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On the Trail: Sununu argues Biden vaccine mandate to spark ‘instability and mistrust’

  • N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu waves to supporters of Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden as he arrives to campaign at a polling station at Windham, N.H. High School, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Windham. Sununu, a Republican, faces Democrat Dan Feltes in the gubernatorial election. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

For the Monitor
Published: 9/10/2021 4:59:24 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu is joining fellow Republican governors across the country in criticizing this week’s push by President Joe Biden to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for up to 100 million American workers.

“Forcing people to choose between their jobs and livelihood or the vaccine is not an appropriate way to increase vaccine uptake,” Sununu argued in a statement on Friday.

Sununu charged that the “actions by the Biden Administration are another example of saying one thing, then doing another and creating instability and mistrust at a time when the American people need serious leadership. New Hampshire’s workforce, most especially in health care, is at a critical level and unilateral mandates by the federal government could lead to shortages in multiple areas that are already at grave risk.”

But the governor emphasized that “the vaccine is safe and we will continue to encourage Granite Staters to talk with their doctor or pharmacist to feel comfortable about their choice to receive the COVID vaccine.”

In his most forceful comments to date, the president on Thursday announced new, wide-ranging, federal COVID vaccine requirements for those working at companies with 100 or more employees, health care workers, and federal contractors, in a further effort to combat the surge this summer in coronavirus cases due to the highly infectious delta variant.

Biden, in a White House speech, took aim at the tens of millions of Americans who have yet to get vaccinated, even after months of availability and federal, state, and local incentives to get the shots.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said, all during a White House speech. And he stressed that the minority of Americans who are unvaccinated “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

Studies indicate that the delta variant’s infection rate among those who are vaccinated is significantly lower than in people who have resisted taking the vaccine.

The president’s actions sparked a quick reaction from Republican leaders across the country – as well as some union leaders – charging that Biden was going too far in trying to force private companies and their workers to take the vaccines.

At least 11 Republican governors, including Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas, Brian Kemp of Georgia, and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, quickly said they will or may consider taking legal action against the Biden administration’s new vaccine requirements.

Another 10 GOP governors, including Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, on Thursday released statements critical of the president’s move. Sununu now joins that list.

Besides Sununu, there are two other Republican governors in New England.

There was no direct comment from GOP Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts. But press secretary Terry MacCormack noted in a statement that “Governor Baker recently directed all cities and towns to require all municipal employees, including their school employees, to be vaccinated and is committed to assist local officials to implement these measures.”

Last month Baker signed an executive order mandating vaccines for all 42,000 state workers in Massachusetts.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont, retweeting the president’s tweet announcing his new COVID plan, welcomed the new requirements.

“I appreciate the President’s continued prioritization of vaccination and the country’s recovery as we move forward. As Vermont’s experience shows, vaccines work and save lives. They are the best and fastest way to move past this pandemic,” Scott wrote.

In another sign of the politicization of the coronavirus, the worst pandemic to sweep the globe in a century, vaccination rates in some red states lag behind those in many blue states.

While then-President Donald Trump endorsed the vaccine and repeatedly highlighted his administration’s efforts to quickly produce them last year, he received his COVID shots privately in January, and his aides didn’t confirm that Trump got vaccinated until March.

Some top Republicans – such as longtime Senate GOP leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and former Vice President Mike Pence – who was very much the public face of the Trump administration’s efforts to help drug makers quickly produce an effective coronavirus vaccine through Operation Warp Speed – have strongly urged Americans to take the shots, but others in the Republican Party remain skeptics of the vaccine and have been highly critical of the Biden administration’s efforts to persuade those opposed to getting vaccinated to take the shots.

Two very different takes on Democrat’s victory

“Historic” is how the New Hampshire Democratic Party is characterizing this week’s victory by Democrat Catherine Rombeau over Republican Linda Rea Camarota for a New Hampshire House of Representatives seat in Bedford left vacant after the death of Republican State Rep. David Danielson in May.

Rombeau, an attorney who served as a Bedford town councilor, edged Camarota, a former state representative, by the razor-thin margin of just 37 votes out of nearly 5,000 cast. The results of the election will be challenged during a recount Monday morning.

The pickup by the Democrats is the first flip of a state legislative seat from red to blue across the country this year, and Democrats are heavily touting their victory.

“Representative-Elect Rombeau ran a strong campaign that engaged thousands of voters who were eager to reject Chris Sununu and the NH GOP’s extreme right wing agenda – especially on public education and reproductive health care,” a memo from the state Democratic Party argued.

And the memo claimed that “Rombeau’s victory was a clear referendum on Sununu’s disastrous budget which includes his abortion ban and mandatory ultrasounds. On the campaign trail, Representative-elect Rombeau said that her priority would be opposing school vouchers in the state budget. And one week after lawmakers in Texas signed legislation effectively overturning Roe vs. Wade, Bedford voters stood up for reproductive freedom.”

Bedford had long been a solidly Republican bedroom community of neighboring Manchester. But in last November’s elections, now-President Joe Biden and Sen. Jean Shaheen both carried the town. And state Rep. Sue Mullen – who in 2018 became the first Democrat in Bedford to win a state House seat in decades – was reelected.

Some Democrats say Rombeau’s victory is a sign that Republicans are continuing to have trouble courting suburban voters, which helped the Democrats retake the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 and boosted Biden to the White House last November.

”People outside New Hampshire don’t understand how big a deal it is for Bedford to elect a second Dem state rep,” former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair and former Democratic National Committee member Kathy Sullivan tweeted. “Although Bedford went for Biden in 2020, it has been a traditional rockribbed @nhgop stronghold forever. Losing Bedford is NH version of losing Georgia.”

New Hampshire GOP chair Steve Stepanek acknowledged that “it was not the outcome that we were expecting and we’re evaluating what were the issues involved and why the election went the way it went.”

But he argued that “the Democrats are definitely overplaying their hand.”

“I think this is more of an anomaly than a trend and I think the trend still looks like we’re going to be doing very well in 2022 and beyond. And I think what Democrats are doing nationally is having a major impact and turning people against not only the president but the entire Democratic party,” Stepanek charged.

While Biden carried New Hampshire in the presidential election, Shaheen easily won reelection and Democratic U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas were also reelected, Sununu won reelection won reelection to a third term as governor in a landslide, helping Republicans in winning back majorities in the state House and state Senate, as well in the Executive Council, where the GOP flipped two seats and now hold a 4-1 majority.

Regardless of the setback in Bedford this week, which further narrows the Republicans’ fragile majority in the state house, Stepanek confidently predicted that “we will increase our majorities in the House and Senate” in next year’s elections.

Republicans celebrated last month, when the GOP won a special state Senate election in Connecticut, flipping a Democratic-held seat. It’s natural for both parties to play up their victories, but take their hyperbole with a grain of salt – as it’s a fool’s errand to read too much into any single state legislative election and whether they’re good barometers for things to come in next year’s midterm elections.

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