Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the vast majority of Republicans in Congress have viewed the public health measures taken to stop the disease’s spread with suspicion if not outright scorn. We’ve witnessed the GOP members rally against vaccine mandates , mock the ideas of wearing masks sometimes even question the virus’s lethality .
There is, however, one public health response Republicans loved, despite no evidence that it has had a major impact on the course of the pandemic: a rule known as Title 42. They’re now willing to take on federal funding to cover every Covid response, or try to shame Democrats.
In March, the White House informed Congress that the Federal Government was running out of money for Covid vaccines and tests. The Republicans laughed and demanded receipts to see how the past Covid funds were spent. This request caused extra pandemic funding not to be included in Congress’ March major spending bill.
Last month, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced they’d come to a deal to provide $10 billion in supplemental funding for Covid prevention and treatment efforts. Half of that money would go toward “the development and purchase of therapeutics — potentially eliminating the need for future vaccine and mask mandates,” Romney said in a statement at the time.
Schumer said in a statement that while the package didn’t include the $5 billion in international Covid aid Democrats wanted, it would nonetheless “give the federal government — and our citizens — the tools we need to continue our economic recovery, keep schools open and keep American families safe.”
It should have been a slam dunk win for bipartisanship, an example of each side giving a little for the greater good. Some Senate Republicans saw an opening between now and then.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDP) implemented the public-health rule. This allowed officials at the border to refuse asylum seekers seeking protection in the United States. This rule was created in the belief that an increase in border security was necessary to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. About 4,000 migrants crossing the border to seek asylum are immediately turned back every day thanks to the rule, a number that is expected to increase if Title 42 is lifted and prompts more migrants to attempt the crossing.
But the CDC recently announced, after consulting with the Department of Homeland Security, that “suspending the right to introduce migrants into the United States is no longer necessary.” And so the administration plans to lift the order as of May 23.
Republicans find the idea that America would actually go back to the immigration rules from March 2020 infuriating. In response, Senate Republicans are now “filibustering the bipartisan Covid relief bill unless the Democratic-controlled chamber votes on an amendment to reimpose” Title 42, NBC News reported on Thursday.
Republicans clearly see holding the Covid money hostage as a win-win: Either the money doesn’t get spent, which is no skin off their nose, despite the deaths it could prevent; the Democrats hold the vote and the GOP’s amendment passes, providing them a policy win; or the amendment fails, and Republicans get to harangue Democrats who voted against it in campaign ads ahead of the midterms.
Senate Democrats are considering tying the Covid package to Biden’s requested $33 billion in aid to Ukraine, a cause that both parties actually support. Republicans, however are cautious about any possible linkage. Romney said to NBC News that he thinks “each bill would have a greater chance of being passed if it were separated and if each could be amended.” )
Nowhere have I mentioned Republicans making the case that there is a public health argument for keeping Title 42’s restrictions.
Although the GOP’s bill passes the Senate, the amendment would have to be sent to the House where Republicans are less likely to support the Covid spending. House Democrats would also find voting to put Title 42 back into place anathema, especially given that there’s no public health argument for doing so.
That last point is key because, as you may have noticed, nowhere have I mentioned Republicans making the case that there is a public health argument for keeping Title 42’s restrictions. Instead, the GOP has been stoking fears of a surge in migration at the border that some have called a coming “invasion.” That rhetoric has always played well, and Democrats have never really challenged it, instead constantly operating inside the GOP’s “border security above all” framework.
It’s not really surprising, then, to see the Republicans’ priorities laid so starkly bare. It’s not a concern that a new Covid variant will appear, nor are there any concerns about what might happen if Americans require another dose of the vaccine booster. The idea that people of color might use their legal rights to escape violence or oppression is not a good one. This is something we must stop, even if it leads to more deaths and sickness in the country.
Hayes Brown is a writer and editor for MSNBC Daily, where he helps frame the news of the day for readers. He previously worked at BuzzFeed News, and has a degree from Michigan State University in international relations.