'Power grab,' 'Overreach': Biden vaccination mandate sparks Republican backlash

Washington (AFP) –


US President Joe Biden's sweeping new Covid vaccination mandates are sparking a backlash from some Republicans in the land of individual freedom, setting up potential court battles.

"Have at it," a defiant Biden told reporters on Friday when asked about legal challenges to the strict vaccination rules that would affect tens of millions of American workers.

After months of seeking to boost vaccination rates through gentle persuasion and incentives, the Democratic president made it clear on Thursday that he was fed up as the Delta variant sends Covid cases surging across the country.

Biden directly addressed the estimated 80 million eligible Americans who have not yet gotten the shot against a disease that has left 650,000 people dead in the United States.

"We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin," the 78-year-old president said. "And your refusal has cost all of us. So, please, do the right thing."

Biden's plan mandates vaccinations for all federal employees and contractors and businesses with more than 100 employees. Companies could face fines if they do not comply.

Most of the Americans who have not yet been vaccinated tend to be younger, less educated, and more likely to be Republican, according to studies.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said Friday that while he supports the vaccine, getting the shot should be the individual choice of every American.

Demonstrators display signs protesting mask and vaccine mandates during a rally in Frankfort, Kentucky
Demonstrators display signs protesting mask and vaccine mandates during a rally in Frankfort, Kentucky Jon Cherry GETTY IMAGES/AFP/File

"The federal government has no authority to force businesses in Texas and across the country to mandate their employees get vaccinated," Cruz said. "It is cruel and burdensome to impose this authoritarian mandate.

"While I support the vaccine and have received it, Americans have the right to exercise personal choice when it comes to their health."

- 'See you in court' -

Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, the second-most populous state in the country, accused Biden of staging a "power grab."

"Biden's vaccine mandate is an assault on private businesses," Abbott said, noting that he had issued an executive order "protecting Texans' right to choose whether they get the Covid vaccine."

The US Supreme Court ruled in a 1905 case that a state can require citizens to be vaccinated against smallpox
The US Supreme Court ruled in a 1905 case that a state can require citizens to be vaccinated against smallpox Mandel NGAN AFP/File

"Sounds a lot like a dictatorship," said the Twitter account of Republicans in the US House of Representatives. "America is all about FREEDOM!!"

The Republican National Committee, governors of a number of Republican-ruled states and conservative private legal groups announced plans to mount legal challenges to the vaccination mandates.

"See you in court," said Kristi Noem, the Republican governor of South Dakota. "South Dakota will stand up to defend freedom."

Republican Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia said he will "pursue every legal option available" to "stop this blatantly unlawful overreach by the Biden administration."

Mark Meadows, who served as chief of staff to former president Donald Trump and is on the board of the conservative group America First Legal, called Biden's move "executive overreach."

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said she is "pro-vaccine" but "anti-mandate."

"Many small businesses and workers do not have the money or legal resources to fight Biden's unconstitutional actions and authoritarian decrees, but when his decree goes into effect, the RNC will sue the administration to protect Americans and their liberties," McDaniel said.

- Supreme Court precedent -

Defenders of Biden's mandates note that vaccinations against a number of other diseases are already compulsory for schoolchildren in all 50 US states and there is a Supreme Court precedent in the administration's favor.

In a 7-2 decision in a landmark 1905 case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the Supreme Court upheld a requirement by the city of Cambridge that people be vaccinated against smallpox to protect public health.

More recently, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a lower court ruling that upheld a Covid vaccination mandate imposed by Indiana University.

"Covid vaccines do protect against a health hazard," Gostin tweeted. "And the evidence is clear. A potentially deadly infectious disease is just as hazardous as a workplace injury."