Gov. Tate Reeves walks out of the Governor's Mansion in Jackson on March 26, 2020, as he prepares to speak to media about the coronavirus during a press conference. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Gov. Tate Reeves said he intends to be among a group of Republican governors suing President Joe Biden to block the president’s effort to require certain businesses to mandate their employees be vaccinated for COVID-19 or tested weekly.

“We are going to use every tool at our disposal, litigation, which I am not a big fan of ordinarily, but litigation, et cetera,” Reeves said late Friday afternoon during a hastily called news briefing on the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion.

Biden announced on Thursday a plan to try to increase the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in the nation that included:

  • The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandating private companies with more than 100 employees have their workers to be vaccinated or have them take a COVID-19 test weekly.
  • Mandating most federal employees and private contractors to the federal government be vaccinated.
  • Requiring health care facilities that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid payments have their staffs vaccinated.

The governor, who in the past has said he opposes vaccination mandates even though Mississippi has multiple such requirements for school children and college students, refined his answer Friday afternoon. He said those state requirements were approved by the Mississippi Legislature, not just by one person.

Reeves said Biden’s actions were those of a “tyrant.”

“Every tyrant in history has said what they are trying to do is in the best interest of the people,” Reeves, the first-term governor, said. “Where does it stop? What does the president of the United States not have the ability to do? What else can he unilaterally force you to do? … This is not called a representative form of government, that’s not called a true democracy. That is tyranny.”

Reeves, a constant defender of former President Donald Trump, would not answer when asked if it was more tyrannical to try to mandate someone take a vaccine or try to overthrow an election as Trump tried to do.

“That seems to be a false choice,” Reeves said. “…I haven’t tried to do either one of them so I really can’t comment on it.”

Reeves said Biden had in the past said he would not try to impose a vaccination mandate and accused the president of breaking his promise. He also said the president announced the plan to divert attention from the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Reeves called an “absolute disaster.”

The governor said a lawsuit could not be filed until the president actually issues the executive order.

“I anticipate we will see a large number of states, and quite frankly all states should be involved in this litigation,” Reeves said. He added, “We can’t sue until there is actually an order. At this point we don’t know even what the order will say .. We don’t know when it will be enacted, or when it is going to end if ever.”

The Biden administration has said OSHA will use emergency powers it has been granted by Congress to initiate work force safety changes to ensure the protection of workers.

Of the plan of Republican governors to sue him, Biden said Friday, “Have at it.” He added, “I am so disappointed that, particularly, some Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities. We’re playing for real here. This isn’t a game.”

Some Republican governors have tried to block school districts or other entities from imposing mask mandates or in some instances vaccination mandates.

In Mississippi, Reeves has refused to impose any mandates during the recent coronavirus surge, but has not tried to block school and local governments from doing so.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.

Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.