GOP sees Biden vaccine mandates as energizing issue for midterms

Republicans are seizing on President BidenJoe BidenFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push Protesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Alabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system MORE’s latest coronavirus vaccine mandates as a campaign issue as the party looks to galvanize its base ahead of the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election.

On Friday, former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence says he hopes conservative majority on Supreme Court will restrict abortion access Federal judge to hear case of Proud Boy alleged Jan. 6 rioter seeking release from jail The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit MORE and South Dakota Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemNoem draws scrutiny for meeting with official as daughter sought state license Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks Dozens of Republican governors call for meeting with Biden on border surge MORE (R) took to Fox News’s airwaves to lambast the president’s move, while Texas Gov. Greg AbbottGreg AbbottProposed Texas map adds two new congressional districts to Austin, Houston Texas surpasses 4 million COVID-19 cases threshold The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats stare down 'hell' week MORE (R) called the mandates “an assault on private businesses” in a tweet.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee vowed on Thursday to sue the Biden administration over the mandates.

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Nationwide polling shows vaccine mandates are generally popular, but Republicans see an opportunity to use the issue to appeal to their staunchest supporters.

“I think this is going to be a motivating factor,” said Republican strategist Keith Naughton. “In an off-year election it’s always hard to get people to turnout for the president except in a crisis, but you do get the people who are angry with him to turnout.”

Twenty Republican governors, including Georgia's Brian KempBrian KempGeorgia to use federal funds to provide first responders ,000 bonus Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Trump stokes GOP tensions in Georgia MORE, Arizona's Doug DuceyDoug DuceyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in Dozens of Republican governors call for meeting with Biden on border surge White House debates vaccines for air travel MORE and Iowa's Kim Reynolds, as well as Abbott, have publicly opposed Biden’s vaccine mandates since it was announced on Thursday. 

“You’re going to see on the governor’s level a lot of governors taking, either them or their attorney generals, taking a leading role in a lot of these legal challenges,” said a GOP operative.

Alabama Gov. Kay IveyKay IveyAlabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system Dozens of Republican governors call for meeting with Biden on border surge President Biden's vaccination plan is constitutional — and necessary MORE (R), who is running for reelection and said just last month that it was time to “start blaming the unvaccinated folks” for the rise in COVID-19 cases, also hit back against Biden’s mandate.

“Once again, President Biden has missed the mark,” Ivey said in a statement. “His outrageous, overreaching mandates will no doubt be challenged in the courts."

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Biden’s mandates compel companies with 100 or more employees to have their workers get vaccinated or face weekly testing, as well as require vaccines for most federal workers and contractors.

The president hit back at his critics who are vowing to challenge his newly announced mandates on Friday, saying “have at it.”

“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, speaking outside of a Washington, D.C., school. “We’re playing for real here, and this isn’t a game, and I don’t know of any scientist out there in this field that doesn’t think it makes considerable sense to do the six things I’ve suggested.”

The back-and-forth comes as the coronavirus and its highly contagious delta variant wreak havoc on the unvaccinated, while also causing "breakthrough" cases in vaccinated individuals. According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. is reporting an average of roughly 151,500 new cases each day. Those are the highest levels seen since January.

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released last month found that 50 percent of U.S. workers said they were in favor of coronavirus vaccines being required in the workplace, while 26 percent said they opposed the requirements.

Another poll conducted by Politico and Morning Consult showed that 61 percent of respondents said they would support their local governments mandating vaccinations for employees working in their respective communities, while only 32 percent said they would oppose the measure.

The same poll found a stark division between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of vaccine mandates, with more than 80 percent of Democrats and roughly half of independents saying they are in favor of vaccine requirements for all Americans, and only 35 percent of Republicans saying the same.

Polling also shows Republicans and Democrats have different perceptions as to what stage of the pandemic the U.S. is in. An Economist-YouGov poll released this week found that 51 percent of Democrats said they believe the pandemic is going to get worse, while only 27 percent of Republicans said the same.

“Both sides are responding mostly to their base,” Naughton said.

But Republicans also argue that the issue transcends their base, arguing that Biden’s mandates could hurt him with his own base.

“I don’t think the issue is as simple as Republicans and Democrats,” said a national Republican strategist. “The people who are unvaccinated really break down along income lines so the working class and the less affluent tend to be significantly less likely to get the vaccine.”

A Vox study released in July showed that most Americans who have not received the vaccine make less than $25,000 annually. They were followed by Americans who make anywhere between $26,000 to $34,999 per year. 

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The same study found that as of July, Black individuals accounted for 9 percent of people who received at least the first dose of the vaccine in the U.S. Black individuals make up 12 percent of the U.S. population and are an integral Democratic voting bloc. Only 16 percent of Hispanics received at least the first dose as of July, according to the study.

“There’s clearly a backlash from Republicans on this issue, but I think there’s also a potential backlash that could come from Joe Biden’s own base on this issue,” the Republican strategist said.

Republicans are also floating potential economic effects the vaccine mandates could have on voters.

“Those are the people who are going to be affected by this when they are ultimately either fired from their jobs, let go from their jobs or have to suffer the consequences of their businesses now having to provide testing on a weekly basis,” said the GOP operative.

But Republicans also caution that the midterm elections are more than a year away and that issues like the economy, crime and the situation at the southern border could have a longer-term impact on voters’ memories.

“We’re going to keep talking about the border, inflation, and crime,” said the national Republican strategist. “There’s also a lot of Republicans who are vaccinated and want everyone else to be vaccinated. Like I said, I just don’t think it cuts cleanly along party lines.”