Republican governors across the country assailed President Biden’s aggressive moves to require vaccinations as an unconstitutional attack on personal freedoms and vowed to sue the administration to block the requirements.
The vaccine mandates Mr. Biden announced on Thursday, affecting tens of millions of private sector employees, health care workers, federal contractors and most federal workers, quickly escalated a political battle between the administration and Republican governors who have spent months fighting against mask rules and other pandemic restrictions even as infections and deaths surged in their states this summer.
Now, they are arguing that Mr. Biden’s plan is a big-government attack on states’ rights, private business and personal choice, and promise swift legal action to challenge it, setting up a high-stakes constitutional showdown over the president’s powers to curb the pandemic.
“@JoeBiden see you in court,” Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota wrote on Twitter. Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming said the new rule “has no place in America,” and said he had asked the state’s attorney general to be ready to take legal action.
South Dakota will stand up to defend freedom. @JoeBiden see you in court.
— Governor Kristi Noem (@govkristinoem) September 9, 2021
In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton questioned President Biden’s authority to require vaccinations or weekly testing at private businesses with more than 100 workers.
“I don’t believe he has the authority to just dictate again from the presidency that every worker in America that works for a large company or a small company has to get a vaccine,” Mr. Paxton said, speaking on a radio show hosted by Steve Bannon, who served as a strategist for Donald J. Trump during part of his presidency. “That is outside the role of the president to dictate.”
Mr. Paxton, a vigorous supporter of the sweeping new antiabortion law in Texas, promised to “fight back” in a message on Twitter: “Not on my watch in Texas.”
The Federal Gov’t is trying to dictate everything. You have my word, I will fight back on every one of his unconstitutional mandates. Not on my watch in Texas. https://t.co/TGAjXsbYba
— Attorney General Ken Paxton (@KenPaxtonTX) September 10, 2021
Mr. Biden had anticipated the attacks. In announcing his plan on Thursday, he said that he would do what he could to “require more Americans to be vaccinated to combat those blocking public health,” adding “If those governors won’t help us beat the pandemic, I will use my power as president to get them out of the way.”
On Friday, Mr. Biden said that his mandates would withstand Republican challenges.
“Have at it,” said Mr. Biden, who was delivering remarks at a middle school in Washington. “I am so disappointed, particularly that some of the Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities.”
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas called the actions an “assault on private businesses” in a statement on Twitter. He said he issued an executive order protecting Texans’ right to choose whether or not they would be vaccinated. “Texas is already working to halt this power grab,” he wrote.
Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona wrote on Twitter: “The Biden-Harris administration is hammering down on private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way.” He questioned how many workers would be displaced, businesses fined, and children kept out of the classroom because of the mandates, and he vowed to push back.
Mr. Biden’s vaccination requirements will be imposed by the Department of Labor and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is drafting an emergency temporary standard to carry out the mandate, according to the White House.
OSHA oversees workplace safety, which the agency is likely to contend extends to vaccine mandates. The agency has issued other guidelines for pandemic precautions, such as a rule in June requiring health care employers to provide protective equipment, provide adequate ventilation and ensure social distancing, among other measures.
By requiring that companies maintain safe workplaces through vaccination, legal experts said Friday that the president was relying on the federal government’s well-established constitutional power to regulate commerce and the 51-year-old law establishing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The vaccine requirements drew praise from doctors and scientists who have for months stressed the urgency of increasing vaccination rates to contain the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, which has raised the national caseload to heights last seen in January, overwhelmed hospitals in hard-hit areas and contributed to the deaths, on average, of more than 1,575 people a day.
However, the nation is so deeply polarized politically that even experts seemed split on how effective Mr. Biden’s plan would be.
Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said the actions might be “too little, too late,” and warned that Americans opposed to vaccination might dig in and bristle at being told what to do. The American Hospital Association was cautious, warning of the possibility of “exacerbating the severe work force shortage problems that currently exist.”
But Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, likened the vaccination requirements to military service in a time of war.
“To date, we have relied on a volunteer army,” Dr. Schaffner said. “But particularly with the Delta variant, the enemy has been reinforced, and now a volunteer army is not sufficient. We need to institute a draft.”
The unvaccinated, though, are not a monolith. They include people who were opposed to vaccines even before the coronavirus pandemic, a group that consumes misinformation on the internet falsely claiming that vaccines commonly cause dangerous side effects and injuries. There are also unvaccinated Americans who have little access to health care, who have not seen a doctor in years and are disconnected from the medical establishment — or who are simply afraid of needles.
Some have religious objections, or are concerned that the vaccines were developed too quickly, though they are the culmination of decades of scientific research. Others have already had Covid and believe that they have immunity that makes a vaccine unnecessary, although the C.D.C. urges previously infected people to get vaccinated because natural immunity may not be enough to prevent reinfection. And millions of unvaccinated Americans have no choice in the matter: They are under 12 years old and are still waiting for a vaccine to be cleared for their use.