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Biden calls NBC News reporter Kelly O'Donnell 'pain in the neck' for asking about VA vaccine mandate

Veteran reporter Kelly O'Donnell told Biden his comment was a 'compliment,' earning a chuckle from the president (pictured in the White House briefing room on July 6)

Biden snapped at an NBC reporter for asking about the Department of Veterans' Affairs vaccine mandate on Monday during a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at the White House on Monday.

After meeting with the Iraqi leader Biden took several questions on the United States' relationship with Iraq and American strategy in the Middle East.

As White House staff began ushering reporters out of the room, O'Donnell shouted a question about Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough's department-wide COVID vaccine mandate for its health care workers.

'You are such a pain in the neck, but I'm going to answer your question because we've known each other so long,' the president shot back.

O'Donnell retorted, 'I take that as a compliment, Mr. President,' earning a chuckle from Biden.

A veteran journalist who started at NBC in 1994, O'Donnell first covered the White House under George W. Bush's administration. 

O'Donnell seemed to clarify that her exchange with Biden was friendly by stating he hurled the insult 'with a smile'

Biden told her the question had 'nothing to do with Iraq' before confirming McDonough's announcement.  

'Yes. Veteran Affairs is going to in fact require that all docs working in facilities are going to have to be vaccinated,' Biden said regarding health care workers at the VA. 

He did not, however, respond when O'Donnell tried to ask a follow up about further COVID vaccine requirements for federal employees.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Monday become the first federal agency to require its frontline health care workers to be vaccinated. 

President Joe Biden said that 'all docs' working at Veterans Affairs Department facilities would be required to get vaccinated after snapping at NBC's O'Donnell for asking the question

Following the action, 115,000 staffers will have two months to get inoculated against the coronavirus, and face being fired if they do not oblige. 

The move comes after the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and dozens of other medical groups joined in a statement calling for mandatory vaccinations for health workers amid the spike in the Delta variant and rising infections in states with low vaccination rates.

 'We call for all health care and long-term care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against covid-19,' they wrote. 'The health and safety of U.S. workers, families, communities, and the nation depends on it.'

Biden confirmed that 'all docs' at the VA would be asked to get the shot ahead of his meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi in the Oval Office – although the policy would in fact be more expansive within the VA.

Denis McDonough, the secretary of veterans affairs, told the New York Times: 'I am doing this because it's the best way to keep our veterans safe, full stop.

McDonough, who served as White House chief of staff in the Obama administration, added that the mandates would apply to the employees who have the most contact with patients.

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday become the first federal agency to require its frontline health care workers to be vaccinated. World War II Army veteran John Stephens, 96, receives the shot in Vancouver, Washington

This includes doctors, dentists, nurses, physicians assistants and physical therapists at VA medical centers across the country.   

'It's the best way to keep Veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country,' McDonough said in a statement. 'Whenever a Veteran or VA employee sets foot in a VA facility, they deserve to know that we have done everything in our power to protect them from COVID-19. With this mandate, we can once again make - and keep - that fundamental promise.'

The Biden administration has so far been unwilling to back federal vaccine mandates, and has insisted it is up to private companies.

The move came after White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House 'supports the steps of hospitals' to require staff to get vaccinated, saying it 'could be a guide for us on what to do with our own workforce here from the federal government.'

She noted there are 'certain powers' that the federal government has, and 'certain powers that the federal government does not have.' 

She cited the role of experts at the Centers for Disease Control, then said 'there are decisions by institutions, by localities, by hospital systems, who may make decisions about how they can protect their workforces. We certainly support that.' 

The president could legally compel members of the military to get the shot, but has so far declined to issue the order.

Medical staff applaud before Vietnam War Army veteran James Curry, 78, (R) receives a COVID-19 vaccination at a Veterans Affairs long-term care facility on December 17, 2020 in Vancouver, Washington. The move by the VA comes as dozens of medical groups called for mandatory vaccinations for health workers 

The military has battled with low inoculation in their ranks, but are unable to force anyone until the vaccines are fully approved by the FDA.

But there are more concerns over the spread of the Delta variant that has caused a surge in cases across the US.

On Monday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced all city employees would have to be vaccinated. 

California also announced that all state workers would have to have the shot if they wanted to return to work. 

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