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President Joe Biden speaks to the media

President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on August 12, 2021. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

'Have At It': Biden Welcomes GOP Challenges to New Vaccine Rules

Republican governors vowing to sue over new vaccine rules are being "cavalier" about their constituents' health, said the president. "This isn't a game."

Kenny Stancil

"Have at it."

That's how President Joe Biden responded Friday when asked about Republican governors' threats to fight his administration's new Covid-19 vaccination requirements in court. Biden rejected GOP accusations of federal overreach as the latest example of right-wing opposition to public health measures amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"I am so disappointed that particularly some Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities," said the president. "We're playing for real here—this isn't a game."

"I don't know of any scientist out there in this field that doesn't think it makes considerable sense to do the six things I've suggested," Biden added, referring to his administration's comprehensive plan to bring the pandemic under control as hospitals in undervaccinated regions are overwhelmed by the ultra-contagious Delta variant and roughly 1,500 Americans die from Covid-19 each day, driving the national death toll above 655,800.

A new study released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people in the U.S. who were not fully vaccinated this spring and summer were 11 times more likely to die of Covid-19—and over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized—than those who were fully inoculated.

During a televised address on Thursday, the president outlined far-reaching vaccination requirements affecting tens of millions of workers. One of the new measures, which will be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, requires all employers with more than 100 workers to provide their employees with paid time off to get fully inoculated against Covid-19 or conduct weekly testing.

Another rule requires people who work at healthcare facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid funding to be vaccinated. In addition, Biden unveiled a mandate requiring all employees of the executive branch as well as contractors who work with the federal government to be vaccinated, with no option for avoidance through regular testing.

While Biden's strategy for boosting inoculation rates elicited praise from public health experts, his announcement was met with swift opposition from right-wing lawmakers and media outlets.

Speaking from a school in Washington, D.C. on Friday, the president did not identify any Republican governors by name, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem are among those who have promised to sue the Biden administration over its new vaccine rules.

As Common Dreams reported earlier on Friday, experts say the Labor Department has the regulatory authority to compel private employers to protect the health of workers and the broader public, including through mandatory vaccination amid a deadly global pandemic.

The New Republic's Matt Ford wrote earlier this year that vaccine mandates have a long history in the U.S., as well as legal precedent established in 1905 by the Supreme Court in Jacobson v. Massachusetts.

Legal challenges to the White House's new vaccine rules are likely to reach the nation's high court, now dominated by right-wing justices, where the federal government's emergency powers under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution will be put to the test.

Recent polling found that a majority of U.S. adults favor Covid-19 vaccination requirements, with only about one-fifth to one-quarter of respondents opposed.

The Biden administration is already in the midst of a fight with the GOP over mask mandates in schools, which several right-wing governors have attempted to block even as children under 12 remain ineligible for Covid-19 vaccines pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Last week, the Department of Education opened civil rights probes in five states to determine whether prohibitions on mask mandates deny students with disabilities—some of whom are more vulnerable to serious illness from Covid-19—equal access to safe in-person instruction.

If Republican governors "won't help us beat the pandemic," Biden said Thursday, "I will use my power as president to get them out of the way."

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