For GOP base, battles over covid vaccines and closures still resonate


For many Americans, the relentless focus on covid seems largely a thing of the past: Far fewer are wearing masks, businesses and schools are mostly open, and many people have learned to live with the occasional threat of contracting the virus.

But among activist Republicans, immense anger and resentment persists at government policies aimed at curbing the pandemic, such as vaccine mandates, school closures and mask requirements. And as that anger bubbles up in the newly Republican-controlled House and among potential GOP presidential contenders, it is shaping up as a significant part of the party’s message.

Former president Donald Trump, who has announced he is seeking the presidency in 2024, and a potential leading rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), have begun fiercely sparring over who did a better job of rejecting public health measures they viewed as overreach. In remarks to reporters on Saturday, Trump accused DeSantis of “trying to rewrite history” on his response to the pandemic, saying that “Florida was closed for a long period of time.”

DeSantis has lately styled himself a public health dove who presided over the “free state of Florida,” and he has become increasingly hostile toward the coronavirus vaccines. He hit back on the former president Tuesday, noting that he was resoundingly reelected while Trump was not in 2020.

“If you take a crisis situation like covid … the good thing is that the people are able to render a judgment on that, whether they reelect you or not,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “I’m happy to say in my case … we won.”

On Capitol Hill, House Republicans are focused this week on delivering a political message to their base: The pandemic has long been over and the Biden administration doesn’t realize it. House GOP leaders lined up four pandemic-related votes that aim to end two coronavirus emergency declarations, lift the vaccine mandate for many health workers, and require federal agencies to reinstate their pre-pandemic telework policies.

“House Republicans are voting on legislation to restore our constitutional rights and freedoms after two long years of Democrats’ covid-19 power grab policies,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican, said Tuesday, blasting “extended covid lockdowns” and “unconstitutional vaccine mandates.”

In a party-line 220-210 vote Tuesday evening, the House passed the bill to end the current public health emergency, which provides flexibility for the health-care system and states to handle the pandemic. The chamber also agreed in a 227-203 vote to terminate the vaccine mandate for health-care workers whose services are billed under Medicare and Medicaid, with seven Democrats crossing party lines to support the measure.

The Democratic-led Senate is highly unlikely to pass the bills, however, so the votes are largely a way for House Republicans to make a point. In response, President Biden announced he is planning to end the national and public health emergencies himself — though in May, not immediately as House Republicans want.

But while the GOP base continues to be fired up about covid mandates,…

Read More: For GOP base, battles over covid vaccines and closures still resonate

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