Gov. Bill Lee at the dedication of a Tyson chicken plant in Humboldt, Tennessee in March, pictured with plant workers. Tyson Foods has said it will require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Gov. Bill Lee is criticizing President Joe Biden’s vaccine plan for employers, which could affect 80 million workers, and House Republicans are taking it a step further, calling it “tyranny.”
Lee, a Williamson County Republican, said Thursday he thinks the Democratic president’s plan to increase vaccines nationwide is “a terrible idea.”
The governor said he opposes Biden’s plan because he’s a proponent of individual and business choice. The key part of the president’s proposal would require companies with more than 100 employees to require workers to get vaccinated or show weekly test results as proof they are negative for COVID-19.
“I think that would be a very ill-advised law, and I suspect we will see a lot of response to that. I think it’s a bad idea,” Lee said in a Thursday press conference before he’d had time to review Biden’s proposal.
Later, Lee issued a statement after Thursday’s press conference saying the Constitution “won’t allow this power grab & in the meantime, I will stand up for all Tennesseans.”
Still, the governor maintained his stance that the vaccine is the best tool available to fight the pandemic but that “heavy-handed mandates are the wrong approach.”
And earlier, he said he would always encourage companies to comply with the law. According to a report, companies might be fined $14,000 per violation.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee House Republican Caucus tweeted it is standing “united against any federal government overreach.”
“We will protect your liberty at all costs. Tyranny doesn’t work in Tennessee,” the House Republicans’ tweet said.
The Daily Wire responded on Twitter with Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Boreing balking at the president’s plan.
“The Daily Wire does have more than 100 employees but we won’t be enforcing Joe Biden’s unconstitutional and tyrannical vaccine mandate. That’s it. We’ll use every tool at our disposal including legal action to resist,” Boreing said in a tweet.
State Rep. Jason Zachary, a Knoxville Republican, answered that tweet by saying on Twitter, “Thanks for leading the way @realDailyWire @JeremyDBoreing. The @tnhousegop will work to protect and support you and all our Tennessee business owners who resist the overreach and tyranny of the Biden administration.”
Zachary also said on Twitter the president doesn’t have the constitutional authority to force people to “put something” in their body against their will.
“Do not walk away from your job which provides for your family. Force the federal government to take action against you,” Zachary tweeted.
Outrage by Republicans kept up the political battle over government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Responding to questions Friday, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie called Biden’s plan a “great idea” because elected officials should make public safety their number one objective in taking care of constituents.
“I think this is the best way we can do that. To say it’s tyrannical is absolutely ridiculous. We are supposed to lead by example,” Dixie said.
Vaccines and wearing masks are two of the best ways to prevent the spread of the disease, and they should be the primary tools to stop COVID-19, Dixie said.
“This is how Republicans are using this as a political football instead of just doing what’s right,” Dixie said.
Students should have been vaccinated and tested on a regular basis and required to wear masks in order to return them to school safely, the Nashville Democrat added. But Republicans have tried to block those efforts at every turn.
“They have sat down like a donkey on this issue and refused to say they’re wrong.” Dixie said.
Biden reportedly said Thursday, “It’s not about freedom or personal choice. It’s about protecting yourself and those around you.”
Gov. Lee later sent out a statement saying the president’s comment about freedom “is a phrase that should never come out of a U.S. President’s mouth.”
Further, Lee said, “For a fight that requires working together, a lot of cynical and divisive edicts came out of the White House (Thursday) pitting the vaccinated against the unvaccinated, businesses against employees and the federal government against states.”
In addition to the employer requirement, the White House wants to make at-home testing more accessible; increase efforts to vaccinate the 10% of school teachers and school district staff members who are unvaccinated; push the federal mask requirement for airplane passengers to Jan. 18 and provide more medical personnel to hospitals slammed with COVID-19 patients.
Tennessee Lookout reported this week that at least eight public school teachers or staff members have died recently from COVID-19. Gov. Lee, however, does not plan to change strategy in dealing with the virus, even as the number of cases in schools increases.
Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Thursday the primary strain on hospitals is with intensive care units, 55% of which are filled with COVID patients. Seven of the state’s eight healthcare coalition regions are using surge plans and are at their ICU capacity, she said.
Ninety-five percent of patients in the ICUs and nearly 100% of patients on ventilators are unvaccinated, she said.
“We know that our vaccines are very safe and very effective, particularly against severe disease,” Piercey added.
The nation is averaging 150,000 new COVID-19 cases daily, compared to 12,000 around the Fourth of July, as the Delta variant spreads. In Tennessee, cases shot up 4,200 to a total of 1.1 million Friday, and deaths jumped 75 to 13,879 from COVID. Hospitalizations climbed 22 to 3,798 current.
That shows the tone deafness of that whole party and (Lee's) administration, not just Gov. Lee but Speaker (Cameron)Sexton and all the GOP.
– House Democratic Caucus Chair Vincent Dixie on Gov. Lee holding an event, maskless, with elementary school children
Dixie accused Gov. Lee of exacerbating the situation by posing for a photo with several elementary-age children below the vaccination age without wearing a mask.
“That shows the tone deafness of that whole party and his administration, not just Gov. Lee, but Speaker (Cameron) Sexton and all the GOP,” Dixie said.
Asked about the picture Thursday, Lee said he is vaccinated and would “act like it.” The governor said in his press conference he washed the feet of children and gave them new socks and shoes.
Shortly after his comment, though, Health Commissioner Piercey said even vaccinated people could carry the virus and pass it on to others, especially within the first two days of contracting it.
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