Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 24, 2015.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The problem with the GOP’s Zika virus appeals

There were reports out of Dallas overnight that health officials believe they’ve confirmed the first known case of sexual transmission of Zika virus. It’s against this backdrop that The Hill reports Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is “pressing President Obama to move aggressively to combat the spread of the Zika virus.”
McConnell on Tuesday warned that Obama needs to act now before panic grips the country, as it did when the Ebola virus dominated headlines in 2014.
“We need to get out in front of the Zika virus to make sure that we don’t end up having the kind of feeling across the country that we’re sort of reacting too late, like we did on Ebola,” he said.
If McConnell is concerned about a potential public-health risk, great. If the Senate leader wants to ensure agencies and officials are prepared and taking necessary precautions, that makes perfect sense.
But that Ebola reference doesn’t sit quite right.
In 2014, the problem was not that the Obama administration was slow to react; the problem was with politicians needlessly and irresponsibly scaring the public for political reasons. The White House, we now know in hindsight, took all of the appropriate steps, and the president’s policy was very effective.
Meanwhile, many of the Republican claims and proposed solutions from the Ebola scare in 2014 were later exposed as ridiculous.
So when McConnell says officials “need to get out in front of the Zika virus,” it’s easy to agree. When he says he hoped to avoid the national “feeling … that we’re sort of reacting too late,” that’s harder to take seriously. Why, exactly, did the public have that “feeling”? Because McConnell’s party kept telling Americans to be terrified.
In effect, the GOP leader is telling the White House, “Do something quickly, before Republicans needlessly try to scare the bejesus out of the public, exploiting paranoia and anxiety for partisan gain.”