JEFFERSON CITY — Triggered by what they say is overreach by the federal government, Missouri Republicans are threatening to take action on President Joe Biden’s vaccination order.
In a joint statement issued by GOP leaders in the Missouri House, officials said they plan to convene a House committee next week to take testimony on the “abusive overreach by Washington, D.C. bureaucrats.”
“The Missouri Legislature will always defend Missourians’ unalienable rights and stand strong against federal government overreach and abuse of power,” said the statement by Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon, and Majority Leader Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres.
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Rep. Nick Schroer, a St. Charles County Republican who is running for the state Senate, said he was collecting signatures to urge Republican Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session of the Legislature to prohibit the president’s rule from going into effect.
Another St. Charles County lawmaker, Rep. Tony Lovasco, joined the scrum, saying he was helping Schroer.
Regardless of whether Parson calls a special session, lawmakers will have a ready-made soapbox next week when they gavel into their annual veto session on Wednesday.
The one-day session was expected to be a quiet affair, but members of the Republican-led House and Senate now have an opportunity to opine on the president’s decision.
A spokeswoman for Parson, who has resisted issuing mask mandates or shutting down businesses to halt the spread of a deadly virus for the past 18 months, said Friday she was gathering information about what, if anything, the governor intends to do.
Parson has been reluctant to call special sessions this year on other subjects, including major Republican issues such as changes in election law following former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss.
But the governor, who is vaccinated after having contracted COVID-19 last year, called Biden’s decision “an insult.”
“Vaccination protects us from serious illness, but the decision to get vaccinated is a private health care decision that should remain as such,” Parson said on social media. “My administration will always fight back against federal power grabs and government overreach that threatens to limit our freedoms.”
Biden’s mandate directs the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop a rule requiring employers with at least 100 employees to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Unvaccinated workers would need to produce negative tests results on a weekly basis.
On Friday, Biden pushed back against GOP opposition, The Associated Press reported.
“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,” Biden said during a visit to Brookland Middle School in northeast Washington, D.C. “This isn’t a game.”
Vaccination rate lags
The vocal GOP response to the order came as Missouri’s vaccination rate continues to lag.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported Friday that 46% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated as the delta variant continues to spread.
Over the past seven days, there have been 10,156 new cases of the coronavirus, with 2,033 in hospitals. Of those, 562 are in intensive care units and 347 are on ventilators.
There have been 60 deaths reported over the past week, boosting the death toll linked to COVID-19 to 10,861.
While the vaccination mandate would affect thousands of Missourians who work in companies with 100 or more workers, it was unclear whether the order would affect state government employees.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, one of the state’s largest business groups and a supporter of the governor, panned the order.
“The Biden administration’s new COVID-19 vaccine and testing mandate is the wrong approach for business,” said Chamber President Dan Mehan. “As always, the Missouri Chamber will stand against attempts to place new government mandates on our employer community.”
Mehan said the new policy would likely “further divide” the public over the vaccine, but the organization is still encouraging people to get vaccinated voluntarily.
“The Missouri Chamber believes that vaccination remains key to our economic recovery. We need more Missourians to get vaccinated so that we can begin to put this pandemic behind us,” Mehan said.
Other GOP officials also weighed in.
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh demanding an explanation of the supposed constitutional basis of the order. He called it an “end run around public accountability in favor of heavy-handed authoritarianism.”
Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Roy Blunt, said Biden’s order could hurt the economy.
“Threatening workers through forced vaccination will only cause further difficulties in hiring for small businesses and significantly damage our already bruised economy,” Hartzler said in a statement.
Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, also worried about the order’s effect on the economy.
“If COVID vaccine mandates are enforced, unemployment will skyrocket and further tank the economy,” Hoskins tweeted Friday.
Last updated at 5:45 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9, 2021