Opinion: GOP tries to harness anger over COVID

Credit: Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Three years ago, the Coronavirus was just starting to enter our lexicon. While the disputes over mask mandates, school closures, and COVID policies have ended for most Americans, you wouldn’t know that by the debates in Congress this week.

“Mandates are tyrannical,” said U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, as the House approved a series of GOP bills that showcased Republican grievances about COVID policies and vaccine requirements.

“We believe in freedom for Americans,” Greene declared.

“It’s time to get America back to normal,” added U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans.

That’s been the centerpiece of the GOP argument about COVID policies, as House Republicans voted to end national emergencies first declared by Donald Trump, as well as a vaccine requirement for health care groups that get federal dollars.

“These vaccine mandates are not about public health,” U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler said on the House floor. “They’re about control.”

The differences about the virus are clear as day in Congress.

Vaccination is a vital tool,” countered U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., as Democrats said Republicans were confusing Americans about the Coronavirus vaccine.

Just last week, a group of GOP lawmakers — including U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, R-Jackson — rejected an invitation to a reception with President Biden because of COVID testing and vaccination requirements still used by the White House.

Maybe the craziest thing about the bubbling GOP anger over COVID-19 is that the Coronavirus vaccine was developed — in record time — under the direction of President Donald Trump, in what was known as Operation Warp Speed.

But Trump has never been able to sell his Republican supporters on getting vaccinated, and after getting booed in 2021 over it, Trump changed course last year.

“We did so much in terms of therapeutics and a word I’m not allowed to mention,” Trump said at an Alaska rally, without saying ‘vaccine.’ “But I’m still proud of that word.”

The former President certainly has a feel for what his wing of the GOP believes about the virus. And that has sparked talk of a possible battle on the horizon between Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over how each one reacted to the virus outbreak.

In the months ahead, Republicans in Congress plan to focus even more on the Coronavirus, ready to use hearings to harangue the now-retired infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci about the virus response.

Some like Greene have openly called for Fauci to be jailed.

Most Americans have figured out how to live with the Coronavirus, even as several thousand still die each week from it.

But the anger in GOP circles over it only seems to be growing.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com