President Biden and the slim Democratic majorities in Congress are right to move ahead on a proposed $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief bill, even if Republicans refuse to come along. The necessary arguments about how much money is really needed and how it will be spent are still taking place. It's just that the Republican Party will not — and, apparently, cannot — meaningfullyparticipate.
The Oval Office meeting this week between Biden and 10 Republican senators was a worthwhile exercise in performative bipartisanship, a demonstration that such encounters are once again possible. But everyone in the room had to know that the GOP offer of $618 billion was not a serious opening bid. For example, the Republicans would provide no help at all for state and local governments, whose coffers the pandemic has starved and drained; Biden wants to give them $350 billion. The GOP plan was more of an aspirational gesture — and partly, perhaps, a cry for help.
More than 451,000 Americans have died from covid-19, and lifesaving vaccines are taking far too long to be distributed and administered. The well-to-do have seen their stock portfolios soar while members of the middle class face new risks and the working class desperately struggles to survive the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Even many conservative economists agree with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that "the risk is not doing too much; the risk is not doing enough."
Yet much of the Republican base — encouraged by Biden's predecessor — is oddly blithe about the threat the pandemic poses, compared with their countrymen with different politics. The GOP has become the anti-mask party, the open-everything-up party, the "plandemic" conspiracy-theory party, the anti-expertise party, the anti-science party. If Donald Trump announced tomorrow that gravity is a fiction invented to keep his supporters from flying, some true believers would hurry to jump off their roofs.
And they would fall to the ground at the rate of 32 feet per second squared. There is no compromise between "gravity is real" (whether described by Isaac Newton's equations or Albert Einstein's) and "gravity is a hoax." It is ridiculous to give equal weight to "both sides" of the question because one is objectively true and one is absurdly, dangerously, life-threateningly false.
Most Republicans in Congress are not as ignorant, racist, angry and uncaring as they pretend to be. On Wednesday evening, more than two-thirds of House Republicans voted to keep Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) in her leadership position as chair of their conference, despite her support for impeaching Trump because of his incitement of the Capitol insurrection. But that impressive support for Cheney came in a secret ballot, shielding her supporters from the ire of Trump and the GOP base.
By contrast, Republicans took no action at all against Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a former — so she says — devotee of the QAnon conspiracy theory and one of the few members of Congress I could imagine actually being some sort of "gravity truther." At the meeting, Greene reportedly said she was sorry for a few of the insane and offensive views she has loudly expressed, including that school shootings were really "false flag" plots to curtail Second Amendment rights. But she adamantly refused to apologize publicly for anything at all until Thursday, when it was clear that Democrats were prepared to take away her committee assignments.
We should all take the late Maya Angelou's advice: Greene has shown us again and again who she is, and we should believe her.
At the state level, the Republican Party is, if anything, even less tethered to reality. The Arizona state GOP actually censured former senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, widow of the late senator John McCain, for failing to blindly support Trump. A few Republican governors, such as Jim Justice of West Virginia, are doing well in the vaccination phase of the pandemic. Others, such as Ron DeSantis of Florida, continue to put politics over public health.
Trump led the GOP's base deep into the wilderness. Republican leadership in Washington lacks the skills and the guts to lead the party back to reality — and back to constructive participation in addressing the massive challenges we face. Don't blame "both sides" for ruining the elegant, strategic, productive political competition we'd like to see. One party is trying to move the chess pieces. The other is trying to eat them.