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Ohio Republicans defy their governor by limiting his power to manage the pandemic

GOP Gov. Mike DeWine's health orders, which included a mask mandate, have provoked tension within his party's conservative base.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and his wife, Fran, wait in line to vote at the Cedarland Event Center in Cedarville on Nov. 3.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and his wife, Fran, wait in line to vote at the Cedarland Event Center in Cedarville on Nov. 3.Marshall Gorby / Dayton Daily News via AP

CLEVELAND — Ohio's Republican-controlled Legislature voted Wednesday to limit Gov. Mike DeWine's authority to issue public health orders in a state that has recorded more than 1 million coronavirus cases.

By votes of 23-10 in the Senate and 62-35 in the House, legislators overturned DeWine's veto of a bill that will give them more power to reject his moves.

The override sets up a power struggle with DeWine, a Republican who has mandated masks and balanced other social distancing regulations against the reopening of schools and businesses. DeWine's moves, which got bipartisan praise at the beginning of the pandemic, have provoked tension within the party's conservative base and stoked chatter of a viable primary challenger when he is up for re-election next year.

"Gov. DeWine, through his letter Monday and his veto message yesterday, made his serious concerns regarding Senate Bill 22 known to the members of the General Assembly and to the public," said Dan Tierney, a DeWine spokesperson. "In addition, those who provide health care and public health services across Ohio, as well as colleges, local officials, and community organizations, also expressed their deep concerns about Senate Bill 22.

"Gov. DeWine remains focused every single day on doing all he can to ensure every Ohioan who wants a Covid vaccine can get one in the coming weeks, which is truly what will help Ohio put this pandemic behind us," Tierney said.

When he vetoed the bill this week, DeWine said it "jeopardizes the safety of every Ohioan" and argued that it would also "restrict local health departments' ability to move quickly to protect the public from the most serious emergencies Ohio could face."

DeWine's handling of the pandemic has drawn criticism on the right and the left; many Republicans say he has gone too far with mandates and restrictions, and many Democrats assert that he hasn't done enough. His former health director, Dr. Amy Acton, is considering running for the Senate next year as a Democrat. A Republican running for the Senate seat, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, has called on DeWine to end the mask mandate, and he constantly needles the governor on social media.

Mandel on Wednesday referred to a picture of DeWine and President Joe Biden chatting during Biden's visit to Ohio on Tuesday as a photo of "Two Democrats." Rep. Warren Davidson, who represents southwest Ohio in Congress and is considering a primary challenge against DeWine next year, posted the same photo with a request for caption ideas.