Sen. T.J. Shope

Sen. T.J. Shope

PHOENIX — Reactions to President Joe Biden’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate fell sharply along partisan lines in Arizona, with outraged Republicans demanding legal action against what they deemed a tyrannical policy and Democrats, though largely quieter, supportive of the policy.

Gov. Doug Ducey, who has blocked schools and local officials from imposing vaccine and mask mandates in Arizona, called the new requirement “dictatorial” and “un-American.”

“COVID-19 is a contagious disease, it is still with us and it will be for the foreseeable future. President Biden’s solution is hammering down on private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way,” Ducey said in a press statement.

The governor argued that the mandate would do more harm than good.

“How many workers will be displaced? How many kids kept out of classrooms? How many businesses fined?” he said. “The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective tools to prevent the disease, but getting the vaccine is and should be a choice.”

Ducey also urged legal action against the mandate, which he predicted would be struck down in court: “We must and will push back.”

Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who’s running in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate, said he’s reviewing Biden’s mandate and he’ll take “all legal recourse to defend our state’s sovereignty and the rights of Arizonans to make the best healthcare decisions for themselves.”

“President Biden is now taking federal overreach to unheard of levels by dictating vaccine mandates for all private companies with over 100 people, federal contractors, and healthcare providers receiving federal dollars,” Brnovich said. “This would be a devastating step toward the nationalization of our healthcare systems and private workforce, and greatly erode individual liberties.”

The policy that Biden announced Thursday requires private employers with at least 100 workers to require their employees to either get COVID-19 vaccines or submit to weekly tests for the virus.

Various Republican lawmakers voiced their opposition to the mandate as well.

“The only people who will make the decision on what I inject into my body will be between me, my family and my doctor. You want the vaccine, get it! You don’t, don’t!” tweeted House Majority Whip Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City.

Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, called the policy “pure government overreach” and posited, without evidence, that China was using COVID-19 to amass DNA records of Americans.

“Did we get hijacked by China, Beijing Joe?” said Bolick, a candidate for secretary of state. “The covid testing has already handed over our DNA to the Chinese producing these tests.”

Sen. T.J. Shope opposed a bill during the 2021 legislative session that would have barred private businesses from refusing service to unvaccinated customers. But Shope, a Coolidge Republican whose family owns a grocery store, said he opposes government-imposed vaccine mandates, tweeting, “I join Gov. @dougducey and I’m sure a majority of my colleagues in looking forward to our day in court with @POTUS over this unconstitutional mandate!”

Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, went as far as to suggest that Biden’s mandate could lead to political violence, tweeting, “Don’t Australia my America. We have the 2nd Amendment.”

“Buy more ammo. It is as American as Apple Pie,” she added.

Several Republican gubernatorial candidates blasted the mandate as well. State Treasurer Kimberly Yee called it “socialism in action when the government tells the private sector what to do,” former Congressman Matt Salmon castigated the policy as “immoral and unconstitutional,” and former Fox 10 anchor Kari Lake called it a “gross, unconstitutional attack on our God-given liberties.”

On the other side of the aisle, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for governor, said, “Vaccines are our best path to defeat this pandemic and keep our economy open. This is the right move to protect Arizonans and our economic recovery.”

Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego lauded Biden’s vaccine policy.

“This is leadership. President Biden is doing what needs to be done to beat COVID-19. No ifs, ands, or buts—there is no reason to not get the shot if you are eligible. For months, we’ve had a safe and effective vaccine available for free and in ample supply. The time to wait is over,” Gallego said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, a vocal opponent of Ducey’s ban on mask mandates in schools, argued that Biden’s policy has the support of a majority of Arizonans, though she didn’t cite any specific polls.

“Controlling the virus has always been the key to ensuring safe in-person learning. Enough political games — our focus must be on accelerating student learning and helping schools recover,” Hoffman said.

And Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who has also clashed with Ducey over COVID policies, said Biden’s mandate will protect and save lives.

“This is the critical action we need to appropriately fight this virus. It’s great to see strong leadership at a time when others have prioritized politics over science,” she tweeted.

Raquel Terán, chairwoman of the Arizona Democratic Party and a state representative from Phoenix, said she was grateful for Biden’s leadership in the face of Ducey’s “ineffectual and irresponsible” leadership on COVID-19.

“If our governor won’t protect us, it’s even more imperative that we have a president who will,” Terán said. “It’s quite simple: Arizonans have a right to go to work without worrying that they’ll bring a deadly virus home with them, and parents have a right to send their children to school without worrying that they’ll get sick.”

Arizona’s two U.S. senators were more circumspect in their comments.

Sen. Mark Kelly spoke about the policy in positive terms, though he stopped short of saying he supported it.

“The best way to beat COVID-19 and keep our economy and schools on track is for more Arizonans to get vaccinated, and I’m hopeful that these steps will encourage more folks to speak to their doctors and get the vaccine,” Kelly said in a statement provided to the Arizona Mirror.

In a statement provided to the Mirror, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said she looks forward to “reviewing the details of how today’s announced policies will be implemented,” but didn’t say whether she supports the policy.

“The health and safety of Arizonans, and our continued economic recovery, both depend on beating this pandemic. The only way to do so is for every eligible American to get vaccinated and follow public health guidelines, and I support efforts to achieve those goals including masking and testing where appropriate,” Sinema said.

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Jeremy Duda is associate editor of the Arizona Mirror, a non-profit independent Arizona news organization.

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