leaders in D.C. to listen to, and take action on, the concerns of truck drivers that have been expressed to them for years such as the truck parking shortage, detention time, retention of drivers and government overreach. If the U.S. does see the same situation happening here as in Canada, it is a result of Congress and current and past administrations failing truckers for too long,” said Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the association.
The American Trucking Associations, a trade group for the U.S. trucking industry, did not respond to a request for comment on whether it supports a possible U.S. protest.
Samir Kapadia, the head of the trade practice at the Vogel Group, argued that if truckers in the U.S. mirror the protests seen in Canada, Biden will be criticized for any impact it has on the supply chain.
“The unique element of this scenario is how a social protest around vaccine mandates crippled the supply chain—it wasn’t systemic. We’ve been facing supply chain constraints for almost two years, but this is the first time a social issue prompted such a significant collapse. Should this persist or U.S. truckers mimic the Canadian protests, the president will face greater scrutiny on a national level,” Kapadia said.
Rebecca Beitsch contributed.