WASHINGTON — Conservatives, predictably, swiftly condemned President Joe Biden's new vaccination requirements for large employers and federal workers to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Biden announced a six-point initiative Thursday to boost vaccinations, improve access to testing and make coronavirus treatments more widely available. The new mandates cover about 100 million workers, or two-thirds of all workers in the U.S., administration officials said.
It drew sharp and immediate criticism from Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee.
"From ignoring property rights, to shirking his duty at the border, and now, coercing private citizens to undergo a medical procedure, Joe Biden has shown a wanton disregard for the U.S. Constitution. As a would-be autocrat, Biden endangers the very fibers of this great nation. Freedom and agency are the hallmarks of the American experiment," Lee tweeted shortly after the president's White House speech.
Republican Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said his office is already reviewing the regulations and "will fight any unconstitutional limitation of individual liberties and privacy."
Utah, he said, has taken a responsible approach to the pandemic and doesn't need an "autocratic" mandate from the White House.
"Regardless of where you stand on vaccinations overall, the federal government should not be able to mandate such a personal medical decision to employers and individuals," Reyes said in a statement.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, called Biden's plan "illegal and absurd" and said it would cause more vaccine hesitancy.
Under the plan, companies with 100 or more employees would have to require their workers to be vaccinated or undergo at least weekly COVID-19 testing.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in coming weeks plans to issue an emergency temporary standard implementing the new requirement, which will cover 80 million private-sector workers, according to The Wall Street Journal. Businesses that don't comply could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
The employers will also have to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated or to recover from any side effects of the inoculation.
"My message to unvaccinated Americans is this, what more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?" Biden said. "We've made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine is FDA-approved. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin."
Biden has no right to mandate a personal medical choice, said Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah. He said it's unconstitutional and beyond the scope of any federal power. Moreover, he said, it's "foolish" and counterproductive.
"Sadly, his arrogant and heavy-handed approach is likely to make more and more people resist the vaccine," he said.
Stewart said the federal government should present facts and then trust people to make "such a highly personal decision" about vaccination. He said it's a complicated choice that demands more nuance and consideration than a one-size-fits-all mandate.
"What if someone has experienced past sensitivities to vaccinations? Do they already have natural immunities that may be even more effective? Are they pregnant? Do they have sincere religious concerns?" Stewart said.
"No president has the right to ignore such legitimate scenarios, and someone's ability to work and earn a living should not be threatened by an arrogant federal government."
Curtis said he is a strong proponent of getting the COVID-19 vaccine and the innovation of the medical professionals who made it possible. The chances of having serious reactions to the virus are "astronomically diminished" and the chance of getting it in the first place, including from the unvaccinated, are greatly reduced for those who are inoculated, he said.
"That said, during a time of historic distrust of the CDC and federal health agencies, President Biden moving to illegally mandate private citizens at private companies be vaccinated is illegal and absurd. This announcement will only create more vaccine hesitancy and distrust of the federal government, the opposite of what we need in this moment," he said in a statement.
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, a physician, tweeted that Biden's "vaccination decree is an all-out assault on private business, our civil liberties, and our entire constitutional system of limited government. This will likely get struck down in the courts — but is a terrifying glimpse of the new Marxist Dem Party."
Biden said the administration plans to require vaccinations for workers in most health care settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement. The mandate applies to about 50,000 health providers.
The administration will also require federal employees in the executive branch and government contractors to be vaccinated, stepping up the requirements for these workers after Biden earlier said federal workers and contractors who work on-site must be vaccinated or face regular testing and other measures, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., tweeted that he will introduce legislation to "block this egregious assault on Americans' freedom and liberty. We must fight against these attempts to force vaccine mandates on the American people."
GOP firebrand Rep. Lauren Boebert, of Colorado, took issue with Biden's statement that it is not about freedom or personal choice.
"This entire country is about freedom and personal choice. If you don't believe in that, you should leave," she tweeted.