Voices: With one million dead from Covid, Democrats and Republicans fight among themselves

·4-min read
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (Getty Images)
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (Getty Images)

Washington officially marked 1 million deaths from Covid-19 on Thursday. The heartbreaking statistic resulted from a series of deliberate choices: Donald Trump’s initial dismissal of the virus and subsequent bungling of the response in its first year, Joe Biden’s premature declaration of “victory”, Republican opposition to vaccine mandates, and right-wing media’s peddling deliberate lies and fear about vaccinations (to name a few).

With this in mind, Democrats could have been fully justified if they had decided to rebel and vote against Mr Biden’s proposed Ukraine aid package, which was put to a vote after billions of dollars in Covid relief had been removed. Many Democrats expressed frustration to your dispatcher before the actual vote on Tuesday.

“I think they should be together. I understand why they were taken apart but I wish it hadn’t been so,” Representative Jerrold Nadler told your dispatcher. In the end, he voted for the legislation on Tuesday, as did every other Democrat. Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York, meanwhile, expressed disappointment of a different kind.

“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. A member of the Squad, Mr Bowman voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year out of frustration it passed without passing Build Back Better. But in the end, every Democrat, including every member of the Squad like Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush, all voted for the Ukrainian aid.

The same can’t be said for the GOP. A full 57 House Republicans voted against the bill, among them the usual suspects like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn, Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz. When your dispatcher spoke to Ms Greene on Tuesday in a scrum ahead of the vote, she mentioned the US’s shortage of baby formula. When asked w0hat could be done to fix it, she replied: “Not sending $40 billion to Ukraine/”

Conversely, many Republicans who wound up voting for the package gave non-answers. Your dispatcher caught Representative Rodney Davis coming out of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s office with a can of beer in hand before the vote and asked him whether he’d vote for it. “Know what?” he said, “We’ll find out when I get there.”

The differing attitudes underline how the most progressive and most conservative members of Congress approach governing. Because progressives and Democrats as a whole believe in governing and using government to improve lives, they are more than willing to vote for something imperfect; conservatives, who are skeptical about government action as a whole, will actively oppose legislation whenever they don’t like it. (Note how Republicans have been stalling legislation on Covid-19 as an act of rebellion against the Biden administration’s rollback of a Trump-era pandemic policy on immigration.)

Similarly, on Thursday, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky blocked the $40bn package from passing in the Senate. This came despite the fact that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both requested unanimous consent for the legislation – and even though Mr McConnell was the person who told the president the aid package should pass without Covid-19 relief, his mercurial Kentucky colleague blocked the bill nonetheless.

The whole imbroglio began because Mr Paul wanted an inspector general to oversee how aid to Ukraine is spent. But as Mr Schumer complained, he wasn’t even requesting an amendment as much as he wanted separate legislation. As a result, the Senate adjourned for the week and won’t have a vote on the Ukraine legislation until Monday.

While Mr McConnell – and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for that matter – voted for the legislation or lobbied for it, the revolt within their lower ranks shows how fundamentally different the two parties are.

Last year, amid Democrats’ internal debate about whether to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Representative Stephanie Murphy, a moderate Democrat from Florida, raged against progressives and called them “the never-enough caucus”. But progressive objections are nothing when compared to the conservative ground troops’ willingness to outright oppose their own leadership.