But this being 2021, the rightwing backlash has gone way beyond mere political debate into the realm of incendiary language that, analysts fear, could translate into direct and violent action.
In South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster vowed to fight "to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian". Tate Reeves, the governor of Mississippi, tweeted: "The vaccine itself is life-saving, but this unconstitutional move is terrifying." JD Vance, a conservative running for a Senate seat in Ohio, warned: "Only mass civil disobedience will save us from Joe Biden's naked authoritarianism."
And the rightwing media went further, casually tossing around terms such as "authoritarian", "fascist", "totalitarian" and "tyrannical" to characterize the US president's mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require their employees to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly.
The rhetoric is seen as dangerous in a febrile political atmosphere that incited a deadly insurrection at the US Capitol in Washington on 6 January and plans for another extremist protest at the same location on Saturday. This week US Capitol police arrested a man in a truck who was armed with multiple knives, a bayonet and a machete near the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
AP News On This Story
WASHINGTON (AP) — In his most forceful pandemic actions and words, President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans — private-sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors — in an all-out effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant.
Speaking at the White House, Biden sharply criticized the tens of millions of Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.
"We've been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us," he said, all but biting off his words. The unvaccinated minority "can cause a lot of damage, and they are."
Republican leaders — and some union chiefs, too — said Biden was going too far in trying to muscle private companies and workers, a certain sign of legal challenges to come.
Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina said in a statement that "Biden and the radical Democrats (have) thumbed their noses at the Constitution," while American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley insisted that "changes like this should be negotiated with our bargaining units where appropriate."
On the other hand, there were strong words of praise for Biden's efforts to get the nation vaccinated from the American Medical Association, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable — though no direct mention of his mandate for private companies.
The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.
Biden is also requiring vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.
Biden announced the new requirements in a Thursday afternoon address from the White House as part of a new "action plan" to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots.
Just two months ago Biden prematurely declared the nation's "independence" from the virus. Now, despite more than 208 million Americans having at least one dose of the vaccines, the U.S. is seeing about 300% more new COVID-19 infections a day, about two-and-a-half times more hospitalizations, and nearly twice the number of deaths compared to the same time last year. Some 80 million people remain unvaccinated.
"We are in the tough stretch and it could last for a while," Biden said.
After months of using promotions to drive the vaccination rate, Biden is taking a much firmer hand, as he blames people who have not yet received shots for the sharp rise in cases killing more than 1,000 people per day and imperiling a fragile economic rebound.
In addition to the vaccination requirements, Biden moved to double federal fines for airline passengers who refuse to wear masks on flights or to maintain face covering requirements on federal property in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
He announced that the government will work to increase the supply of virus tests, and that the White House has secured concessions from retailers including Walmart, Amazon and Kroger to sell at-home testing kits at cost beginning this week.
The administration is also sending additional federal support to assist schools in safely operating, including additional funding for testing. And Biden called for large entertainment venues and arenas to require vaccinations or proof of a negative test for entry.
The requirement for large companies to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing for employees will be enacted through a forthcoming rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that carries penalties of $14,000 per violation, an administration official said.
The rule will require that large companies provide paid time off for vaccination.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will extend a vaccination requirement issued earlier this summer — for nursing home staff — to other healthcare settings including hospitals, home-health agencies and dialysis centers.
Separately, the Department of Health and Human Services will require vaccinations in Head Start Programs, as well as schools run by the Department of Defense and Bureau of Indian Education, affecting about 300,000 employees...