To prevent a government shutdown last week, a group of far-right Senate Republicans demanded a vote on defunding a key element of the White House's vaccination policy. It may have been an idea from the fringe, but the proposal ended up with unanimous GOP support in the chamber.
This was not, however, the end of the party's legislative efforts. Politico reports that 100 percent of Senate Republicans and nearly 98 percent of House Republicans intend to use a Congressional Review Act resolution in the hopes of blocking President Joe Biden's private sector vaccine requirements.
It's not that GOP lawmakers believe the policy is ineffective. In fact, Republicans don't appear to care whether Biden's policy works or not: The objection is that the White House is infringing on the GOP's vision of private sector "freedom," which trumps efforts to address the deadly pandemic.
Noting last week's developments, The Washington Post's Michael Gerson noted in his new column:
This indicated a political party now so intimidated by its liberty caucus that senators such as Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine felt compelled to bend the knee. It was a collective declaration of utter madness. This is the strangest political cause of my lifetime.
Broadly speaking, there are three angles to this, each of which are bewildering in related ways. The first is the degree to which Republican officials are, to borrow Gerson's phrasing, "actively discouraging citizens from taking routine medical precautions for their own welfare."
It's a multifaceted strategy that includes trying to gut the Biden administration's vaccine policies, filing lawsuits to block implementation of Biden's policies, and in some red states, effectively paying people not to get vaccinated. At the same time, many Republicans are undermining public confidence in vaccines and mask protections, while promoting ineffective treatments and dangerous ideas about "natural immunity."
All of which leads to the second angle: While Republicans undermine the response to the public health crisis, the party also blames the president for the fact that the crisis isn't yet over.
"I took President Biden at his word; I took him at his word when he said he was going to get Covid under control," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy recently said. "Unfortunately, more Americans have died this year than last year under Covid." A great many leading GOP voices have spent the last few weeks pushing the same line.
Even by 2021 standards, the argument is breathtaking in its brazenness: Republicans are doing what they can to undermine Biden's efforts, while simultaneously complaining about the efficacy of those efforts.
Finally, let's not overlook the policy asymmetry: The Democratic president has unveiled a series of sound strategies, each of which are designed to save lives and curtail the crisis. It's hard not to notice that the post-policy GOP is offering plenty of complaints about the White House's agenda, but the party doesn't have an agenda of its own.