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Senate GOP leader pretends Dems lack 'clear message' on vaccines

John Barrasso insists Democrats "have utterly failed to communicate a clear message to get the American people vaccinated." No, seriously, he said that.

Senate Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has heard plenty of talk about the right extending the pandemic by balking at vaccines and rejecting mitigation efforts. He much prefers blaming the left.

And with this in mind, the Wyoming Republican went to the Senate floor yesterday to, as Barrasso put it, "set the record straight."

"Republican elected officials have gone out of our way to encourage vaccinations. It is the responsible thing to do.... It does seem to me that Democrats have utterly failed to communicate a clear message to get the American people vaccinated. In fact, I think Democrat [sic] politicians have been a big part of the problem from the beginning."

In case there are any doubts, the GOP senator did not appear to be kidding. Barrasso seriously expects people to believe that Republicans have been stalwart champions of vaccines, while Democrats have failed to communicate "a clear message."

To bolster his point, the Republican leader pointed to Vice President Kamala Harris, during a debate last fall, arguing that Donald Trump was an untrustworthy source for reliable vaccine information.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently pushed the same argument, insisting, reality be damned, "[N]o one did more to undercut public confidence in the vaccine than Joe Biden and Kamala Harris."

Look, I get it. The far-right message machine has helped persuade far too many Republicans not to get vaccinated; prominent GOP voices are finding this both embarrassing and frustrating; so relentless partisans like Barrasso need to think of a way to shift the blame to Democrats, whether it makes sense or not.

But reality keeps getting in the way of mindless talking points.

As we discussed last week, what Biden and Harris actually said before the election is that they'd gladly embrace vaccines once they're approved by scientists and relevant public-health officials and agencies. They weren't willing to simply take Trump's word for it, which made sense given the failed former president's habit of uncontrollable lying and repeated failures in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

But the leap in logic is just as problematic. To follow Barrasso's reasoning, Democratic leaders were skeptical of Trump's credibility last fall, which in turn undermined conservatives' confidence in vaccines several months later.

Indeed, look at the map of where infection numbers are the highest and the vaccination rates are the lowest: among the states struggling most are Louisiana, Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Missouri -- red states with residents least likely to care what Democratic leaders recommend.

If Barrasso were right, and Democrats had "utterly failed to communicate a clear message to get the American people vaccinated" and "have been a big part of the problem from the beginning," we'd see lower vaccination rates in blue states and higher infection rates in blue states. Instead, reality points in the opposite direction.

The whole pitch is bizarre. Democrats have spent the year with the simplest of messages: get vaccinated. Republican leaders, meanwhile, have been all over the place, peddling competing rhetorical lines, embracing conspiracy theories, questioning the reliability of public-health authorities, and deriding mitigation efforts.

In fact, if Barrasso sincerely believes Republican officials "have gone out of our way to encourage vaccinations," perhaps he should have a chat with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), whom GOP senators tapped to lead the Senate Homeland Security Committee for six years.

The result has been a predictable mess, with much of the far-right avoiding vaccinations.

John Barrasso may find these facts inconvenient, but that doesn't make them false.