Indiana Governor Takes Swipe At Biden's Vaccine Mandates

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb speaks during a bill signing ceremony at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Plainfield, Ind., Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. Holcomb told reporters afterward that he supported the growing number of Indiana school districts issuing mask mandates for students and staff as they try to head off more COVID-19 outbreaks. (AP Photo/Tom Davies)
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb speaks during a bill signing ceremony at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Plainfield, Ind., Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. Holcomb told reporters afterward that he supported the growing number of Indiana school districts issuing mask mandates for students and staff as they try to head off more COVID-19 outbreaks. (AP Photo/Tom Davies)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Friday criticized President Joe Biden's plan to require businesses with more than 100 employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, calling the federal mandates “a bridge too far" and a slight against personal freedom.

The Republican governor issued a statement emphasizing that private businesses, not government, should be able to “make the decision best for them that will keep their doors open.”

“I believe the vaccine is the number one tool that will protect us and our loved ones against COVID-19. It is the tool that will end the pandemic,” Holcomb said in the statement. “However, I strongly believe it’s not the state or federal government’s role to issue a vaccine mandate upon citizens and private businesses. This is the approach our administration has taken all along.”

Although he has recently made pleas for more Hoosiers to get vaccinated to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Holcomb said he believes “it is fundamentally a citizen’s right to choose whether or not to get the vaccine.”

“While I wish everyone would get the vaccine, we are a country built on this exact type of freedom," he continued.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said Thursday he is also preparing for potential legal action.

“My team and I, along with other like-minded attorneys general, are reviewing all legal action on how to stand against these authoritarian actions by the Biden administration,” Rokita, a Republican, said in a statement. “We will be prepared to file suit if Biden seeks illegal actions restricting Hoosiers’ liberties.”

Biden on Thursday ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans — private-sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors — in an effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant.

The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly. Workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid will also have to be fully vaccinated.

Amid pushback, the president on Friday called some Republican governors “cavalier” for resisting his call for the new federal coronavirus vaccine requirements.

Indiana Democrats on Friday responded to the governor and other state Republicans, too, admonishing them for “rebuking” Biden’s strategy to pull the country out of the pandemic and calling on state officials to “listen to the science-based game plan from the White House.”

“Now is the moment to stop checking partisan boxes, and it’s up to Indiana’s CEO — Eric Holcomb — to do his job,” Lauren Ganapini, executive director of the Indiana Democratic Party, said in a statement. “President Biden provided a blueprint once again to help Indiana put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror. If Governor Holcomb refuses to show leadership on the pandemic, he’ll show he cares more about the Indiana Republicans’ extreme partisanship and future ambitions than saving lives.”

Since ending a statewide mask requirement in May, Holcomb has maintained that he will leave decisions about restrictions, including mask rules, to local officials — even as Indiana’s coronavirus infections and hospital admissions spike to levels not recorded since last winter’s surge.

About 53.8% of Indiana residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the 14th-lowest rate among the states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State health officials, meanwhile, say 98% of recent COVID-19 hospitalizations are for unvaccinated people.

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Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.