‘I’m so proud of the governor.’ FL Republicans back DeSantis’ anti-vaccine mandate push

·4 min read
Republican U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack leads an anti-vaccine mandate press conference outside the U.S. Capitol on October 28, 2021. U.S. Reps. Brian Mast, Neal Dunn, Byron Donalds and Dan Webster stand behind Cammack.

Eight of Florida’s 16 Republicans in the House of Representatives gathered at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to protest federal vaccine mandates and praise Gov. Ron DeSantis, who simultaneously announced a lawsuit against a U.S. government rule that requires federal contractors to show proof of vaccination.

The lawmakers on hand at a press conference organized by Gainesville Republican U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack railed against President Joe Biden and upcoming vaccine mandates for federal employees, federal contractors and private businesses that employ more than 100 people.

“I’m not anti-vaccine, I’m pro-choice,” said Miami Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Gimenez, after emphasizing that he decided to get vaccinated and recently received a booster shot. “When it comes to our firefighters, our first responders, [Biden] turned his back on us.”

Gimenez said the president told him at a White House meeting earlier this year that he credits firefighters with saving his sons after a deadly car accident in 1972 that killed Biden’s wife and daughter.

“Now it turns out all that support he was talking about isn’t really real,” said Gimenez, a firefighter before entering politics. “Because when it comes to supporting our firefighters, our first responders, he has turned his back on them in a callous way, saying he would fire them.”

A rare D.C. gathering

Gimenez and Miami U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart were part of the rare, Florida-only press conference on Thursday, standing behind a sign that read “Stop the Forced Vax” as a small group of protesters shouted objections. Cammack said Thursday’s event was part of a coordinated effort with DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, who announced their lawsuit at the same time.

DeSantis said Thursday he filed the lawsuit because “we believe these are choices based on individual circumstances.”

And at least two lawmakers in attendance, Gimenez and Treasure Coast U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, said they also oppose private businesses imposing their own vaccine requirements on employees and customers without a government mandate.

“No, I don’t support that,” said Mast, who swore multiple times during his remarks when referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Employers don’t get to know whether you have HIV and they shouldn’t, they don’t get to know whether you got a flu vaccine and they shouldn’t, they don’t get to know whether you’re pregnant and they shouldn’t. They don’t get to ask you those questions when they’re hiring you on and they shouldn’t get to ask you those questions while you’re employed with them.”

Gimenez said he supports DeSantis’ ongoing fight to ban vaccine passports for the cruise industry, said employers asking employees about vaccination status violates HIPAA, and said “everything needs to get back to normal” now that vaccines are widely available.

Safe GOP districts

Most of the Republicans who joined Cammack’s press conference represent districts that are not expected to be competitive in the 2022 midterm elections. Gimenez’s seat in Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys is the exception, though he currently does not have an opponent and Republicans are confident that their 2020 gains in Miami-Dade County will continue. Redistricting could make Gimenez’s seat safer.

The other GOP House members in attendance were Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Neal Dunn of Panama City, Byron Donalds of Naples and Daniel Webster of Clermont.

Miami’s other House Republican, U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, was not in attendance. Salazar’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether or not she backs federal vaccine mandates.

But the embrace from most of Florida’s federal lawmakers of DeSantis’ fight with the Biden administration over vaccine mandates is a shift in recent months, when U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott declined to back the governor’s fight with the cruise industry over the summer. Previously, Scott, Rubio and U.S. House members from Miami also refrained from joining DeSantis’ fight against mask mandates in schools.

On Monday, Scott wrote to airline executives imploring them not to impose vaccine mandates.

“Although the Biden administration is attempting to coerce large employers to impose vaccine mandates on their employees, we in the Senate are not standing idly by during this gross misuse and abuse of executive power,” Scott said. “I am working with my colleagues to use the Congressional Review Act to oppose and dismantle the Biden administration’s harmful vaccine mandates targeting large employers and federal contractors.”

Praise for the governor

Diaz-Balart praised DeSantis throughout his remarks.

“I’m so proud of the governor of the state of Florida, Governor DeSantis, for his leadership,” Diaz-Balart said. “What we’re talking about here is the federal government, by fiat, in essence firing thousands upon thousands. There’s one word that defines it all...socialism.”

Gimenez also said that 30% of the first responders in his district, which includes western and southern Miami-Dade County along with the Keys, are unvaccinated.

And Cammack closed the press conference by uttering the phrase “Let’s go Brandon,” a slogan that is a euphemism for a vulgar, anti-Biden chant that has proliferated across the country in recent weeks.

“With that, have a wonderful day and, Let’s go Brandon,” Cammack said.

On Friday, Oct. 29, this story was corrected to say that there is no provision in the proposed federal rules regarding contractors’ employees to allow for weekly testing instead of being vaccinated.

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