After a crowd of disruptive protesters led to the postponement of an Executive Council meeting in New Hampshire in late September, Governor Chris Sununu and councilors returned to the table on Wednesday to discuss the focus of the outbursts: whether to approve vaccination contracts that included millions in federal funding.
But in a scene emblematic of a larger debate over vaccine mandates brewing across the country — from vitriolic attacks against state and health officials to disorderly conduct at local school and town meetings — an unruly group again made an appearance, and the council rejected the funding in a 4-1 party-line vote.
The vote against the two contracts including $27 million in federal funding that would have boosted the state’s vaccination effort against the coronavirus took place despite the urging of Republican Sununu to accept the money, reported WMUR News 9.
“I appreciate you have reservations, but they’re based on fantasy,” Sununu directed to Republican councilor Dave Wheeler at one point.
It was a contentious gathering, according to local media outlets, with Sununu repeatedly fielding requests to “stand up” against vaccine mandates and appearing perplexed by the decision of the Republican councilors to deny the funds.
Only one councilor, Democrat Cinde Warmington, voted in favor of the funding. She accused her Republican colleagues of politicizing the matter, WMUR reported, as they voted to side with the protesters — a handful of whom were arrested. One of the objectors from the previous meeting had allegedly warned of a “civil war” on Facebook if the funds were accepted.
The debate over #COVID19 vaccine funding pitted @GovChrisSununu vs. fellow Republicans on the Executive Council. Sununu told them their reservations were "based on fantasy" & their insistence he try to stop private sector mandates amounted to "pure communism." #NHPolitics #WMUR pic.twitter.com/DnjWcRaSlI— Adam Sexton (@AdamSextonWMUR) October 14, 2021
Although Sununu has come out against the employer vaccine mandate announced by President Biden, calling it a “dangerous thing” because of the precedent it sets, the Concord Monitor reported, he has also referred to himself as “pro-vaccine as it gets.”
Republicans on the council had previously expressed concern that language in the grant documents appeared to indicate the state would have to adhere to federal coronavirus-related mandates if the funds were accepted, WMUR reported. In response, Attorney General John Formella provided a written opinion at Sununu’s request stating New Hampshire would not be bound to any “broad and sweeping federal mandates” by approving the federal aid.
But that appeared to do little to quell their concerns — at the frustration of Sununu.
“Will you stand up like the governor of Texas and tell private business they can’t fire people?” Wheeler asked Sununu. Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order earlier this week prohibiting any entity from enforcing a vaccine mandate on workers and called on the state legislature to pass the ban into law.
The federal funding would have created more than a dozen state health department positions for immunization work, New Hampshire Public Radio reported, including for vaccine outreach. Approximately 62.2 percent of the state is fully vaccinated, according to the latest CDC data.
At a press conference following the gathering, Sununu blamed the party-line vote on disinformation, NHPR reported, and that a further burden will now be placed on the already-strained health care industry.
“The vote showed a reckless disregard for the lives we are losing while they turn away the tools our state needs to fight and win this battle against COVID,” he said in a statement.
Eyes are increasingly on Sununu as rumors swirl around whether he will face off against New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan next year in “what would be one of the most crucial and expensive Senate races in the country,” the Concord Monitor reported. Vaccine mandates are one of many issues dividing the two.