TRENTON — Some harsh words from Gov. Phil Murphy regarding the actions by some Republican lawmakers during last week's vaccine showdown at the statehouse.

Last Thursday, a group of Republican lawmakers refused to follow new COVID rules put in place at the statehouse requiring that all staff, lawmakers and visitors either show proof of vaccination, proof of a recent negative test or submit to a rapid COVID test if they want to enter the building.

After the group was initially stopped by the New Jersey State Police, who provides statehouse security, some Assembly members claimed the policy was illegal and eventually walked past the troopers, taking their seats inside the chamber.

During a virtual coronavirus response press conference on Wednesday, when a reporter asked State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan why those lawmakers were not removed from the premises, Murphy responded instead.

"Security is something that, is not something we discuss as a general matter and that includes in this case," adding that there's a bigger story at play here.

Murphy blows his top

That bigger story, according to Murphy, is the behavior of those lawmakers.

“It’s about the idiocy of these ringleaders who are putting their fellow members' health and the families of those fellow members at risk,” Murphy said. "This is not about freedom or civil rights, it’s about their willingness to volitionally run the risk of infecting innocent law-abiding folks who have done the right thing during this pandemic. It is outrageous, absolutely outrageous, incredibly irresponsible, unforgivable. That's the story from last week.”

New Jersey Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, one of the lawmakers who refused to comply with the new statehouse policy, described the governor’s outburst on Wednesday as "crazy" and "name-calling," adding that he was in full compliance of the statehouse policy last week.

"The only thing I wouldn’t do is show proof,” Bergen said.

Why not just follow the new policy?

Bergen said if he submits to the requirement to have people show proof of a vaccine status or a test status in order to do things, then he feels he's agreeing for it to be done anywhere.

“Then I’m saying it’s essentially okay now to do that in restaurants and bars and hotels and gyms. I would have been giving them my approval whether I said it or not to start vaccine passports in this state and I’m not willing to do that,” Bergen said.

As for Murphy saying the statehouse entry was "incredibly irresponsible" and "unforgivable," Bergen suggested that was totally ridiculous, pointing out that one week earlier he was at the statehouse to testify in front of a Senate committee.

“I walked in. I had by temperature taken. I had a mask on and I testified in front of a Senate Committee, and I was welcomed with open arms. It makes no sense,” Bergen said.

During the news conference, Murphy refused to answer other security related questions, instead choosing to underscore “the absolute irresponsibility of those folks who were willfully putting other innocent members and their families health at risk.”

Callahan would only say, “We take the security of that complex extremely seriously and we will certainly continue to do so.”

Another showdown next week?

New Jersey Senate and Assembly Republicans have filed a lawsuit challenging the statehouse vaccine or test policy, with a court hearing scheduled on Dec. 13.

If the policy is upheld, what will happen Dec. 16th, when the next Assembly session is scheduled?

"I honestly don’t know. There’s going to have to be a lot of discussion amongst the Republicans about how we’re going to handle this situation ” Bergen said.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Assemblyman Hal Wirths, R-Sussex, issued a statement on the governor’s comments.

“What is absolutely outrageous is that the governor doesn’t think this is about freedom or civil rights when he treated the State Police like junkyard dogs protecting the Assembly from Republicans like they are a danger to the property,” Wirths said. “He (Murphy) ordered the State Police to keep us out of the chambers. They deserve better than that. At least the State Police have respect for the law and individual rights.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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