With Omicron in US, GOP Hard-Liners Are Still Trying to Thwart Vaccine Mandates

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The current federal spending agreement that funds many operations of government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. Many federal government agencies will be shut down again if there isn’t a new deal, at least a vote that moves the needle a bit. M*A*S*H didn’t get this many reruns.

The last one lasted 35 days, between December 22, 2018 and January 25, 2019, because then-President Donald Trump wanted funding for his draconian Border Wall to be stowed to the government funding appropriations bills. Trump eventually conceded to the Democrats’ objections. Immediately after the shutdown ended, Trump declared a “state of emergency” during a spectacularly ludicrous Rose Garden aria, and proceeded to plunder Army funds to continue wall construction. Those were the days.

It’s almost three years later and the circus is back in town. This time, it’s a clot of 15 Senate Republicans that includes Roger Marshall, Ron Johnson, Mike Lee and Ted “Green Eggs And” Cruz driving the bus to wherever the hell they think this is all going to wind up. This time, the beef? President Biden’s vaccine mandates, which have already been stalled by a Trump-appointed judge in Louisiana, and so technically don’t really exist.

This fight has been simmering in congressional GOP circles ever since early November. It is now that the deadline is approaching. House Freedom Caucus (a.k.a. Donald Trump’s sweat towel, is all for taking the shutdown deadline hostage, but lacks the numbers to pull it off in that chamber. The Senate is a different matter. Any GOP senator can locate their Inner Manchin by using the 50-50 split.

“We’re opposed to the mandate,” Johnson toldYesterday, reporters. “We don’t want the federal government to be able to fund them in any way shape or form.” Cruz offered a concurrent opinion: “I think we should use the leverage we have to fight against what are illegal, unconstitutional and abusive mandates from a president and an administration that knows they are violating the law.”

A deal was reachedOn Thursday morning, Senate and House leadership met to discuss a stopgap measure that will delay a shutdown until February 18. While the House appears to be ready to pass this stopgap before the close today, the Senate’s antimandate faction seems prepared to fight this to the very end. Many Senate Republicans are in distress, to put it mildly.

Burgess Everett, Politico’sOn Wednesday, the co-congressional chief of bureau was present at a GOP Senate lunch where the mandate/shutdown strategy were discussed. The plan was supported by the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, however he was not present. “Mitch did not say a word,” reported Burgess. “He ate his chicken. He ate 2 pieces.”

“I just don’t quite understand the strategy or the play of leverage for a mandate that’s been stayed by 10 courts,” Sen. Kevin Cramer told Politico. “I don’t think shutdowns benefit people, like some folks think they do,” opined Sen. John Cornyn. “I’m pleased that we have finally reached an agreement on the continuing resolution,” added Sen. Richard Shelby.

Cramer, Cornyn and Shelby are not what you’d call wobbly pseudo-conservatives, and when you include Mitch and his mouthful of mute chicken, what we have here is the table-setting for a good old-fashioned GOP intra-party rhubarb just as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has entered the chat.

“If there is a shutdown, it will be a Republican, anti-vaccine shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer saidFrom the floor of the chamber. Chuck, that was a thumper of a sentence there. Your speechwriter should get a bowl of soup free for conjuring up such stirring rhetoric in times of crisis. Others were, fortunately for them, more articulate in their disapproval. Jake Johnson Common Dreams reports:

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who represents more federal employees than any other member of the House, said in a statement late Wednesday afternoon that “Republicans’ plan to shut down the government on purpose to sabotage our pandemic response is extraordinarily cynical and dangerous.”

“Vaccines are keeping Americans alive, and they represent the best possible tool we have to fight this pandemic,” said Beyer. “Countering vaccination efforts at what may prove one of the most critical moments of the pandemic, with the discovery of a concerning new variant, could have disastrous consequences for the American people and the recovering U.S. economy.”

The Virginia Democrat went on to warn that a shutdown would “inflict unnecessary hardship and fear on the families of millions of federal workers and contractors” and “demonstrate to our allies and our adversaries that our government can be stopped from functioning by a handful of ideologues who only care about appeasing the most radical elements in their political base.”

“Anti-science Republicans are demanding a choice between a return to the unchecked spread of Covid we had under the previous administration and the bungled, self-destructive governance that led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history,” Beyer continued. “Neither of these alternatives is acceptable — Republicans must do their jobs and allow a vote on legislation to avert a shutdown.”

This, Mr. Schumer is how you do it.

I find it incredibly strange that a government shutdown over COVID protections, a new and potentially dangerous variant rises, could derail what can only described as white-hot Republican political momentum. Yet, we are here with less than 36 hours left. Friday at midnight is the time that the lights go out. I hope Mitch brought leftovers from Wednesday’s lunch. The Capitol mess may be temporarily closed.