The growing battle over what some see as overreach by the federal government is firing up a segment of the Republican Party base, even though many large employers have already decided on their own to require their workers to get the shot.
The dustup will almost certainly end up in court since GOP attorneys general in nearly half of the states have vowed to sue once the rule is unveiled.
On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order barring private companies or any other entity from requiring vaccines. It was perhaps the most direct challenge yet to Biden’s announcement a month ago that workers at private companies with more than 100 employees would have to get either vaccinated or tested weekly for the coronavirus.
“No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual ... who objects to such vaccination,” Abbott wrote in his order.
White House officials brushed off Abbott's order, claiming the question of whether state law could supersede federal was settled 160 years ago during the Civil War. They said the Biden administration will push through the opposition and put into effect the president's package of mandates, which could affect up to 100 million Americans in all.
Several large companies in Texas have already implemented their own vaccine mandates, and two Texas-based airlines, Southwest and American, indicated Tuesday they would follow the order of the Biden administration, saying federal action supersedes any state mandate or law.
Calls for special legislative sessions to counter vaccine mandates have been heard in states like Wyoming, Kansas and South Dakota, where Republican Gov. Kristi Noem is so far resisting calls to immediately consider a bill that would guarantee people could opt out.
“I hear from people almost daily who are going to lose their jobs, are living in fear,” said Republican state Rep. Scott Odenbach, who has clashed with Noem on the issue. “They shouldn’t have to choose between feeding their family and their own medical freedom.”
Bills are being introduced or drafted elsewhere too, including swing states like Ohio and New Hampshire, where the Republican sponsor was elected House speaker after his predecessor died of COVID-19.
“We have made it clear that government mandates are not the path to successful vaccination rates and will only cause further division in this country,” Speaker Sherm Packard said last month.
In Utah, lawmakers have not taken action, but a record-setting crowd of over 600 people packed a legislative hearing room last week.
Rob Moore, CEO of Salt Lake City-based Big-D Construction, said he supports vaccines but has questions about the mandate rollout. He already has a worker shortage on his job sites, and he said employee surveys tell him that nearly 20% of his workers don't want to get inoculated, so they would need to be tested weekly.
“That’s heavy on our mind right now. I don’t know if the federal government has thought through that all that well. The cost is going to be enormous,” he said.
While the conservative legislative push may not ultimately succeed in blocking the mandates, it could be a stumbling block and could prove to be another factor in growing opposition to President Biden.
Mike Meckler, a conservative activist from Texas who helped found the tea party a decade ago, said the mandate issue is firing up younger people. He summed up the mood among activists as: “If you’re not with us, then you’re with the fascists.”
Only about 56% of Americans have been fully vaccinated with growing opposition to the jabs based on reports of complications from the vaccines as well as health officials now saying people who have had the shots need a booster.
Recent polling shows about half of Americans favor requiring workers in large companies to get vaccinated or tested weekly. But people are deeply split based on their political party, with about 6 in 10 Republicans opposing the mandate for workers, according to the survey by The Associated Press and NORC-Center for Public Affairs Research.
Even before Biden’s announcement, there were more than 100 bills in state legislatures seeking to limit vaccine mandates over the past year, said Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a professor at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. Most of those failed, but several states did impose some limits, many involving state agencies or schools.
Montana is the only state to pass a law banning private employers from requiring vaccines. The measure includes penalties for business owners of a $500 fine or prison.