WASHINGTON – Republican candidates and conservative activists are planning to attack President Joe Biden’s COVID vaccine mandates in court and on the campaign trail, but they face uphill battles in trying to block the plan.
Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus on Friday denounced Biden’s plan as “another attempt by the Biden Regime to expand its control over Americans’ daily lives.”
Biden on Thursday announced a number of stringent vaccine requirements, including a plan to require business over 100 people to ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly. Polls show vaccine mandates are popular with voters and a string of court rulings give the federal government the authority to impose them in certain cases.
Biden, citing voter support for vaccine mandates and saying they are necessary to defeat the COVID pandemic, professed a lack of worry about the GOP’s legal and political threats.
“Have at it,” Biden told reporters.
The intense political debate over vaccines emerges in the run-up to the 2022 congressional and gubernatorial elections, and even the 2024 presidential race.
More: GOP governors threaten to fight Biden’s vaccine mandate; FDA weighs in on vaccines for kids: COVID updates
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In announcing his plan, Biden criticized “elected officials actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19,” an apparent reference to Republican governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas.
DeSantis and Abbott responded that they would oppose Biden’s call to impose vaccinations on Americans, saying the choice should be up to individuals rather than government.
“How could we get to the point in this country where you would want to have someone lose their job because of their choice about the vaccine or not?” DeSantis told reporters.
Abbott called the Biden plan “an assault on private businesses,” and said he has issued an executive order “protecting Texans’ right to choose whether they get the COVID vaccine.”
“Texas is already working to halt this power grab,” Abbott tweeted.
DeSantis and Abbott said they have been vaccinated and both face re-election bids next year, and are said to be considering presidential runs in 2024.
Biden’s proposal requires vaccinations for federal employees and contractors as well as health care workers. Biden said his plan would affect 100 million people, about two-thirds of all workers.
In announcing his plan on Thursday, Biden said the vaccination issue is “not about freedom or personal choice,” but protecting public health in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic.
“It’s about protecting yourself and those around you,” Biden said. “The people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love.”
Republican governors and business people are threatening to take their opposition to court, though legal analysts say the federal government has the power to mandate vaccines. .
“The President’s executive powers support the extension of vaccine mandates, as his order is limited specifically to federal workers and contractors,” said Valerie Gutmann Koch, assistant law professor and co-director of the Health Law & Policy Institute at the University of Houston Law Center.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said he plans to “pursue every legal option available” to stop what he called “this blatantly unlawful overreach by the Biden administration.”
Next door in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster said “we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian.”
The Republican National Committee said Friday it would sue Biden. Noting that Biden once said he would not impose mandates, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said that “now small businesses, workers, and families across the country will pay the price.”
The president has the authority to require vaccinations of federal employees, and businesses seeking federal contracts, said Barb McQuade, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at the University of Michigan.
As for private businesses, they are subject to the rules of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is responsible for workplace safety.
“In the same way OSHA can require hard hats at construction sites, it can require vaccines in workplaces,” McQuade said.
Some business owners said OSHA lacks the authority to force private companies to require vaccines. Charlie Kirk, founder of a pro-Trump student organization, tweeted: “Mandating vaccines for our 170+ full time employees at Turning Point USA? No chance. We will sue you Joe Biden, and win.”
The military and school districts around the country routinely require vaccinations for potential illnesses, from the mumps to the measles. Courts have often upheld the rights of governments to demand such vaccinations.
Laurence H. Tribe, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, said the threatened lawsuits reflect “ideological commitments rather than genuine constitutional analysis.” The threatened lawsuits are more political than legal, he said, adding that Republican comments on the Biden plan are in sharp contrast to “the far greater willingness to support unilateral executive actions by former President (Donald) Trump.”
A high number of Republican candidates are attacking Biden’s plan, especially those involved in competitive GOP primaries.
J.D. Vance, part of a crowded field of candidates seeking the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, even called for “civil disobedience” regarding the Biden plan.
“If all of us ignore this garbage they won’t be able to enforce it,” Vance tweeted Friday.
Democrats predicted that voters would punish the Republicans for their resistance to vaccine mandates. In a statement, the Democratic National Committee said their opponents “are once again brazenly siding with COVID and attempting to prolong the pandemic.”
A recent poll authorized by the COVID States Project, a multi-university group of scientific researchers, said nearly two-thirds of Americans support government requirements for vaccines in order to defeat the pandemic.
Tim Miller, a former Republican political strategist, said the mandate issue could appeal to voters who are already upset with Biden over the problems with the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Conservatives now have “the same energy to oppose Biden that existed for Clinton/Obama,” Miller said, “and so that will help with voter engagement.”
Miller said Republicans “are on the wrong side of public opinion” when it comes to vaccines.
“So that energy might be offset by continued bleed among the college educated suburban voters that decided the 2020 election.”
Republican strategist Liz Mair said GOP candidates could have success by appealing to voter concerns about government abusing its powers. But, given the dangers of COVID, Mair added that the Republicans “need to be careful in terms of how they talk about this.”
The conservative opposition to the Biden mandates is simply “playing to the base,” said Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California.
Pitney said that “many core Republican voters think that just about anything Biden does is illegitimate,” especially with respect to the COVID pandemic,
“The GOP’s problem is that the vaccinated majority takes a different point of view,” Pitney said.
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republicans attack Biden’s COVID vaccine plan, plan court challenges