Rep. Byron Donalds, Chris Cuomo clash as CNN host lectures lawmaker on COVID vaccine: 'Please don't berate me'

The GOP lawmaker explained he's choosing not to get vaccinated since he already had the virus

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., had a combative exchange with CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who attempted to lecture the lawmaker about the coronavirus vaccine

Cuomo kicked off the segment on Monday night by hyping Donalds' home state of Florida as the "epicenter" of the current surge of the Delta variant, continuing his constant negative coverage of the Sunshine State's response to the virus in an attempt to deflect from his brother, Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been intensely scrutinized in recent months over his handling of the virus.  

After being welcomed on-air, Donalds began by stressing the "age component" of the virus and how "85%" of senior citizens who are most vulnerable to the disease have gotten vaccinated. But Cuomo insisted that's "not the full story," suggesting that Republicans are "politicizing" vaccinations, citing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' "Don't Fauci My Florida" campaign merchandise. 

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"Do you feel responsible for spreading the message where ‘I’m not going to take it because I don't care what Biden wants! Byron Donalds is not going to take it because he doesn't care what Biden wants!' Do you think that's a good message for people to hear?" Cuomo asked. 

"Well, the first thing is my message was never about Joe Biden," Donalds responded. "My message was about me and my own personal health. 

"'It has nothing to do with what Joe Biden wants.' It has nothing to do with what Joe Biden wants,'" Cuomo interrupted while citing a quote from the congressman. "Funny. I never brought him up when I was deciding whether or not to get vaccinated. Why did you?"

"A reporter asked me on a news show and I said it has nothing to do with what he wants," Donalds answered. "I chose not to get vaccinated because I chose not to get vaccinated. I already had COVID-19 once, I'm 42 years old, I'm in very good health… that's a personal decision for myself, members of my family- my wife, my three kids, they've all had COVID. They're not getting vaccinated. They are all healthy. That is a decision they've all chosen to make."

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"If people in the United States are concerned about contracting and being hospitalized and dying- of course, from COVID-19, please go get vaccinated. I will never tell you not to get vaccinated. What I am saying is I made a decision not to get vaccinated. It doesn't matter if it's you or Joe Biden or anybody else that's gonna stress or want me to get it. I'm not doing it because I made that decision as a free person."

Cuomo then attempted to explain "freedom" to Donalds, telling him his choice not to get vaccinated "doesn't make him a free person" and that freedom isn't defined as being "bold" but rather "doing the right thing."

Donalds pushed back.

"You are making the point that everybody has to get vaccinated in order to protect everybody. What I'm saying is that if Americans want to get vaccinated… go get the vaccine. I fully promote you doing that," Donalds said. "But at the same time, if there are Americans who don't want to get it, they shouldn't be forced to do so."

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Cuomo, who recovered from COVID in the early months of the pandemic, insisted Donalds' argument was a "false choice" since "nobody is forcing anybody," accusing Donalds and other Republicans of "trying to push it to where people have to be forced."

The CNN anchor also suggested that Donalds is disregarding the possibility that he and his family "could get other people sick" by not getting vaccinated. 

"Chris, did you not just hear my answer 30 seconds ago where I said ‘if you want to be protected from these variants and the original strain, please go get vaccinated?’" Donalds told Cuomo. "But if there are Americans like myself who choose not to, please don't berate me for doing that! That's a personal choice I have made with my own health care. I'm allowed to do that, I'm entitled to do that."

Cuomo also quizzed Donalds on whether he spoke to his doctor about not getting the vaccine, which Donalds said his doctor approved since the lawmaker already had COVID, something the CNN anchor was quick to dismiss. 

"If other people want to be protected, they have access to vaccines. Go get the vaccine. I would never tell anybody not to get vaccinated. I do totally support it if that's what somebody chooses to do. I don't know why this is hard! It's that simple," Donald exclaimed. 

"Listen, I totally agree with you. It is very simple. I think you're making it hard," Cuomo shot back. "Because you're seeing some sort of righteousness and a choice to do something that doesn't make a whole lotta sense… You're wrong about how vaccines work… It also reduces- not completely… but it also reduces your ability to communicate the virus and make other people infected. That part matters too."  

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After wrapping up the interview, Cuomo told his viewers that Donalds "has the right not to get vaccinated, but does that make it right, especially for a leader?"

"I don't have animus towards him… I want his constituents to benefit from good leadership. And I'm going to test it here on this show. That's it," Cuomo concluded.