Utah lawmakers criticize Biden’s new vaccine mandate

More than 2,000 Utah companies would have to make sure workers were vaccinated or tested weekly.

President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Washington. Biden is announcing sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A frustrated President Joe Biden has ordered his administration to draft sweeping new vaccine rules that would apply to federal workers and any company with 100 employees or more.

Under this proposal, these companies would have to ensure employees are vaccinated and, if not, that they are tested weekly. Focusing on those who have resisted the COVID-19 vaccine, Biden said, “we’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us.”

Biden is also requiring all federal workers to be vaccinated. He said that in total, his efforts at combating the contagious delta variant would affect as many as 100 million Americans.

The move was met with swift condemnation from some Republicans, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Lee wrote, “As a would-be autocrat, Biden endangers the very fibers of this great nation. Freedom and agency are the hallmarks of the American experiment.”

Lee also accused Biden of having “a wanton disregard for the U.S. Constitution.’

Lee, like the other five members of Congress from Utah, is vaccinated, though he has repeatedly said it should be a personal choice.

Gov. Spencer Cox stated in a tweet that although getting vaccinated is the “single most important thing” people can do to protect themselves and their community from the delta variant, “we have serious concerns about the legality of the order.”

Reps. Chris Stewart and Blake Moore also criticized the president’s orders. Stewart said Biden “has no right to mandate a personal medical choice” and that it would make more people “resistant to the vaccine.”

“The federal government should present the facts, then trust the people to make such a highly personal decision,” Stewart said, calling the move unconstitutional.

Moore said, “The focus needs to be on incentivizing the vaccine and communicating its effectiveness in a politically neutral manner. Forcing the vaccine will likely have the opposite effect.”

Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes said in a statement that his team is already reviewing the proposed legislation, and the state has already employed a “responsible approach” to the pandemic and will “continue to do so without need of an autocratic mandate from the White House.”

Utah has 2,036 companies with at least 100 employees and those companies employ 64.4% of all workers in the state, according to Utah’s Department of Workforce Services.

Salt Lake County, the largest in Utah, has 1,214 companies with at least 100 employees and those companies make up 50% of the county’s workforce.

Under Biden’s proposal, these companies would have to offer paid time off for workers to get vaccinated.

Utah, like the rest of the nation, is in the middle of a coronavirus surge. So far, 71% of people age 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That is slightly lower than the roughly 75% who have had at least one shot nationwide.

Tribune reporter Jordan Miller contributed to this story.