Republican State Officials Slam Biden's 'Garbage' Vaccine Mandate, Quickly Plan Lawsuits

Hours after the federal government announced the rules of its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for many employers, state Republican officials were already denouncing the measure and planning lawsuits, the Associated Press reported.

This includes South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, who described the rule as "garbage" through a spokesperson Thursday.

"It's unconstitutional and we will fight it," he said.

President Joe Biden initially announced the requirement in September that all businesses with 100 or more employees get their workforce vaccinated. The rules released Thursday by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) dictate that employees of qualifying companies must get vaccinated by January 4 or get tested at least once weekly.

The Republican governors or attorneys general of states like Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Iowa, among others, said Thursday that they planned to file lawsuits against the requirement as soon as Friday. One conservative media company, the Daily Caller, filed its own challenge Thursday, AP reported.

"While I agree that the vaccine is the tool that will best protect against COVID-19, this federal government approach is unprecedented and will bring about harmful, unintended consequences in the supply chain and the workforce," Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb said in a statement.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Republicans Decry Vaccine Mandate
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson described the federal COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all companies with 100 or more employees as “garbage” Thursday. Above, Wilson speaks to attendees at the Richland County GOP convention on April 30, 2021, in Columbia, South Carolina. Meg Kinnard/AP Photo

At a news conference, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis criticized what he called an "executive fiat" for the private sector. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds characterized the mandate as an imposition on personal choice, saying people should be able to make their own health care decisions. She recently signed a bill guaranteeing that people who are fired for refusing a vaccine can qualify for unemployment benefits.

At least 19 Republican-led states have already sued the Biden administration over a separate mandate requiring vaccines for employees who work for federal contractors.

Biden, in a statement Thursday, dismissed the argument from many GOP governors and lawmakers that a mandate for employers will hurt businesses' ability to keep workers on the job.

"There have been no 'mass firings' and worker shortages because of vaccination requirements," he said. "Despite what some predicted and falsely assert, vaccination requirements have broad public support."

The administration has been encouraging widespread vaccinations as the quickest way out of the pandemic.

Challenges to the workplace mandate from Republicans and conservative groups are expected to be broad-based and quick, reflecting yet another aspect of the COVID-19 response—from mask requirements to social-distancing guidelines—that has fallen into a partisan divide. Democratic governors and attorneys general were relatively quiet after the OSHA rules were announced on Thursday. From California, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a simple Twitter message: "The right move."

All 26 Republican state attorneys general have said they would fight the requirements, and most of them signed a letter to Biden saying as much.

Key to their objection is whether OSHA has the legal authority to require vaccines or virus testing.

In the letter to Biden, the top state government lawyers argued that the agency can regulate only health risks that are specific to jobs—not ones that are in the world generally. Seema Nanda, the top legal official for the U.S. Department of Labor, which includes OSHA, says established legal precedent allows rules that keep workplaces safe and that those rules pre-empt state laws.

That hasn't stopped state lawmakers and governors for taking a variety of actions aimed at undercutting federal mandates.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott last month issued an executive order prohibiting private companies or any other entity from requiring vaccines. An Ohio lawmaker has proposed a bill barring schools and colleges from expelling students who refuse vaccines and preventing employers from firing workers who do so.

Arkansas has adopted a law creating a vaccine-mandate exemption for workers who can prove they have COVID-19 antibodies, although a broader measure banning employers from asking about vaccination status failed in the Legislature. The OSHA rule does include a religious exemption, as well as one for people who work exclusively outdoors or away from others—such as from home.

Lawmakers or governors in states including Kansas, South Dakota and Wyoming have called for special legislative sessions to counter vaccine mandates. In Nebraska, not enough state lawmakers agreed to a special session to get one on the calendar, but Governor Pete Ricketts, a Republican in a GOP-dominated state, has been pushing them to keep trying.

"Right now, there are Nebraskans who are losing their jobs over vaccine mandates," his office said in a Facebook post Thursday. "Until more Senators step up, these people who are hurting won't get the help they need."

In Ohio, factory owner Ross McGregor said he will follow the rules as he would any federal workplace mandate, but not because he agrees with them. McGregor, who said he is vaccinated, is opposed to the new requirement, just as he has publicly opposed efforts by Ohio Republican lawmakers to prevent him from mandating the coronavirus vaccine for his workers.

"At the end of the day, every employer, and every employment situation, dictates what is best," said McGregor, a former Republican state lawmaker and owner of axle and brake component manufacturer Pentaflex, where he estimates that about half of the 115 or so employees are vaccinated. "Having either a ban on mandates or an imposition of mandates goes against that."

Biden's Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden’s plan to require vaccinations at all private employers of 100 workers or more has already hit a wall of opposition from Republican governors, state lawmakers and attorneys general. Above, Biden speaks about COVID-19 vaccinations after touring a Clayco Corporation construction site for a Microsoft data center in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, on October 7, 2021. Susan Walsh/AP Photo