The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Power Up: Republican men are hesitant to get vaccinated. At least four GOP senators are among them.

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with Tobi Raji

It's Wednesday. And American restaurants are facing a nationwide ketchup shortage. Take stock of your single-use packets and this is the Power Up newsletter.

The policies

STILL VACCINE HESITANT: At least four GOP senators have not been vaccinated, nor are they sharing any plans to do so in the near future. 

An ophthalmologist, a businessman, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and one of the GOP's most frequent spreaders of conspiracy theories are among the lawmakers who have previously provided reporters with varying reasons for why they haven't been jabbed yet. 

GOP Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) did not respond to Power Up's request for comment on if and when they plan to receive the coronavirus vaccine as Republican voters and GOP men in particular has emerged as one of the most vaccine hesitant demographics. 

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) has cited concerns about the vaccine's ties to abortion as a reason he had not yet been vaccinated. In a statement provided to Power Up, Braun declined to disclose his vaccination status and scolded those “keeping tabs on who has or has not received a vaccine through ‘passports’ or lists. 

  • “The COVID vaccine is an incredible medical breakthrough, and the decision to get vaccinated is a personal choice that some Americans may choose not to take for reasons such as severe allergies, personal or religious objections, or concerns over underlying health conditions like autoimmune disorders, and it isn’t proper to intrude on any American’s personal health decisions by keeping tabs on who has or has not received a vaccine through ‘passports’ or lists, Braun said in a statement. 

A spokesperson for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) reiterated the Kentucky lawmaker's claims he's “developed an immune defense to the virus after testing positive for coronavirus last March, and is “following the science on the vaccines and masks for those who have developed immunity.” There's no such evidence, however, that people who have already contracted the virus are now immune to it, according to widespread public health guidance.  

  • Shot: “As such, Dr. Paul believes there are many millions of other Americans who should receive the vaccine ahead of him,” his spokesperson added. “That is especially true as clinical trials have shown the vaccines provide no appreciable additional immunity for those who have already recovered from the disease.” 
  • Chaser: “While current research shows that reinfection is rare — at least two dozen such cases have been confirmed globally — doctors have also warned that some patients who have contracted coronavirus again could be asymptomatic and still pass the virus on to others,” The Post's Teo Armus reported last year. 
  • The strength of the immune response, the length of time that the protection lasts and the variation of the immune response across people is very different between vaccine immunity and natural immunity for SARSCoV2,” Jennifer Grier, a clinical assistant professor of immunology at the University of South Carolina, wrote for PBS News Hour. COVID19 vaccines offer safer and more reliable immunity than natural infection.

Religious groups and figures from Pope Francis to Franklin Graham to your local evangelical pastor  have been working to assuage the religious concerns referenced by Braun. Some of the vaccines were developed and tested using cells derived from the fetal tissue of a decades-old aborted pregnancies. The connection has spawned disinformation that fetal DNA is an ingredient in the vaccine.

David Prentice, vice president and research director of the antiabortion rights Charlotte Lozier Institute, told Power Up he's been trying to educate those with ethical qualms regarding the development and postproduction testing of vaccines on just how “remote” the connection to aborted fetal cells is. 

  • “The COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson does not contain aborted fetus cells,” per a Reuters Fact Check. “It was produced by using cells derived from an aborted fetus in 1985.” 
  • More: On Dec. 21, 2020, the Vatican weighed in, saying that in absence of vaccines made from other sources, it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that were developed using cell lines from aborted fetuses.
  • Graham told CBS News's Kathryn Watson that Jesus would have wanted people to get vaccinated: The vaccine is, to me, I believe, is saving life, and that's what Jesus Christ would want us to do, to help save life. It's just a tool to help save life.
  • Prentice, who got the Pfizer vaccine last week, called on companies to explore alternative ways of developing and testing vaccines without the use of fetal cell lines. “That way you'll get greater uptake if companies can assure this is something people don't have to worry about,” Prentice added. 

The religiously fraught train of thinking only accounts for a slice of vaccine hesitant Republican men. Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University who studies public opinion on health care, told us many distrust medical science and have a “hostility towards the federal government.”

  • Blendon added rural GOP voters are “very suspicious of East Coast experts We've recommended that you want to have prominent physicians in Republican states be the ones on television telling you what to do.”

The White House praised Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for his leadership on Twitter earlier this week, responding to a video of McConnell addressing vaccine hesitancy: I saw on some program last week that Republican men, curiously enough, might be reluctant to take the vaccine. I'm a Republican man, and I want to say to everyone: we need to take this vaccine.

But McConnell has not weighed in specifically on his peers in Congress who have refused the vaccine or sowed confusion about the vaccination effort. 

Last month, Business Insider's Azmi Haroun's reported that Scott told reporters he had yet to be vaccinated and was discussing it with his doctor. 

  • “Scott was also asked if his doctor had explicitly told him not to get the vaccine, which he rejected and said, 'we've been testing for antibodies.'”

Johnson has offered a series of reasons why he has yet to receive the vaccine, claiming immunity from getting re-infected since he's already had the virus, even as public health experts and doctors provide clear instructions whether or not you've come down with the disease.

In an interview with the New York Times's Trip Gabriel and Reid Epstein last month, Johnson “repeatedly refused to say that vaccines were safe or to encourage people to get them, resorting instead to insinuations — ‘there’s still so much we don’t know about all of this’ — that undermine efforts to defeat the pandemic.” 

  • “We’ve closed our minds to all of these other potentially useful and cheap therapies all on the holy grail of a vaccine,” Johnson told conservative Vicki McKenna in an interview. “I don’t have all the information to say, ‘Do this,’” Johnson added of the vaccine.

At the White House

BIDEN WARNS OF ‘LIFE AND DEATH RACE AGAINST VIRUS’: “In remarks Tuesday, Biden continued the delicate balance of touting the progress on vaccinating Americans while also warning against becoming complacent as the coronavirus continues to spread,” our colleague Colby Itkowitz reports

  • “So, the virus is spreading because we have too many people who see the end in sight, think we’re at the finish line already,” Biden said at the White House. “But let me be deadly earnest with you. We aren’t at the finish line. We still have a lot of work to do. We’re still in a life and death race against this virus.”
  • Good news: “150 million coronavirus vaccine shots have been given in [Biden’s] first 75 days, with the nation on track to reach 200 million in his first 100 days. By April 19, every adult over the age of 18 will be eligible to sign up to be vaccinated.”
  • Bad news: “New coronavirus variants are spreading quickly, and cases and hospitalizations are going back up.”

NEW FUNERAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: “The Biden administration next week will launch a funeral assistance program that will provide up to $9,000 to cover the burial costs of each American who died of covid-19 — the largest program of its type ever offered by the federal government,” our colleagues Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan report

  • “The program is open to families regardless of their income, as long as they show documentation and have not already received similar benefits through another program.”
  • “FEMA is setting up a dedicated toll-free hotline — 1-844-684-6333 — and a call center to answer questions about the program and take applications starting Monday, April 12.”
  • Caveat:If any other assistance was already received — from money available to veterans, or burial insurance, or some other program — the aid “will be reduced by the amount of other assistance the applicant received for the same expenses,” they write.

From the courts

NRA, N.Y. DUKE IT OUT IN COURT: “Top NRA officials and their lawyers defended the organization’s decision to seek bankruptcy protection during a contentious, high-stakes federal court hearing in Dallas this week, saying the move is necessary in the face of what they describe as a politically motivated investigation by the state of New York,” our colleague Tom Hamburger reports.

  • “She called us a terrorist organization,” NRA lawyer Greg Garman said of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) in his opening statement. “She called us a criminal enterprise. She has said without hyperbole her first top issue when becoming attorney general was to target the NRA.”
  • “James has argued that the gun rights organization is improperly pursuing bankruptcy to avoid a sweeping lawsuit filed last year … The lawsuit, which seeks to dissolve the organization, alleges that top NRA executives diverted organization resources for their personal gain.”

The NRA has bigger fish to fry. “The organization faces renewed challenges to its long-standing opposition to gun regulation. Following two mass shootings in one week at the end of March, Biden joined congressional Democrats in demanding action to ban assault weapons and tighten background checks, a position the NRA and Republicans have rejected,” Hamburger writes. 

  • NRA chief executive Wayne La­Pierre is expected to testify today.

The investigations

MATT GAETZ SAID TO HAVE SOUGHT A BLANKET PARDON FROM TRUMP: “Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) was one of President Trump’s most vocal allies during his term, publicly pledging loyalty and even signing a letter nominating the president for the Nobel Peace Prize,” the New York Times’s Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos report.

  • But “in the final weeks of Trump’s term, Gaetz sought something in return. He privately asked the White House for blanket preemptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed.”
  • “Around that time, Justice Department investigators had begun questioning Gaetz’s associates about his conduct, including whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old that violated sex trafficking laws.”
  • “Gaetz’s appeal to the Trump White House shows how the third-term congressman sought to leverage an unlikely presidential relationship he had spent years cultivating … But since the existence of the investigation was publicly revealed last week, Trump and his close allies have mostly remained silent.”

More: Gaetz fought a Florida ‘revenge porn’ law. “While serving in the Florida Legislature, Gaetz opposed a bill meant to stop people from sharing sexually explicit images of their ex-lovers because Gaetz believed that recipients of those images had a right to share them,” the Orlando Sentinel's Jason Garcia reports

  • “Former state Rep. Tom Goodson, a Republican from Brevard County, told Garcia that Gaetz was the bill’s “chief opponent.”
  • “Matt was absolutely against it. He thought the picture was his to do with what he wanted,” Goodson said.

On the Hill

REP. ALCEE HASTINGS DIES AT 84: “Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, a charismatic civil rights lawyer who became Florida’s first Black federal judge, was impeached on corruption charges and made a remarkable comeback as a liberal Democratic member of the U.S. House and the dean of his state’s congressional delegation, died April 6,” our colleague Harrison Smith writes. “He was 84.”

  • “Hastings’s death opens up a coveted South Florida congressional seat and further narrows Democrats’s already-tenuous House majority,” Politico’s Matt Dixon and Ally Mutnick report.
  • “After Rep.-elect Julia Letlow (R-La.) is sworn in next Tuesday, the balance of the House will shift to 218 Democrats and 212 Republicans. That means House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can only afford to lose two of her members if she is trying to pass legislation on a party-line vote.”

Outside the Beltway

THE WAR ON … VACCINE PASSPORTS?: “Around the country, businesses, schools and politicians are considering ‘vaccine passports’ — digital proof of vaccination against the coronavirus — as a path to reviving the economy and getting Americans back to work and play,” the New York Times’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Adam Liptak report.

  • “But the idea is raising charged legal and ethical questions: Can businesses require employees or customers to provide proof — digital or otherwise — that they have been vaccinated when the coronavirus vaccine is ostensibly voluntary?”
  • “Can schools require that students prove they have been injected with what is still officially an experimental prophylaxis the same way they require long-approved vaccines for measles and polio? And finally, can governments mandate vaccinations — or stand in the way of businesses or educational institutions that demand proof?”
  • “Legal experts say the answer to all of these questions is generally yes … [But] conservatives and libertarians are resisting such mandates.

Here’s what the White House has to say:

Global power

U.S.-IRAN TALKS BEGIN ON ‘RIGHT TRACK’: “U.S. and Iranian officials said Tuesday an initial day of talks in Vienna on returning to the 2015 nuclear deal were ‘constructive,’” our colleagues Anne Gearan, Loveday Morris and Kareem Fahim report. Discussions are scheduled to continue Friday.

  • “For the United States and others, the hope is that diplomacy can persuade Iran to scale back its uranium enrichment to the agreed levels. Iran wants an end to sanctions initially lifted under the accord and reimposed by Trump, as well as more than 1,500 new measures Trump levied to force Iran’s leaders to make a new deal, which they never did.”
  • “Backers of the pact see an urgency to get it back on track: the dwindling breakout time before Iran is expected to be able to produce enough fissile material for a potential nuclear weapon, alongside approaching elections in Iran that may usher in a more hard-line government.”


DAVE CHAPPELLE, TRUMP STAFF AND SOME ‘DIRTY NOTES’: “Dave Chappelle, 47, is speaking out about seeing celebrities allegedly leave Trump and his administration ‘dirty notes’ in the cabinets and drawers of the White House before he moved in,” the Hollywood Life’s Erin Silvia reports.  

  • “It was one of the last big parties the Obamas threw and I’m not gonna say these celebrities’ names,” Dave explained on the Apr. 6 episode of ”No Filter with Naomi." “Remember when the Trump administration moved in, they said, ‘The Obama staff left dirty notes for us in all the drawers and all the cabinets.’ Now, I saw this happening.”
  • "I’m not gonna say who did it,” he continued. “But it was celebrities writing all this crazy s**t and putting it all over there.”

What did they say?