Much of the Republican Party — despite the deaths of more than half a million Americans — still acts as though the pandemic is more a platform for political grandstanding than the worst national crisis since World War II.
New ideological divides are being exposed with President Joe Biden’s huge Covid-19 relief bill coming up in the Senate on Thursday. There’s also a fresh rush by GOP governors in Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere to ditch precautions that eased a horrific post-holiday spike in infections — mirroring a similar and ultimately disastrous opening at the urging of ex-President Donald Trump last summer.
These moves follow a weekend in which some governors — and possible 2024 GOP presidential candidates, such as South Dakota’s Kristi Noem and Florida’s Ron DeSantis — boasted to conservative activists about keeping their states open even while the worst of the virus was raging.
Not all Republican governors have adopted the conservative orthodoxy of mask skepticism and spurning scientific advice. Some, such as Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Ohio’s Mike DeWine, have won bipartisan praise for their strategies.
But the broader GOP’s tendency to put political goals over the recommendations of government scientists, a holdover from the Trump era, is also evident as battle lines are drawn in Washington over the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan.
It is only right that Democrats should face principled Republican arguments on whether they are properly targeting the spending blitz or rewarding pet causes and on whether huge aid to states and cities is needed. And 10 Republicans did seek to make that case in their failed effort to get Biden to sign on to a $600 billion stimulus that the President judged underestimated the magnitude of the health and economic crisis.
But GOP leaders also have a problem. Biden’s measure is surprisingly popular, so they need to slow it down and discredit its contents to extract some political gains and deprive the new President of a clean win.
So Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, taking a timeout from his conspiracy-fueled effort to absolve Trump supporters in the Capitol insurrection, is planning days of stunts that threaten to turn debate over the package — with unemployment benefits for millions of Americans set to run out within days — into a made-for-conservative-cable-TV farce.
“We’re talking about $1.9 trillion … a stack of one billion dollars that would extend halfway past the distance to the moon. And we want to do this in a matter of hours? I don’t think that’s right,” Johnson said Wednesday.
The senator plans to force a full reading of the bill — that will take 10 hours — and stretch out debate with an array of procedural traps.
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