California Gov. Gavin Newsom backed President Joe Biden’s newly announced coronavirus vaccine requirements during a news conference on Friday, telling reporters that he “broadly” supports the move and the “President’s intentionality.”
The governor, who is in the final days of fighting an attempt to recall him from office, also used Biden’s announcement to draw a sharp contrast with Republican Larry Elder, his top opponent in the Tuesday election. Newsom and Elder have been sparring over Covid for weeks, with Newsom pledging to keep up his stringent rules to fight the pandemic while Elder promises to reverse many of the Democrat’s orders should he become governor.
“I broadly do. I support the President’s intentionality. I support his call to finish the job,” Newsom said in response to a question from CNN. “We have the solution to this pandemic. Now we have to complete the task, we have to finish the job. And that is what the President asserted, a little more formally. I applaud him for that.”
Biden, who is set to campaign for Newsom next week, announced a six-pronged plan to combat the pandemic on Thursday, imposing strict new vaccine rules on federal workers, large employers and health care staff. The requirements — which could apply to as many as 100 million Americans — drew swift blowback from Republican governors and the Republican National Committee, both of which have said they plan to sue the administration over the new measures.
Elder said Friday he would be among the Republican governors fighting Biden’s mandate in court if he ousts Newsom.
“I absolutely would be,” he told CNN during a campaign stop in Temecula.
“I’m not anti-vaccine; I think vaccines work. I’ve been vaccinated because of my age, because of underlying comorbidities. And I encourage people to be vaccinated,” he said. “But a lot of people feel very differently. A lot of people feel that the vaccine was approved too quickly. Other people have contracted the coronavirus already and they have immunities, and therefore they don’t feel that they need it.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people who have had the virus should still be vaccinated, and many doctors believe the immunity gained through vaccination is likely stronger and lasts longer than the immunity achieved from previous infection.
Newsom said Biden’s announcement was “profoundly consequential,” in part, because of the contrast it provided between him and Elder.
“You can’t have more contrast and more consequence with this election to have a governor on the other side of this ballot that would be joining, that will be joining the other Republican governors and pushing back against the lifesaving interventions to address this pandemic, to eliminate mask wearing in our public schools, putting our kids at risk and their education risk,” Newsom said. “I think the President expressed a frustration many of us have.”
Newsom’s comments came after he voted against the recall in Sacramento. It took the governor very little time to cast his ballot, and he told reporters afterward it was because he answered only the first question on the ballot, which asks voters to choose “yes” or “no” on recalling him. The second question, on the flip side of the ballot, asks voters to choose from a list of more than 40 replacement candidates. But that second question, which Newsom has urged voters to skip, counts only if a majority of people vote “yes” on the first question. If a majority does vote to recall him, however, his replacement can be selected by a mere plurality, raising the possibility that Elder could win with a fraction of the vote.
Biden has defended his orders and told Republicans threatening to challenge him in court to “have at it” on Friday.
“Look, I am so disappointed that, particularly some of the Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities,” Biden said. “We’re playing for real here, this isn’t a game, and I don’t know of any scientist out there in this field that doesn’t think it makes considerable sense to do the six things I’ve suggested.”
The irony of the recall is that while Newsom’s aggressive actions to curb the pandemic fueled the effort to oust him, it is new fears about the spreading Delta variant that could keep the governor in his job. Polls in July and August showed a tight race for Newsom, with Democrats publicly worrying that the governor of the largest Democratic state could be ousted. But the Delta variant’s rise — along with Elder becoming Newsom’s clearest opponent — helped focus the governor’s campaign, and the Democrat has made much of his final pitch to voters about coronavirus and his differences with Elder on the issue.
“You’ve seen the Covid cliff these folks have fallen off of. I hope you see where we are in the state of California,” Newsom said Thursday in Fresno, referring to the surges gripping states like Florida. “All of that is at risk if we don’t vote ‘no.’… The consequences couldn’t be more pronounced, couldn’t be more sharp. This is about life and death.”
In the most recent polling from the Public Policy Institute of California, conducted at the end of August, only 39% of likely voters said they would vote “yes” on recalling Newsom, while 58% said they’d vote “no.”
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