The lawmakers attacking coronavirus measures and flirting with anti-vaccination messages could find themselves in political trouble in the 2022 midterms, say some political analysts and rivals. And even though more Republicans have pivoted to touting vaccine benefits in recent weeks, advocates warn they may have already done themselves damage.
“I believe that our constituency is an ace card,” said Kristin Urquiza, co-founder of Marked by Covid, an advocacy group for people whose lives have been touched by the virus, which is holding meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill all week. “And we're growing, unfortunately.”
How some politicians talk about coronavirus has alarmed public health experts.
Several Democrats last year said they wouldn't trust vaccines overseen by the Trump administration, planting doubts about the shots' safety that may have lingered into 2021. But many more Republicans continue to sow doubts about the vaccines amid an uptick of cases mainly among the unvaccinated with the spread of the delta variant.
In one widely panned tweet this month, Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) warned his followers that President Biden planned to “knock down your door KGB-style to force people to get vaccinated.” The message came even as coronavirus cases exploded in Smith's state and local hospital leaders pleaded for residents to get vaccinated, with Missouri's immunization rates lagging the national average.
Other Republicans have framed the door-to-door effort as a sinister government scheme. But the reality is pretty boring: an ongoing public health push to share information about where to get vaccinated. The campaign was witnessed by your author, who tagged along with several young women who volunteered to hand out materials at one door-to-door event in May, well before Biden began stumping on it.
“The politicization of covid added a new and dangerous layer to things,” Jerome Adams, who served as surgeon general during the Trump administration, told The Post, criticizing what he framed as a bipartisan problem. “And in this 24-hour news and political cycle, there’s no letup. We’re already seeing jockeying for 2022 and even 2024.”
Some Republicans, however, have brandished their opposition to mitigation measures like mask-wearing and social distancing, and have seen something of a political bounce because of it. Take Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who is considering running for president in 2024. But with his state's cases now on the rise, his stance could backfire.
But this isn't just a political spectacle. Coronavirus skeptics can do active harm to themselves and their followers, particularly with the virus surging again this month.
Phil Valentine, a conservative talk show host, had consistently played down the vaccine, including late last month. But that was before he was sickened himself, having been hospitalized for nearly two weeks with a severe case of coronavirus.
“He knows he is very, very sick,” his brother, Mark Valentine, told the Tennessean. “When he gets the opportunity to tell the world, his message will be, get the vaccine, period.”
The divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated mirrors political fault lines.
The Kaiser Family Foundation this month found that counties won by Biden last year had vaccination rates nearly 12 percentage points higher than counties won by Donald Trump.
And even though more Republican lawmakers and pundits are now pleading with their followers to get shots, it will take weeks for a newly vaccinated person to acquire full immunity — perhaps too late to stave off infections, and possible resentments.
We've already seen coronavirus help decide an election. Trump's pollster concluded the issue swung last year's presidential election to Biden, with Americans panning Trump's handling of the public health crisis, including many dissatisfied Republicans.
One of those Americans was Urquiza, who founded Marked By Covid after her Trump-supporting father, Mark, died from the virus in June 2020. The tragedy became a catalyst: Urquiza stumped for Biden, including a high-profile slot at last year's Democratic National Convention, and she wrote a blistering op-ed after she believes she was exposed to the coronavirus at a presidential debate. Her group — which now has about 100,000 followers and supporters across digital media, Urquiza said — includes many Americans who were new to political advocacy but energized by the public health crisis.
“We will go all in again,” she vowed, adding that her group would “make sure that we are electing public officials up and down the ticket who are committed to not only the recovery from the coronavirus, or the ongoing crisis response, but who have also demonstrated a commitment to it while they were in office.”
Urquiza and about 200 volunteers are participating in a mix of in-person and virtual meetings with roughly 90 lawmakers and their offices this week, pitching them on legislation to memorialize the pandemic and encouraging them to do more to address disparities affecting communities of color.
Urquiza had sharp words for Republicans whom she said have done too little to respond to the pandemic. But she said her group isn't letting Democrats off the hook, criticizing the Biden administration message that the nation is facing a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” — a line Urquiza says needlessly antagonizes people who haven't gotten the shots, including Americans who remain unvaccinated because of preexisting medical conditions.
Missouri is an interesting case study of the current politics of the coronavirus.
Retiring Republican Sen. Roy Blunt has consistently promoted the benefits of the shots, a message that isn't echoed by some of the candidates jockeying to replace him on the right.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican who's declared for the Senate race, has repeatedly challenged state public health officials' coronavirus measures. Smith, who's flirted with entering the field and has sought Trump's endorsement, has attacked Biden's coronavirus response.
The tactics may work to carve out support among local conservatives. At the statehouse, GOP representatives have also joked about the microchips in vaccines and mocked efforts to get Republicans vaccinated. “I don't think they would be saying those things if their constituents weren't saying them too,” said Jason Rosenbaum, a longtime political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.
But they've also become a target for watchdogs. “People are getting sick and needlessly dying. This is certainly not the time for imprudent rhetoric,” the local Joplin Globe wrote in an editorial, panning Smith's comments about the vaccinations while praising Blunt.
Democrats are taking notice. Lucas Kunce, a retired Marine who's raised more than $1 million in seeking Blunt's seat — topping the Democratic fundraising field in the second quarter — said that he's disheartened that coronavirus measures had become an issue in the campaign. And he shared stories of meeting voters who parroted misinformation about the virus, predicting that Republicans who don't encourage vaccinations now will suffer politically later, as disaffected voters turn on them.
“The ultimate consequence is that people are dying from it,” Kunce added. “I don't think it's going to pay off for them.”
Asked about his tweet on Biden's supposed “KGB”-style vaccination campaign, and what he's done to get his constituents to get vaccinated, Smith provided a statement to The Post.
“I took the Trump shot and told the largest newspaper in my district that I did so,” Smith's statement said, in part. “Vaccinations are safe and effective, but the decision to take the vaccine must be free from pressure because it's a personal choice.”
Smith's tweet remains up.
What’s happening now
Democrats are elevating the role of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in the Jan. 6 committee. She'll deliver one of two opening statements at the first public meeting of the panel on Tuesday. “Cheney is no longer the sole Republican representative on the panel after Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) accepted Pelosi’s offer to serve on the committee over the weekend,” writes Marianna Sotomayor.
“New York City will require all municipal workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the time schools reopen in mid-September or face weekly testing, Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to announce on Monday morning, according to a city official,” the New York Times’s Emma Fitzsimmons reports. “The new requirement would apply to roughly 340,000 city workers, including teachers and police officers. The Sept. 13 deadline, when about a million students are set to return to classrooms, shows the importance of the reopening of schools for the city’s recovery and for Mr. de Blasio’s legacy.”
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Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “As coronavirus surges, GOP lawmakers are moving to limit public health powers,” by Frances Stead Sellers and Isaac Stanley-Becker: “At least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering measures to limit the legal authority of public health agencies, according to the Network for Public Health Law, which partnered with the National Association of County and City Health Officials to document the legislative counterpunches. Lawmakers in at least 46 states have introduced hundreds of bills relating to legislative oversight of gubernatorial or executive actions during coronavirus or other emergencies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The measures, as described by the Network for Public Health Law, include a North Dakota law that prohibits a mask mandate, even during an outbreak of tuberculosis, and a new Montana law that prohibits the use of quarantine to separate people who have probably been infected or exposed but are not yet sick.”
- “‘Some are still suffering’: Months after Capitol riot, police who fought the mob contend with physical, psychological pain,” by Peter Hermann: “In the aftermath of the riot, authorities said about 140 Capitol and D.C. police officers were hurt ... But the full toll on police is still coming into view as officers continue to grapple with the impact of hours of hand-to-hand fighting. They have emerged with a complex jumble of physical and emotional trauma that has made diagnoses and treatment challenging, a problem some officers said is made more difficult by efforts of Republican lawmakers to downplay the riot. Some officers who were assaulted Jan. 6 experienced different or worsening symptoms in the weeks and months that followed, indicating they may have suffered injuries more severe than had initially been believed, in particular undiagnosed head trauma, according to a therapist who has seen hundreds of D.C. officers.”
- “It started with a mock ‘slave trade’ and a school resolution against racism. Now a war over critical race theory is tearing this small town apart,” by Hannah Natanson: “Nevaeh Wharton was busy with homework one evening in late April when her phone pinged with a warning. A friend had texted to say something disgusting was happening in a private Snapchat group chat. ... Pretty soon the whole story trickled out. A group of mostly White students attending two of Traverse City’s high schools, including Nevaeh’s, had held a mock slave auction on the social media app, ‘trading’ their Black peers for money. ... It spurred the fast-tracking of a school equity resolution that condemned racism and vowed Traverse City Area Public Schools would better educate its overwhelmingly White student body and teaching staff on how to live in a diverse country. ... [But] Events in Traverse City would demonstrate how quickly efforts to address historic disparities or present-day racial harassment in schools can become fodder for a campaign against critical race theory, fueled by White parents’ growing conviction that their children are being taught to feel ashamed of their Whiteness — and their country.”
… and beyond
- “Why top Democrats are listening to Eric Adams right now,” by the New York Times’s Katie Glueck: “Mr. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, has been his party’s mayoral nominee for less than three weeks. But already, many national Democrats appear eager to elevate the former New York police captain, as gun violence shatters parts of major American cities and Republicans seek to caricature their opponents as naïve about crime. Mr. Adams, for his part, is seizing the mayoral bully pulpit, moving to cement a national reputation as a Democrat who speaks with uncommon authority about both public safety and police reform.”
- “U.S. identifies airstrikes in Afghanistan as Taliban offensive nears Kandahar,” by the Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison and Gordon Lubold: “The U.S. has stepped up airstrikes in southern Afghanistan amid growing apprehension over a Taliban offensive threatening Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city and spiritual capital of the Taliban movement. The fall of Kandahar would deal a heavy blow to the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, which is trying to impart calm to its citizens as the Taliban has seized swaths of the countryside, but so far failed to take a major city.”
The Biden agenda
The administration is closely monitoring the delta variant in the U.K. as anxieties mount over the variant’s impact to the U.S. economy.
- “With close to 70 percent of the United Kingdom at least partially vaccinated, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pushed toward a full economic reopening even as new cases rise above 50,000-per-day for the first time since mid-January. Johnson’s government has ended most covid-related restrictions in England, despite objections from many public health officials,” Jeff Stein reports. “Administration officials are watching to see the trajectory of that decision. If Britain’s reopening continues without a new wave of hospitalizations and lockdowns, America’s recovery could prove more likely to remain on course, officials believe.”
- “But if the U.K. cannot safely reopen its economy because the delta variant spreads too rapidly, the U.S. — which has vaccinated a smaller percentage of its population — may face similar head winds.”
In a small thaw in tense relations, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited China.
- Sherman, a senior Biden administration official, “said Washington did not seek conflict with China during a visit to the country, as the two sides sought points of potential cooperation,” Eva Dou reports.
- “In his meeting with Sherman, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng urged the United States to lift its visa restrictions on Chinese Communist Party members and Chinese students seeking to study in the United States, according to a social media posting by the official China Media Group. He also asked for Washington to revoke its efforts to extradite Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou from Canada, and to address rising anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States, it said. The two sides still criticized each other, though less vociferously than during the Trump era.”
Quote of the day
“The data from both Israel and the U.K. — which both started seeing delta before we did — suggests the next month or two will be very difficult in the U.S., with a lot more infections and a lot more hospitalizations,” said Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, “and real potential for disruption of things we have just started getting back after the pandemic.”
On the Hill
A growing group of Republicans want House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to punish Reps. Cheney and Kinzinger for accepting a position on the Jan. 6 committee.
- “The push to seek punishment rose to a new level on Sunday, after [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi announced that Kinzinger had accepted her invitation to join the committee. Initially, most rank-and-file Republicans were content to let Cheney serve without much of a fight, but Kinzinger's addition has changed the conversation and has put a new level of pressure on McCarthy,” CNN’s Ryan Nobles and Melanie Zanona report.
- “While the loudest cries have come from members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, sources say that the sentiment has started to spread beyond the hard-line crew. ‘There's a lot,’ said one GOP member about the push to have the pair removed from their other committees. ‘Supporting Pelosi's unprecedented move to reject McCarthy's picks was a bridge too far.’”
- “Rep. Scott Perry, a Freedom Caucus member, publicly called on Conference Chair Elise Stefanik to call a special GOP conference meeting to ‘address appropriate measures’ related to Pelosi booting two of McCarthy's chosen picks from the committee. Some members specifically want McCarthy and Stefanik to push for a vote of GOP members to strip Cheney and Kinzinger, who both voted to impeach former President Donald Trump earlier this year, from their other committee assignments. “
Thus, the Jan. 6 select committee begins its investigation under a cloud of controversy.
- “It’s unclear when a roster may be finalized, and Democrats running the committee have yet to articulate specific plans or timelines for their investigation,” Karoun Demirjian reports.
- “Nevertheless, on Tuesday, four police officers — two from the Capitol’s protection squad and two from D.C. police — are set to provide the first public testimony before the select committee. They are expected to testify about their experiences of both physical and verbal abuse on Jan. 6, as they tried to protect the Capitol from a swelling horde of demonstrators determined to stop Congress’s efforts to certify the 2020 electoral college results and declare Joe Biden the next president.”
Democrats fear the potential impact a raft of new voting restrictions on the 2022 midterms turnout.
- “After Georgia Republicans passed a restrictive voting law in March, Democrats here began doing the math. The state’s new voter I.D. requirement for mail-in ballots could affect the more than 270,000 Georgians lacking identification,” Politico’s Maya King, David Siders and Daniel Lippman report. “It didn’t take long before the implications became clear to party officials and voting rights activists. In a state that Biden carried by fewer than 12,000 votes last year, the new law stood to wipe out many of the party’s hard-fought gains — and put them at a decisive disadvantage.”
- “Democrats in other states where similarly restrictive voting laws have passed are coming to the same conclusion. Interviews with more than three dozen Democratic elected officials, party operatives and voting rights activists across the country reveal growing concern — bordering on alarm — about the potential impact in 2022 of the raft of new laws passed by Republican legislatures.”
- “This November’s mayoral election in Atlanta represents a test-run of the law and how its requirements will impact voters. While Democrats aim to apply lessons from this election to next year’s midterms, they recognize that the heavily Black, safely Democratic city is a far cry from a statewide race.”
Republican Rep. Clay Higgins (La.) said he has coronavirus for the second time.
- “Referring to the disease as the ‘biological attack weaponized virus’ from China, Higgins said on Facebook that the latest infection is ‘far more challenging’ than his bout with the coronavirus in January 2020,” NBC News’s Tim Stelloh and Leigh Ann Caldwell report. “Higgins has encouraged people to get vaccinated, although he has not publicly said whether he has been inoculated. In April, he told the editorial board of the Daily American newspaper of Lake Charles, Louisiana, that he had ‘natural immunity’ because he had contracted Covid-19 before.”
Hot on the left
Sen. Joe Manchin said 2018 was his "last campaign for Senate." That might have changed. “The West Virginia Democrat is steadily padding his campaign coffers, raising $1.6 million in the first six months this year and sitting on nearly $4 million for a potential race that wouldn’t occur for three years. His colleagues say he’s not acting like a senator in his last term, despite his famous assertion during his last campaign that Washington ‘sucks,’” Politico’s Burgess Everett reports. “And as the 50th Democratic vote, Manchin is charting a bipartisan course for the Senate alongside a like-minded band of moderates in both parties, not to mention serving alongside a president who shares his back-slapping and horse-trading DNA. Instead of sucking, Manchin now says Washington has ‘accomplished more than we have for the 10 years I’ve been here.’”
Hot on the right
“Video from a Montana fly fishing shop shows a man berating Fox News host Tucker Carlson, calling him the ‘worst human being known to man,’” NBC News’s Tim Stelloh reports. “In a post accompanying the video on Instagram, the man, Dan Bailey, accused the top-rated host of ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ of killing people with vaccine misinformation and supporting ‘extreme racism.’ In the brief video, Carlson responds to Bailey quietly, saying, ‘I appreciate that.’ ... A Fox News spokesperson said "ambushing’ Carlson while he was at the shop in Livingston with his family was ‘totally inexcusable.’ ‘No public figure should be accosted regardless of their political persuasion or beliefs simply due to the intolerance of another point of view,’ the spokesperson said.”
Some echoed Fox News’s statement:
While others noted that Carlson has encouraged his viewers to confront mask-wearers:
D.C. shootings, visualized
District authorities say just over 40 percent of the gunfire is concentrated on 151 blocks — or 2 percent. A Washington Post analysis shows that in a recent period of a little more than three years, crime scene technicians found 2,759 bullet casings in about a one-square-mile area that includes those blocks.
Today in Washington
Biden and Vice President Harris are delivering remarks to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At 2 p.m., Biden will participate in a bilateral meeting with Iraq Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.
And John Oliver explained the damage housing discrimination in the United States has done: