President Biden is in a tough spot: He campaigned on the ideas that he had the team to manage a pandemic and that his five-decade career as a Washington deal maker was just the ticket to overcome the country’s political polarization.
That’s not happening, not even a little.
Not only are Republicans resisting Mr. Biden’s push to end the pandemic, some of them are actively hampering it. Republican governors slow-walked vaccination efforts and lifted mask mandates early. In Washington, G.O.P. leaders like Steve Scalise, the second-ranking House Republican — who himself didn’t get vaccinated until about two weeks ago — mocked public health guidance that even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors as “government control.”
There’s little Mr. Biden can do. Nearly a year and a half of pandemic living has revealed precisely who will and won’t abide by public health guidelines.
Just in the last week, in my Washington neighborhood, which has among the highest vaccination rates in the city and voted 92 percent for Mr. Biden, people began re-masking at supermarkets and even outdoors in parks.
In places like Arkansas, hospitals are over capacity with Covid patients and vaccination rates remain stubbornly low. The anti-mask sentiment is so strong that the state’s General Assembly passed legislation forbidding any mandate requiring them. On Thursday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, declared a special session of the legislature to amend that anti-mandate law he signed in April so that schools would be allowed to require masks for students too young to receive a vaccine. Good luck with that, his fellow Republicans in the legislature replied.
That leaves the president in a pickle. As the Delta variant shows itself to be far more contagious and dangerous than previous iterations of the virus, the people he most needs to hear his message on vaccines and masks are least likely to.
Six years of Donald J. Trump largely blocking out all other voices in his party have left Republicans without a credible messenger to push vaccines, even if they wanted to. Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, may be using his campaign money to air pro-vaccine ads in his native Kentucky, but he is hardly a beloved figure within the party and is viewed by its base as just another member of the Washington establishment.
Coronavirus Pandemic and U.S. Life Expectancy
There are certainly other communities of vaccine resisters, including demographics of people who have historically been mistreated by the federal government (and also a small-but-vocal minority of professional athletes and Olympians), but it is Republicans and Republican-run states that have emerged as the biggest hurdle in America’s vaccination efforts.
With little ability to persuade the vaccine-hesitant and little help from the party he had pledged to work with, Mr. Biden and the federal government were left with a move he had resisted for weeks: make life more difficult for the unvaccinated, to try to force them to change their minds.
Which brings us to the president’s news conference on Thursday. Mr. Biden said that, for the first time, all federal employees would have to show proof that they’ve been vaccinated (or else wear a mask at work), submit to weekly testing and maintain social distance.
He stopped short of a vaccine mandate, saying such a requirement was a decision for local governments, school districts and companies. He said that if things got worse, and those resisting vaccines were denied entry from jobs and public spaces, maybe then things would get better.
“My guess is, if we don’t start to make more progress, a lot of businesses and a lot of enterprises are going to require proof for you to be able to participate,” Mr. Biden said.
This maneuver — essentially a shifting of responsibility away from the federal government — is consistent with the way that Mr. Biden often tries to project a hopeful tone while airbrushing the reality of a starkly divided nation.
The market for disinformation in America is larger than ever, with Mr. Trump, despite starting the program that has led to the full vaccination of 164 million Americans, leading the charge to discredit the same program during the Biden administration.
But it wasn’t Mr. Trump and Republicans who ran last year on ending the pandemic — it was Mr. Biden and Democrats who successfully made the election a referendum on managing a once-in-a-century global public health crisis.
Now, just weeks after he celebrated the great progress made against the pandemic, Mr. Biden faces a new wave. And it probably won’t be long before Republicans who have done all they could to resist measures to combat it start to blame the president for not getting the country out of the crisis he pledged to solve.
“SO EXCITED. SO PROUD,” Ka Lo, a Marathon County Board member, wrote in a series of jubilant text messages on Thursday. “IT’S SOOOOOO GOOD!!!”
How much of a boost Ms. Lee’s triumph gives to local efforts for Hmong recognition in Wisconsin remains to be seen. Both Marathon County and Wausau’s City Council have rejected “Community for All” resolutions, leading to a proliferation of “Community for All” yard signs and yet another effort to pass the measure at the county board.
The next vote of the county board’s executive committee is scheduled for Aug. 12.
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