WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s aggressive push to require millions of US workers to vaccinate against the Coronavirus is running into a wall of resistance from Republicans threatening everything from lawsuits to civil disobedience, plunging the country deeper into culture wars that have festered since the onset of the pandemic.
In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster says he will fight “to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian.” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, says she is preparing a lawsuit. And J.D. Vance, a conservative running for a US Senate seat in Ohio, describes Biden’s move as Washington’s “attempt to bully and coerce citizens.”
“Do not comply with the mandates,” Vance says.
Biden is hardly backing down. In a visit to a school on Friday, he accused the governors of being “cavalier” with the health of American youngsters, and when asked about foes who would file legal challenges, he retorted, “Have at it.”
The opposition follows the new round of rules Biden outlined on Thursday in a new effort to tame the Coronavirus by mandating that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. Another 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be vaccinated.
Biden’s move has unified Republicans who sometimes have taken different approaches to the pandemic. From state capitals to Congress and the campaign trail, Republicans — even those who support vaccination — are blasting Biden’s more forceful approach.
“The vaccine itself is life-saving, but this unconstitutional move is terrifying,” tweeted Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.
More than 208 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, but some 80 million remain unvaccinated as the US confronts the highly contagious delta variant. There are now about 300% more new daily COVID-19 infections, about two-and-a-half times the hospitalizations and nearly twice the number of deaths as at the same time last year.
While breakthrough infections do happen among the vaccinated, those cases tend to be far less severe, with the vast majority of deaths and severe illnesses occurring among those who have not yet received the shots.
The pandemic is worsening in many of the states where governors are most loudly protesting the president’s actions. South Carolina, for example, is averaging more than 5,000 new cases per day and has the nation’s second-highest infection rate. A hospital system there started canceling elective surgeries this week to free staff to help with a crush of COVID-19 patients.