U.S. Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Roger Wicker talk before the Senate Policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on June 26, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Additional political leaders from Mississippi, the state with the nation’s highest COVID-19 fatality rate and one of the lowest vaccination rates, are joining the effort to halt President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate.

On the heels of the announcement of Gov. Tate Reeves that he and Attorney General Lynn Fitch expect to file a lawsuit this week in opposition to the mandate, Mississippi’s two U.S. senators announced Wednesday their intent to challenge the mandate.

U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republicans, announced they are joining other Senate Republicans in a little-known process, a Congressional Review Act challenge, to try to overturn the mandate.

The portion of the mandate Wicker and Hyde-Smith are opposing, according to their news release, requires companies with 100 or more employees to require a COVID-19 vaccine for their workers. The guidelines for the mandate are expected to be released this week, according to news reports. The guidelines for other portions of the Biden vaccine mandate, requiring vaccines for employees of companies with federal contracts, provide exceptions for people on religious grounds and for health issues.

“The United States is not China or some other tyrannical country,” Hyde-Smith said in a statement. “President Biden exceeded his authority in his rush to force the vaccines on the American people. I believe the COVID-19 vaccine saves lives, but I also trust the American people to make the best medical decision for themselves and their families at this point in the pandemic.”

For decades there have been multiple vaccine mandates in the country, including in Mississippi. Vaccines are mandated to enter public schools and universities. On the national level, the military for years has required vaccines and vaccines have been required for American citizens to travel to certain countries.

What may be at issue is whether a president can unilaterally impose vaccine mandates. The mandate on the private companies is being done under authority the executive branch of government has to impose rules and regulations to ensure worker safety.

“President Biden’s unconstitutional federal vaccine mandates are an extreme abuse of power that puts Americans’ livelihoods in the crosshairs,” Wicker said. “In addition, the mandate threatens to wreck the economy.

“A large percentage of American workers will simply leave the workforce rather than be told what to do by the federal government. This legislation would overturn the president’s mandate on private employers and protect millions of hardworking Americans from an intrusion on their personal liberty.”

The challenge Wicker referenced is being done under the Congressional Review Act, which requires federal agencies to submit their regulations to Congress for oversight. The act allows Congress to vote to repeal any regulation it opposes by a simple majority vote. But before that repeal can go into effect, it must be signed by the president. If the president vetoes the act of Congress, it takes a two-third vote of both chambers to override the veto.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Congressional Review Act has been successfully used 17 times – 16 of those during the administration of President Donald Trump to overturn rules enacted during the tenure of Barack Obama.

On the state level, Rep. Jansen Owen, R-Poplarville, has called on Gov. Tate Reeves to call a special session “to fight the Biden administration’s unconstitutional federal vaccine mandates and their plans to spy on American bank accounts.

“It may be a futile effort, but we must do everything we can to resist that which threatens freedom, liberty, and the Constitution.”

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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.