President Biden condemned Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., Greg Abbott, R-Texas, and other Republican governors on Thursday for their responses to COVID-19 and threatened to use his presidential powers to overrule their authority.
During a speech at the White House regarding his executive order to boost COVID-19 vaccinations, Biden called out the Americans who have not been vaccinated.
"This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated," said Biden. "And it's caused by the fact that despite America having [an] unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that for almost five months, free vaccines have been available in more than 80,000 different locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot."
Biden then pivoted to go after governors who he believes are not enforcing adequately strict COVID-19 protocols.
"And to make matters worse, there are elected officials actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19," he said. "Instead of encouraging people to get vaccinated and mask up, they’re ordering mobile morgues for the unvaccinated dying from COVID in their communities.
"Right now, local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic while their governor picks a fight with them and even threatens their salaries or their jobs. Talk about bullying in schools," Biden also said.
"If they’ll not help, if these governors won’t help us beat the pandemic, I’ll use my power as president to get them out of the way," he added.
Biden specifically promised to reimburse teachers "whose pay is withheld from doing the right thing" by enforcing his administration's mask mandates. "We will have that pay restored by the federal government, 100 percent. I promise you. I will have your back," he said.
DeSantis, who ordered masks to remain optional in Florida schools, filed an emergency appeal after a circuit court judge ruled that schools be allowed to impose mask mandates. School boards in 13 Florida districts have voted to require masks in defiance of the governor's order, to which the governor has responded by threatening to withhold their salaries.
Explaining he had no intention of immediately responding to Biden's speech, a spokesperson for DeSantis said the governor "is focused on working for the people of Florida and not getting into petty food fights," and directed Fox News to remarks he gave earlier Thursday laying out his views about federal COVID mandates.
"And I think that the more and more this has become coercive, where people have threatened mandates and firing and business consequences, the more it does that, I think the more people it alienates," DeSantis said in part. "I don't think it actually helps to get more people to ultimately do it, but I do not believe that people should lose their jobs over this issue, and we will fight that."
"If they try to do that through a rule like the Department of Labor, I don't think they have the legal authority to do that, but we obviously would want to support protections for people who were just trying to earn a living," he added.
In Texas, Abbott issued an executive order banning schools from imposing mask mandates, allowing individuals to choose whether they want to wear masks, a move met with backlash in the legal system.
Abbott responded to Biden's move on Thursday by tweeting, "Biden’s vaccine mandate is an assault on private businesses. I issued an Executive Order protecting Texans’ right to choose whether they get the COVID vaccine & added it to the special session agenda. Texas is already working to halt this power grab."
Biden's speech was immediately met with pushback from several other Republican governors who threatened to sue if his administration attempts to intrude on state sovereignty.
"My legal team is standing by ready to file our lawsuit the minute @joebiden files his unconstitutional rule," tweeted Gov. Kristi Noem, R-S.D. "This gross example of federal intrusion will not stand."
"I will pursue every legal option available to the state of Georgia to stop this blatantly unlawful overreach by the Biden administration," wrote Gov. Brian Kemp, R-Ga.
Gov. Henry McMaster, R-S.C., tweeted: "The American Dream has turned into a nightmare under President Biden and the radical Democrats. They have declared war against capitalism, thumbed their noses at the Constitution, and empowered our enemies abroad. Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian."
Gov. Doug Ducey, R-Ariz., wrote, "This is exactly the kind of big government overreach we have tried so hard to prevent in Arizona — now the Biden-Harris administration is hammering down on private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way. This will never stand up in court.
"This dictatorial approach is wrong, un-American and will do far more harm than good. How many workers will be displaced? How many kids kept out of classrooms? How many businesses fined? The vaccine is and should be a choice. We must and will push back."