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Republican Ohio Gov. DeWine faces impeachment calls from GOP rebels over Covid restrictions

DeWine has assumed 'dictatorial powers,' state Rep. Becker told NBC News.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, middle, walks away from a plane before the start of a press conference on Nov. 18, 2020 at Toledo Express Airport in Swanton, Ohio.J.D. Pooley / Sentinel-Tribune via AP file

Rebellious GOP lawmakers in Ohio are seeking to impeach Gov. Mike DeWine, a fellow Republican, saying he violated state and federal laws by mandating the wearing of masks and ordering businesses to close to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Charging that DeWine has “assumed dictatorial powers,” state Rep. John Becker on Tuesday accused the governor of “putting nearly 12 million people under house arrest.”

“We can debate whether these moves have been effective at stopping the spread of the virus. I don’t know if they have,” Becker told NBC News. “What I do know is, he’s done it outside the law.”

DeWine, who defied President Donald Trump by imposing sweeping restrictions early on in the pandemic that succeeded for a time in flattening the coronavirus curve, dismissed the renewed effort to oust him, after a similar move over the summer failed.

“I guess they have a right to go and file anything they want to, but you know, we're going to stay focused on what we have to,” DeWine said Tuesday in a CBS News interview.

The lawmakers, DeWine said, “want to criticize measures like wearing mask and basic things that we know — absolutely know — work.”

“You know, they should go talk to those front-line health people because I think when they listen to them, it's pretty clear, we have to do whatever we can to slow this virus down,” DeWine said.

DeWine reimposed a statewide mask mandate and other restrictions following the presidential election last month after the number of new Covid-19 cases skyrocketed in Ohio.

Becker, along with state Reps. Candice Keller, Nino Vitale and Paul Zeltwanger, filed a dozen articles of impeachment on Monday. Among other things, they accused DeWine of “weaponizing” the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to “bully and harass businesses and the people” into wearing masks in public.

“Rather than hearing the cries of Ohioans, Gov. DeWine continues to stifle those cries by finding more inventive ways to use masks to muffle the voices of the people,” Becker said in his statement.

Christopher Devine, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton and an expert on Ohio politics, said, “This is not a serious attempt to impeach Gov. DeWine.”

“It will almost certainly fail, as did a similar effort by some of the same lawmakers in August,” he said. “The four lawmakers leading this effort are fringe members of the Ohio Legislature who have little credibility with their colleagues and seem more focused on attracting attention on social media than making any constructive contribution to the pandemic response.”

Still, Devine said, this points to DeWine’s “vulnerability among more extreme members of the Republican Party's base as he seeks renomination and re-election in 2022.”

Early on in the pandemic, DeWine garnered bipartisan praise for taking swift action to contain the coronavirus crisis. He declared a state of emergency in March to postpone the presidential primary and was among the first governors to require people visiting nursing homes or prisons to undergo health screenings.

DeWine also resisted calls from Trump to quickly reopen the state economy and lift the stay-at-home orders. But those moves drew the ire of Trump’s most ardent Republican supporters who demonized DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, the governor’s then-director of the state Department of Health.

While DeWine defended Acton, she resigned in June after the Republican-led Legislature moved to curb her powers. Not long after that, Ohio’s coronavirus numbers started climbing rapidly again.

As of Tuesday, Ohio had reported 421,063 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 6,429 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest NBC News data. And most of the cases and fatalities were reported after DeWine began loosening the restrictions over the summer.

In August, Becker, Vitale and Zeltwanger drew up 10 articles of impeachment against DeWine. But it never got to a vote after both Republicans and Democrats objected.

The move by Becker, Vitale and Zeltwanger, Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken said, is “a baseless, feeble attempt at creating attention for themselves.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper noted that the Republican hard-liners want to oust DeWine but did not expel Rep. Larry Householder from the state Legislature after he was hit with corruption charges, although they did remove him as House speaker.

“The Ohio GOP’s message to voters is clear — corruption and bribery are A-OK with us, but having the audacity to listen to public health experts during a global pandemic is an impeachable offense,” he said.