Voices: Covid is taking over Washington again — and that means delays on important legislation

·3-min read
Joe Manchin and Lisa Murkowski (EPA-EFE)
Joe Manchin and Lisa Murkowski (EPA-EFE)

Senator Joe Manchin announced yesterday that he had tested positive for Covid-19; not long afterwards, Senator Lisa Murkowski announced she too had tested positive and was experiencing flu-like symptoms. The two both said they will self-isolate in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines.

Of course, this all comes while President Joe Biden is isolating due to Covid. And Manchin and Murkowski are just the latest Senators to be laid low with the virus. Last week, It was the turn of Delaware’s Tom Carper and Minnesota’s Tina Smith; earlier this month, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tested positive, forcing him to wrangle the not-yet-infected Manchin from a distance as he tried to get the recalcitrant Democrat on board with the majority’s forever-delayed social spending bill.

For Washington, the flurry of Senators testing positive for Covid is a reflection of a hard truth: the pandemic is not over, and DC isn’t doing much to stave off its worst effects any more. A few months ago, after promising negotiations, the Senate failed to pass legislation to fund therapeutics and vaccines, largely because Republicans rebuffed Democrats after the White House rolled back the Trump administration’s pandemic-era restrictions on immigration.

Washington then missed another chance to combat the pandemic when the Senate decided to have a vote on aid to Ukraine without including Covid relief, this at the insistence of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Biden accepted the terms; military aid to Ukraine passed with the support of every single House Democrat, but Covid relief has been long forgotten.

During that House vote, Representative Jamaal Bowman told your reporter that he hoped Republicans would eventually let the Covid measures through Congress. “You know, I hope Republicans don’t backtrack and hang us out to dry and we don’t move on Covid aid, because we need Covid aid as well,” he said. But that was two months ago.

Since then, the White House, recognizing that the public largely no longer thinks as much about Covid as it does about, say, rising gas prices, has tried to signal that everything is fine. Prolific tweeter and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain shared an op-ed penned for The Washington Post last week in which physician Leana Wen wrote that Covid “is a manageable disease for almost everyone, so long as they use the tools available to them” and that it’s “crucial to test as soon as someone develops symptoms, and if they’re positive, to isolate right away.” Except that isn’t an option for many people who do not have the luxury of working from home, and who certainly don’t enjoy as sumptuous a home office as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or a houseboat called Almost Heaven.

And while many Senators can afford to self-isolate, that doesn’t mean that their doing so isn’t a massive inconvenience. Democrats are hoping to pass their major prescription drugs bill through reconciliation, but with Manchin out of commission, they need to wait a few days.

Even once Manchin comes out of isolation, Democrats still need to bet that nobody else gets sick – since unlike the House, it doesn’t have proxy voting.

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