State Watch

DeSantis sues Biden over federal contractor vaccine mandate

Associated Press/Wilfredo Lee

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday sued the Biden administration over its COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federal contractors, the latest in a series of GOP attacks on President Biden’s pandemic response efforts.

The complaint, filed in federal district court in Tampa, calls the policy a “radical intrusion on the personal autonomy of American workers,” and seeks a preliminary nationwide injunction to block it from taking effect.

It names as defendants President Biden and a handful of federal agencies, including NASA, the General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget. 

The policy is scheduled to take effect Dec. 8, and will require all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, without a testing option.

“It’s important for us to take a stand,” DeSantis said at a press conference. “Tossing people aside is just not something we can tolerate here in the state of Florida, so we are going to do everything we can.”

The lawsuit does not address a separate administration rule, yet to be released, which will require companies of more than 100 employees to implement a vaccine-or-test mandate. 

DeSantis, who is seen as a likely presidential contender in 2024, has framed vaccination as a personal choice. While he has encouraged Floridians to speak with a physician or trusted doctor about the vaccines, DeSantis has said residents should only be vaccinated if they want to be.

Last month, a press conference to announce penalties for any county that imposed a vaccine mandate included two anti-vaccine workers, one employee of the city of Gainesville who falsely claimed he wouldn’t get a shot because it “changes your RNA.”

DeSantis has fought with the Biden administration on numerous COVID-19 policies. He’s banned local governments from enacting a vaccine mandate or requiring any kind of proof of vaccination. He has also prohibited schools from requiring masks, and stripped funding from schools that have persisted. 

DeSantis said vaccine mandates will force people out of work and threaten the livelihoods of contractors throughout the state.

“If you don’t comply, you either have to fire people, or … they’ll just cancel the contract entirely, even if this is something you bid for and you won fair and square. We don’t think they have the authority to do that,” DeSantis said. 

The lawsuit in Florida is far from the only attempt to block implementation of vaccine requirements. In other cases, judges have largely sided with the private businesses that require vaccination.

Earlier this week, a Texas judge dismissed a request for an injunction by a union representing pilots who work for Southwest Airlines, which imposed a requirement ahead of the contractor mandate taking effect. 

Health experts have praised mandates as an effective way to get people vaccinated, and the White House has fully leaned into them as a way to turn the tide of the pandemic, after initially steering clear of federal intervention.

In speeches, Biden has argued that government officials exhausted various other options to nudge Americans toward vaccination. 

On Wednesday, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said the purpose of the mandates isn’t to punish people, and noted the deadlines for federal employees and contractors “are not cliffs.”

Zients said federal employers and contractors will be expected to educate, counsel and accommodate their unvaccinated workers to persuade them to receive the shot before terminating them.

Tags coronavirus vaccines Florida Jeff Zients Joe Biden Ron DeSantis vaccine mandate

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