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Are they cutting in line to prove the vaccine is safe — or to save themselves?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) receives a shot of the coronavirus vaccine from Brian Monahan, attending physician to Congress, on Friday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) receives a shot of the coronavirus vaccine from Brian Monahan, attending physician to Congress, on Friday. (Ken Cedeno/AP)

Anyone else getting a 1912 vibe from all this vaccine theater in Congress?

Like Lifeboat No. 1 paddling away from the Titanic that cold night, carrying five tuxedoed first-class passengers and seven crew members away from hundreds of dying third-classers, members of Congress are smiling for cameras as they get their coronavirus vaccine shots, while one American dies of the virus every minute.

“It’s ridiculous that Congress is cutting in line ahead of folks in Long Term Care,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) tweeted as lawmakers began getting the vaccine. “I’ll be the first in line to get the vaccine when it’s my turn.”

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) was equally outraged.

Vice President Pence and second lady Karen Pence received the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Dec. 18 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. (Video: The Washington Post)

“Congress needs to stop treating itself as a special political class, and the mere suggestion that members of Congress are in any way more important than the very people who gave us the privilege of serving in Congress is appalling,” Mast said in a statement.

Washington leaders get the coronavirus vaccine

The very folks who downplayed the virus, partied maskless at the White House and called the coronavirus a hoax created to hurt President Trump are now getting the vaccine ahead of front-line and essential workers, and even the vulnerable residents in long-term-care facilities.

Though you could make the argument that the U.S. Capitol is a nursing home — America recently had its oldest Congress ever and the current, 116th Congress can largely order from Denny’s senior citizens’ menu (the average age is 57.6 in the House and 62.9 in the Senate) — that’s not what gets them the vaccine. And it’s not their VIP status, per se, another perk to go with the primo health-care and vacation schedules they enjoy even when the nation is a hot mess.

It would be nice to think members of Congress are getting the vaccine early on because they are bold public servants, willing to put themselves on the front lines in this new treatment. A bunch of altruistic pioneers modeling self-sacrifice by putting their trust in science.

That’s what Judy Jenkins-May, a registered nurse at United Medical Center in Southeast Washington, said she was doing when her hospital began offering the vaccine last week and she was one of the few nurses to sign up for it.

The hospital “is predominantly, you know, a Black institution,” Jenkins-May told DCist reporter Matt Blitz. “When it comes to the government, they are thinking in the past what has happened. The government has always used, you know, brown and Black skin as far as testers. . . . So, [my fellow nurses] just have mixed feelings.”

I believe her.

Who will have the most exposure to the coronavirus? The workers who can’t take a sick day.

But the members of Congress getting the shot include a range of viewpoints: those who have been sounding the alarm, rightly, about the dangers of this pandemic, urging the nation’s people and its leaders to follow the science, pushing for funding for vaccines, personal protective equipment and pandemic relief; and those who have eschewed masks, doubted doctors and used their bully pulpit to convince far too many Americans that precautions are unnecessary.

That brings us back to the Titanic. The first few lifeboats to take the first-class passengers to safety were barely full — one with only 12 passengers when it could’ve held 40. All told, 472 spots on lifeboats, a number of which had capacities of 65, went unused, according to a 1919 story in the Daily Mirror.

Passengers who didn’t get into the first lifeboats either didn’t believe they were in true danger, didn’t trust the lifeboats or didn’t get an urgent call to abandon ship from the captain, Edward John Smith. He decided to play it down.

Sound familiar?

That brings us back to Capitol Hill, where, after launching an exhaustive inquiry into the Titanic disaster in 1912, Sen. William Alden Smith (R-Mich.) came to a conclusion on leadership and responsibility that might sound familiar today.

“Titanic though she was, [Captain Smith’s] indifference to danger was one of the direct and contributing causes of this unnecessary tragedy,” the senator (no relation to the captain) said in a 1912 speech. “. . . Those of us who knew him well — not in anger, but in sorrow — file one specific charge against him: Overconfidence and neglect to heed the oft-repeated warnings of his friends.”

Thanks for the coronavirus hot spot, Trump

The truth is, members of Congress are getting the vaccine because it’s the law.

Whether they warned Americans of the ferocity of the coronavirus and branded their experience getting the shot as behavior that should be emulated, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who posted her vaccination on Instagram.

Or took a dour-faced approach to vaccinating themselves against a virus they casually dismissed, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who took the vaccine even after saying she is “so skeptical” of infection numbers.

“My recommendation to you is absolutely unequivocal: There is no reason why you should defer receiving this vaccine,” Brian Monahan, the attending physician of Congress and the Supreme Court, wrote in a letter Thursday. “The benefit far exceeds any small risk.”

Monahan explained to members of Congress that they are among the first in line for the vaccine thanks to a National Security Council directive that gave lawmakers priority to make sure there’s a continuity of government.

Because lawmakers were so effective and their governance was so stable and continuous before the virus, right?

Not to mention since the pandemic started.

Must be nice to be the ones making those laws.

Twitter: @petulad

Read more Petula Dvorak:

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Coronavirus news in D.C., Virginia and Maryland

The latest: More than two years into the pandemic, covid cases in the D.C. region are rising again, , while liberal Montgomery County asks who deserves credit for its robust covid response. Meanwhile, Black funeral directors still face a daunting amount of deaths from covid and the omicron wave has had an unequal toll in the DMV.

At-home tests: Here’s how to use at-home covid tests, where to find them and how they differ from PCR tests.

Mapping the spread: Tens of thousands have died in the local region and nationwide cases number in the hundreds of thousands.

Omicron: Remaining covid restrictions in the D.C.-area, plus a breakdown of variant symptoms and mask recommendations.

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