In recent days, America has watched some of the very same Republican senators — Joni Ernst, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, for example — who in the past undermined the risks posed by Covid-19, attend events that hastened its spread. We've watch as they failed to denounce President Donald Trump’s numerous lies about this deadly virus, but then had no problem lining up to get the coronavirus vaccine before the rest of us.
As one emergency room doctor put it on Twitter after seeing a photo of 49-year-old Rubio being vaccinated Monday: “I’m an ER doctor and despite trying, I have not yet been able to be vaccinated.”
None of this should surprise you. The GOP and hypocrisy go hand in hand at this point. It’s like Trump and lying. Yet, these three senators’ profiles in duplicity are still uniquely atrocious.
Let’s start with Ernst, the senator from Iowa who both undercut the deadliness of the virus and vocally opposed measures that would have saved lives as it continued to infect thousands in her home state. In early September, although 184,000 of our fellow Americans had already died from the virus, Ernst told Iowans that she was “so skeptical" about the Covid-19 death toll data that she suggested the numbers were inflated. In her view, “health care providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if Covid is tied to it, so what do you think they’re doing?" This baseless conspiracy theory had been championed by groups like QAnon, but Ernst gave it increased credence by virtue of her position and platform.
In addition, despite doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association announcing that wearing masks saves lives, Ernst opposed making this lifesaving measure mandatory as recently as late August. “I don’t think the government should be all do all end all and tell us how to live our lives,” she told Iowa Public Radio. As of the most recent totals, over 3,600 people in Iowa have died from Covid-19, and around 270,00 have tested positive in a state of around 3.2 million.
Yet, when it came to a vaccine distributed by the government, Ernst was all too happy to jump the line to get it. (Per CDC guidelines, given the limited supplies, the vaccine should be administered first to health care workers, people at high risk due to underlying health issues, those over 65 and workers in “critical industries.”)
During the summer Covid-19 surge, Florida was already clocking 282,000 cases. But Rubio opposed closing restaurants and theme parks in his state. He declared in mid-July: “I don’t think there’s any evidence that restaurants or Disney World … are the cause of this surge.” This was despite the fact that a well-publicized study released weeks before Rubio’s misleading comment traced indoor dining across the country to the spread of the virus. (Florida has now seen over 1.2 million Covid-19 cases and 20,000-plus deaths.)
With the Covid-19 death toll in the United States reaching a gruesome 240,000 in mid-November, Rubio traveled to Georgia to speak at a packed rally for GOP Senate candidates. Attendees were crammed indoors, and nearly half of the crowd was not wearing masks, according to CNN’s Kyung Lah, who left the rally with her TV crew out of a concern for their safety. This occurred while Georgia was in the “red zone” in terms of infections, according to Lah.
And finally, we have South Carolina's Graham, Trump’s defender in chief in the Senate. After November’s presidential election, Graham actively assisted Trump in attempting to overturn the results by pressuring officials in various battleground states, including in Georgia. And yet, he was silent when Trump told Americans the virus was nothing more than the “flu.”
Graham refused to take a Covid-19 test before his U.S. Senate debate in October, despite two other Republican senators on a committee he chairs recently testing positive. And he was also filmed in July at an indoor political gathering, where neither he nor the others were wearing masks.
The actions of these senators highlight why so many Americans dislike politicians. They are more than happy to ignore their public political stances if such flip-flopping benefits them personally. But it’s one thing when they’re switching sides on a bill; it’s quite another when their previous rhetoric likely contributed to illness and death.
The point here is not that politicians don’t deserve the vaccine — everyone can and should get it. That’s the only way we can ensure our nation recovers. And politicians have mostly argued that they need the shot either because various elected officials are required to keep the government running smoothly and to prevent a power vacuum, or because they think it will help build public trust in the vaccine.
But these arguments are far from ironclad — especially in cases like Rubio, who is a healthy, middle-aged man and not part of the presidential line of succession (Graham and Ernst aren't either, although Graham is 65).
Overall, I agree with the sentiment of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who Monday night told Joy Reid on MSNBC’s “The Reid Out” that this isn’t a political dispute. “The reality is that it is literally about saving lives,” she said.
And she’s right. The vaccine — like wearing masks and giving Americans accurate information about the risk posed by the virus — is part of our broader nonpartisan effort to halt a health crisis. I just wish these Republican senators had been able to put politics aside earlier. If they had, perhaps more Americans would be alive today.