Rep. LaTurner tells Lawrence crowd he ‘will never support’ COVID vaccine mandates; maskless man escorted from forum

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner in Lawrence on Thursday declined to say whether he supported longstanding vaccine mandates for schoolchildren, as he was pressed on why states could mandate vaccines for certain childhood diseases but not COVID-19.

At the forum, LaTurner — a Kansas Republican who represents Lawrence as part of the 2nd Congressional District — told the crowd at the Lawrence Public Library that he “has never and will never support mandates as it relates to vaccines.”

In a brief interview with the Journal-World following the forum, LaTurner said he believes states do not have the right to issue vaccine mandates for COVID-19. When the Journal-World asked a follow-up question about whether he thought states had a right to issue mandates requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated against conditions such as measles and mumps — a law that has been on the books for decades in Kansas and elsewhere — LaTurner was noncommittal.

“I’m not here to rewrite history,” LaTurner said. “I’m saying for the COVID-19 vaccine, I think every individual gets to make that choice.”

But at another point in the interview, LaTurner suggested he may support vaccine mandates of the sort required by the state for schoolchildren. When the Journal-World phrased a question in a way that said LaTurner had said the state does not have a right to issue vaccine mandates, he quickly corrected the reporter.

“That’s not what I said — for COVID,” LaTurner said in clarification of when he believes states don’t have a right to impose vaccine mandates.

But when the Journal-World then asked why a state would have a right to issue a vaccine mandate for one type of medical condition that creates a public health threat — such as measles — but not for another type of public health threat — such as COVID-19 — that is creating a greater strain on the health system, LaTurner did not provide an explanation. When the Journal-World told him that there were members of the public who were struggling to comprehend why states would have the right to do one but not the other, LaTurner said “understood,” but offered no further explanation, as aides reminded the congressman that they needed to leave for their next appointment.

At other points in the forum and the subsequent interview, LaTurner did express his support for the COVID vaccines and the science behind them.

“I have taken the vaccine,” he told the crowd. “My family has taken the vaccine. The data shows that the vaccine will keep you out of the hospital and prevent you from dying. It starkly says that.”

LaTurner also did not disagree with an assertion that people who choose to go unvaccinated may cause harm to other people.

“I think people should get the vaccine,” LaTurner said. “I encourage them to do it. And the way we are going to do that is through education; good, solid data; talking to folks about it. It is not through mandates.”

LaTurner was the second member of Congress to come through Lawrence in the last week and get quizzed on their vaccine mandate positions. U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., hosted a town hall on Saturday. Questions about vaccine mandates come as the Biden administration is set to release details on a pending federal vaccine mandate that would apply to businesses with more than 100 employees. Both LaTurner and Marshall — along with several other groups — have stated the federal government is violating the rights of states by imposing such a mandate.

But that argument has created questions of whether states could issue their own vaccine mandates if the federal one is proved unenforceable. Marshall said it was likely that states had such constitutional authority, but that he did not support states creating such mandates. However, he said he did support existing K-12 vaccine mandates for childhood conditions.

Thursday’s forum did include one disruption from the crowd. A Lawrence police officer escorted one member of the crowd from the forum after the man entered the library not wearing a face mask, which is against the library’s posted policy. A library security officer tried to stop the man from entering, upon which the man began shouting obscenities. The outburst continued after he took his seat and a woman in the crowd chastised him for not wearing a mask.

Before a police officer arrived on the scene, the man called the woman several obscenities and also labeled her a “commie,” and at one point told a man next to her, “I suggest you shut her up.” The man left the library auditorium on his own after a brief argument with the police officer. LaTurner had not yet arrived at the forum when the disruption occurred.

Marshall’s forum on Saturday also was held at a city facility — Sports Pavilion Lawrence — that required masks, but the city did not enforce that policy at the town hall, and multiple people were maskless at that event.

LaTurner’s forum did feature the congressman offering his position on several other topics. They included:

• He said he could support legislation that would allow “Dreamers” — immigrants who were brought to the country illegally when they were minors — to stay in the country permanently. But he said attempts to get such a bill approved fall victim to other immigration provisions that often get tacked onto such efforts.

“The Dreamers that we talk about, there is a huge bipartisan group of people in Washington, D.C., that want to make their ability to stay here permanent,” LaTurner told the crowd. “That is something I can support.”

LaTurner said he also wants to stop the inflow of illegal immigrants in the country and wants to build a border wall because “the wall works where it exists.”

“What I don’t support is illegal immigrants being able to come into our country and go to the front of the line to get citizenship as a United States citizen,” LaTurner said.

• He said he supports an effort to balance the federal budget, and was critical of both parties when it comes to fiscal policy.

“The Republican Party used to, it has been over two decades, used to care about deficits and debt,” he said. “And they don’t anymore. The Democrats haven’t for quite a while. The reality is both have spent like drunken sailors.”

• He told the crowd that he thinks three things need to be addressed as it relates to the “riots” that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. He said people who broke the law that day should be held to account to the fullest extent of the law; leadership should be held accountable for failing to protect the Capitol; and “we need to make certain this never happens again in the United States of America.”

However, LaTurner defended his decision to not support the formation of a national, congressional commission to study the Capitol attack and the events surrounding Jan. 6.

“I think what Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi believes is this is a good topic to keep alive for the next election, and that is why I didn’t support the Jan. 6 commission,” LaTurner said.

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