SACRAMENTO — As he announced new vaccine rules Monday for hundreds of thousands of California workers, Gov. Gavin Newsom blamed vocal right wingers for fueling hesitancy of the Covid-19 shot, again using the MAGA movement as a foil as he tries to ward off a recall attempt led by Republicans.
Unprompted, Newsom skewered Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) for amplifying anti-vaccine messages. The governor inserted the remarks into his announcement that state government and health care workers in California must prove they’re vaccinated or get tested regularly for Covid-19.
The Democratic governor later took to Twitter and MSNBC to again take on conservatives. When asked by MSNBC host Ayman Mohyeldin why 25 percent of Californians remain unvaccinated in the face of a Delta variant spike, Newsom pointed to “misinformation by right wing pundits, period, full stop.”
“I watch them. I listen. I pay attention. They are misinforming people. They’re literally putting people’s lives at risk. People are dying,” Newsom said. “…There’s been a right wing talking point here and it’s overwhelmingly coming from certain networks and it’s having an impact on getting this disease behind us.”
Newsom soon after exchanged Tweets with Taylor Greene, who called the governor’s new vaccine rules “unconscionable” and accused the Democratic governor of leading a “communist dictatorship.”
“Which is why you’re being recalled,” Taylor Greene said.
Newsom clapped back, calling the far-right congressmember’s actions “murderous.”
“Your own supporters are following you off a cliff and into the ICU,” Newsom said.
The new vaccine policy allows Newsom to avoid reverting to a statewide mask mandate or shutdown for now, as some counties have already approved on their own in the face of concerning upticks in virus case rates.
The pandemic has at times put Newsom in a political lose-lose as he navigates public resistance to restrictions. With recall ballots arriving in mailboxes in three weeks, every policy move is particularly tricky as public health strategies like masking and vaccines have been politicized.
Newsom has framed the recall itself as a right-wing driven campaign and says that a vote against him will mean a vote for Trump policies — an alarming message in deep blue California. But the most prominent Republican gubernatorial candidates have tried to downplay associations with Trump during the campaign.
Some of Newsom’s opponents pounced Monday to paint Newsom’s new policy as an overreach. Both John Cox and Kevin Kiley, Republican recall candidates, said in statements that if elected governor, they would “trust” Californians to make their own choices.
“To my fellow Californians: I will never threaten you. I will never compare you to a criminal. I will never presume to know what’s best for you better than you do,” Assemblymember Kiley (R-Rocklin) said in a tweet.
Republicans vying for governor in liberal California also have to toe a fine line. Aligning themselves with someone like Taylor Greene could lessen their chances of replacing Newsom, which polling shows is already a long shot.
A spokesperson for San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said that Newsom’s messaging on Monday was unfair. Faulconer himself has been vaccinated.
“After failing our children and small businesses during the pandemic, Gavin Newsom has pivoted to making the fight against COVID-19 overtly political, launching partisan attacks against his opponents to distract from his checkered response to the pandemic. Our goal must be to get as many Californians vaccinated as possible, without further politicizing this issue,” Faulconer said in a statement.