Picture this: State Troopers handcuffing Republican lawmakers and dragging them out of the Assembly chamber.
It probably won’t happen, but the question being raised is ample evidence of today’s political divide.
Assembly Republicans said last week they plan to challenge a rule saying they must be vaccinated or show a negative COVID test to enter the chamber. If any GOP lawmaker is blocked from entering, the plan is for no Republicans to enter. The next session is Dec. 2.
As a practical matter, this could mean nothing. Democrats control the Assembly and need no GOP votes to do what they want. But a boycott of any kind certainly would attract attention and be politically provocative.
This is a Legislative edict, but it is one Phil Murphy supports.
“Anyone who is messing with this is being completely reckless,” Murphy said today at his briefing. “Let’s not play politics. This is about keeping people safe and healthy.”
Murphy stressed the Statehouse has the equipment to give the unvaccinated a rapid COVID test. And he said no one should consider that a big deal at all.
“It is 20 seconds of time … 20 seconds, 10 seconds in each nostril,” he said.
But Brian Bergen, a Republican assemblyman from Denville (LD-25), says it is a big deal.
He says the rule is discriminatory on its face and that if rapid tests are readily available, everyone entering the Statehouse should be required to take one. Bergen noted that vaccinated individuals can get COVID and spread the virus.
More broadly, nothing about this is unique in today’s political environment with Republicans all over the country complaining about virus restrictions adopted by Democrats.
A more pertinent question is what happens if Republicans balk at following the vaccine and testing rule.
Pat Callahan, the state police head, said the regulation was “reasonable.” Pressed as to whether the troopers would handcuff lawmakers and remove them. Callahan said he doesn’t think it would come to that. But he did say troopers have the right to refuse entry to anyone, but that if this dispute truly gets that far, he’d talk over a response with the Attorney General.
Bergen, for his part, is confident no one will try to stop Assembly members from doing their jobs if they show up and enter the chamber without adhering to the rule.
Thursday’s lame duck session just became a bit more interesting.