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Biden raises tensions with governors with vow to 'get them them out of the way' of vax mandates

Relations between Biden and GOP governors were already frayed, following a succession of administration challenges to state prerogatives across a range of issues.

Updated: September 13, 2021 - 8:45am

A combative President Joe Biden brought simmering federal-state tensions to full boil on Thursday by threatening governors who don’t agree with his new COVID mandates, vowing he would he use his executive powers to "get them out of the way."

Within 24 hours, at least 19 governors and two attorneys general had said they wouldn't comply with his vaccine mandate and would protect businesses in their states.

"Let me be blunt," Biden said. "My plan also takes on elected officials in states that are undermining you in these life-saving actions. If they'll not help, if these governors won't help us beat the pandemic, I will use my power as president to get them out of the way." 

Relations between Biden and GOP governors were already frayed, following a succession of administration challenges to state prerogatives through executive orders, new regulations, lawsuits and threats of federal intervention across a range of issues, including border protection, election integrity, land use, and public health and individual medical autonomy. 

When Biden brushed aside immigration law at the border on his first day in office, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was the first AG to sue.

His first lawsuit – of nearly a dozen – was over an executive order halting deportations of illegal immigrants.

Texas won the case and continued to sue – over executive orders related to immigration, oil and gas leasing, Medicaid and federal funding. Texas is now being sued by the Biden administration over the state's recently enacted heartbeat bill.

The Supreme Court declined to take up a case attempting to halt the measure.

Another Supreme Court ruling the Biden administration ignored was its decision that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's rent moratorium was unconstitutional. 

Biden has been battling with the popular Republican governors of Texas and Florida for months, as their states were among the first to reopen, and their governors opposed vaccine passports, mask mandates, and further restrictions on businesses. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis each issued mandates prohibiting schools from requiring children to wear masks. 

Biden said in early August: "I say to these governors: please help. If you aren't going to help, please get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing."

DeSantis retorted: "This is a guy who ran for president saying he was going to 'shut down the virus.' And what has he done? He's imported more of the virus from all over the world by having a wide open southern border.

"So why don't you do your job? Why don't you get this border secure? And until you do that, I don't want to hear a blip about COVID from you."

Biden also issued a memorandum and directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to "assess all available tools in taking action, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to ensure that governors and other officials are taking all appropriate steps to prepare for a safe return to school for our Nation's children, including not standing in the way of local leaders making such preparations."

Alluding to these actions, Biden said Thursday that the Department of Education "has already begun to take legal action against states undermining protection that local school officials have ordered."

But Biden's metastasizing conflict with governors extends beyond these two states. Upon entering office, Biden immediately and unilaterally halted new oil and gas leases from being issued on public lands and waters. Seventeen governors asked him to rescind his order. 

"You began your presidency with calls for unity," the governors noted. But the "lack of consultation with our states," they continued, was "alarming, showing disregard for the citizens we serve and the businesses that employ them and keep our country running and our nation secure." 

Biden ignored their request, and 14 states sued.

In April, South Dakota  Republican Gov. Kristi Noem sued Biden for canceling July 4th fireworks at Mt. Rushmore. Now she's ready to sue him over the vaccine mandate. 

"My legal team is standing by ready to file our lawsuit the minute Joe Biden files his unconstitutional rule," she tweeted Thursday. "This gross example of federal intrusion will not stand."

As Biden's chief law enforcement officer, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has been battling governors over hot button issues from election integrity to education policies and mask mandates.

When Arizona began auditing its election results, Garland said his office would scrutinize any post-election audits, threatening jail time for state auditors in new federal guidance

In response, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said Garland "displayed an alarming disdain for state sovereignty," the 10th Amendment, and the election provisions in Articles I and II of the Constitution.

"My office is not amused by the DOJ's posturing and will not tolerate any effort to undermine or interfere with the State Senate's audit to reassure Arizonans of the accuracy of our elections," Brnovich added. "We stand ready to defend federalism and state sovereignty against any partisan attacks or federal overreach."

Biden's mandate "collides with many state laws, including those that ban vaccine passports," and "his administration has no authority to force any employee or employer to receive the COVID shots," said Mat Staver, chairman and founder of Liberty Counsel, a Christian public interest law firm. "We will challenge his lawless executive order."

Among those state rules are Texas Gov. Abbott's executive order prohibiting state and local government entities from establishing vaccine mandates. Calling Biden's mandate "an assault on private businesses," Abbott said, "Texas is already working to halt this power grab."

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, said: "The American Dream has turned into a nightmare under President Biden and the radical Democrats. They have declared war against capitalism, thumbed their noses at the Constitution, and empowered our enemies abroad. Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian."

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said he's been vaccinated, but Biden's "dictatorial approach is wrong" and "will never stand up in court." It's "un-American and will do far more harm than good," Ducey added. "How many workers will be displaced? How many kids kept out of classrooms? How many businesses fined? The vaccine is and should be a choice. We must and will push back." 

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said as long as he was governor, "there will be no government vaccine mandates in Oklahoma." 

"My administration will continue to defend Oklahoma values and fight back against the Biden administration's federal overreach," he tweeted Thursday.

Just over 40 days ago, on July 30, Fox News asked CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, "Are you for mandating a vaccine on a federal level?" 

"That's something that I think the administration is looking into," Walensky replied, following up later on Twitter: "To clarify: There will be no nationwide mandate. I was referring to mandates by private institutions and portions of the federal government. There will be no federal mandate."

Prior to being sworn into office, Biden was asked if COVID vaccines should be mandatory. "No. I don't think they should be mandatory," said the then-president-elect. "I wouldn't demand that they be mandatory."

As recently as July 23, his press secretary, Jen Psaki, said in response to the same question, "That's not the role of the federal government." 

In August 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci, now the president's chief medical advisor, said, "I don't think you'll ever see a mandating of the vaccine, particularly for the general public." 

But on July 29, Biden mandated that all federal employees either receive COVID-19 shots or wear masks indefinitely and be tested weekly. On Aug. 24, all members of the U.S. military were mandated to be vaccinated. However, according to CNN, U.S. Postal Service workers "are not subjected to federal mandate, but fall under the Labor Department rule announced by President Biden aimed at businesses with more than 100 employees ... with employees required to vaccinate or test weekly."

While at least 19 Republican governors have said they will fight Biden, the Republican Governor's Association notes that Democrat governors have remained "largely silent as their Party's leader tramples states' rights."
"As Biden threatens all governors who refuse to go along with his unconstitutional mandate, will Democrat governors who blindly follow Biden's every move speak out?" Republican Governors Association spokesman Jesse Hunt asked in a statement. "Let's see who Democrat governors side with: Joe Biden or the families and businesses they were elected to represent."