COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said he plans to fight the Biden Administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large employers, something he calls a presidential overreach.
McMaster spoke to reporters Thursday about two hours after the vaccine mandate policy, which was first announced weeks ago, was officially detailed by the federal government.
"We have been stunned by the overreach of the Biden Administration," McMaster said. "I have never seen a president go out of bounds of the law as much as this one."
Later in the day, he issued an executive order that bans vaccine mandates at cabinet agencies, meaning those heads of state agencies would be prohibited from enforcing the federal mandate. It also means they wouldn't be allowed to require employees to receive the vaccine.
That affects a total of 19 state agencies: Department of Administration, Office of the Adjutant General, Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, Department of Commerce, Department of Corrections, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Insurance, Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, Department of Public Safety, Department of Revenue, Department of Social Services, Department of Transportation, Department of Transportation, Department of Employment and Workforce, Department on Aging, Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Under the new order, all state agencies will be required to report to the governor if the federal government asks whether their employees are vaccinated.
Biden had first mentioned the rules back in September, but they weren't officially issued until Thursday. They state that people who work at companies with 100 or more employees will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or get tested for the virus weekly under government rules that took effect Thursday.
When Biden first announced the measure, McMaster made national headlines promising to fight Biden and Democrats to the "gates of hell" over the mandate and other Democratic party proposals.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations will force the companies to require that unvaccinated workers test negative for COVID-19 at least once a week and wear a mask while in the workplace.
Tougher rules will apply to another 17 million people who work in nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities that receive money from Medicare and Medicaid. Those workers will not have an option for testing — they will need to be vaccinated.
Workers will be able to ask for exemptions on medical or religious grounds. The requirements will not apply to people who work at home or outdoors.
McMaster and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson have already filed a lawsuit over a portion of the law dealing with federal contract employees. Other states are also part of that suit.
"We are not saying that people shouldn't get vaccinated we are not saying that the virus is not dangerous," McMaster said, adding that his objection is over the intrusion into the workplace.
McMaster said he's hoping other states join in the effort to oppose the mandate.
"We will fight that aggressively...we have been and will continue to fight these unlawful regulations and acts and intrusions on the rights of our people," he said.
President Biden has framed the issue as a simple choice between getting more people vaccinated or prolonging the pandemic.
“While I would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good,” he said Thursday in a statement.
Biden said his encouragement for businesses to impose mandates and his own previous requirements for the military and federal contractors have helped reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans over 12 from 100 million in late July to about 60 million now.
There's been disagreement among legal experts if OSHA can issue a mandate, with some saying this is similar to other workplace safety rules and is legal, and others saying this would be a function of Congress to pass such a measure.