Virus Politics

The virus is real and infections and exposures have consequences.

Even as many Republicans, including the leader of the party, try to pretend like the pandemic is either no big deal or even a hoax, the Senator Majority Leader knows better when it matters. NBC news reports: McConnell warns Republican senators to stay healthy or risk their lame-duck agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent senators home Wednesday for Thanksgiving break one day early, in part because of the continued unchecked spread of Covid-19 among his members.

The decision came after Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, 87, tested positive Tuesday. His absence, along with Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s quarantine due to Covid-19 exposure, scuttled a vote on Judy Shelton’s controversial nomination to sit on the Federal Reserve Board.

The Republican Senate leader told members in a closed-door lunch Tuesday to “be careful” and make sure they take the necessary precautions against catching the virus, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said.

Note that the GOP majority will shrink to 52 once they return from break, as Mark Kelly will take over for Martha McSally, since his election was a special election so he immediately takes possession of the seat to finish out the term.

As such, McConnell’s margins are small and even a handful of sick or quarantined Senators could scuttle his ability to legislate in the lame duck session.

There are a lot of items on McConnell’s agenda in the final weeks of the year, including passing a government funding bill by Dec. 11 to avoid a shutdown, trying to find agreement on coronavirus aid and approving final appointments before President-elect Joe Biden takes over the White House in January.

Overall, Capitol Hill does not sounds like a place doing enough in pandemic times:

And some rank-and-file Democratic senators and a bipartisan group of aides are growing more frustrated, concerned and confused with the lack of safety protocols on Capitol Hill, questioning both the Senate leadership and the attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, who has previously advised exposed senators against taking Covid-19 tests and quarantining. The Office of the Attending Physician has not replied to repeated requests for comment.

Aides say there are some efforts that could be taken to protect those in the Capitol, like contact tracing and publishing data about how many on the Hill have contracted the disease.

“It’s not safe here,” one Republican aide said, a sentiment echoed by numerous other aides of both parties. A Democratic aide said there is a sense of disappointment among Senate staffers who feel that the leadership and Office of the Attending Physician are not doing “the bare minimum,” like requiring mask wearing on the Senate floor.

[…]

An unusually tense exchange happened on the Senate floor Monday night when mask politics caused an eruption between Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. Brown asked Sullivan, who was presiding over the Senate, to wear his mask while speaking. Sullivan shot back, telling Brown “I don’t need your instruction.”

There is still no mask mandate in the Senate chamber (there is one on the House floor) or in the House and the Senate office buildings. Signs around the Senate office buildings suggest mask usage.

Quite frankly, there ought to be constant testing and contract tracing along the lines of what organizations like the NFL have done. We don’t need a massive outbreak in the center of our government, especially given the advanced ages of many of the members of congress.

Note:

Seven members of the House and one senator have tested positive for the virus this week alone. In total, at least three dozen lawmakers have contracted Covid-19 since the pandemic began, according to a tally by NBC News.

Update: I forgot to add the following, Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia is in isolation after testing positive for the virus.

FILED UNDER: Congress, COVID-19, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    “I don’t need your instruction.”

    And that remark, in itself, perfectly encapsulates how this has become not a medical matter but a squabble over primacy. Sullivan might as well have said: “You’re not the boss of me.”

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  2. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    We don’t need a massive outbreak in the center of our government, especially given the advanced ages of many of the members of congress.

    Or maybe we do, especially given the advanced ages of many of the members of congress. It might depend on what one’s goals are, sorry to say.

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  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    Stupid is as stupid does.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: you beat me to it.

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  4. Flat earth luddite says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Masque of the Red Death, anyone?

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  5. Lounsbury says:

    Hoist on their own petard.

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  6. gVOR08 says:

    Who is it here that keeps saying you can’t understand Trump unless you accept that he’s a moron? Had he just let the bureaucracy function, signed a few papers when asked, and taken credit for it, he could have been a hero and guaranteed his reelection. But he actually decided to do nothing, not let others do much, and run on doing nothing, because freedumb. And frighteningly, that almost worked.

    A lot of people have died who didn’t have to, and many more are going to. And the economy is taking a worse hit than had we acted rationally. It’s going to take years to dig out of this, and the rest of the mess he’s leaving. And that only if we keep GOPs out of power.

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  7. gVOR08 says:

    And from a strictly consequentialist point of view, the example Grassley would set by dying far outweighs any hypothetical future good he might do. But as it stands, I guess it’s hopes and prayers time. (I’m an atheist, and I’m afraid my hopes are dark.)

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  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: I don’t think that they are any darker than mine. [ETA: 😐 ]

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  9. Teve says:

    @gVOR08: somebody else said it, i just keep repeating it because it has constant explanatory power. The fundamental fact that you need to understand Donald Trump is that he’s a moron.

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  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08: @Just nutha ignint cracker: Mine are black hole dark.

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  11. grumpy realist says:

    And now supposedly a lot of Americans are ignoring the warnings about Thanksgiving travel and going to see Grandma anyway. Whee.

    I wonder at what point the people on the front lines, the doctors and nurses, are going to get fed up and just walk off their jobs? Why should they hang around and rescue people who deliberately put themselves at risk to catch COVID? (Actually, I’m surprised that the hospital lawyers haven’t started going after the patients. I would think there’s a good little case of negligence right there. At some point some lawyer WILL start realising the potential gold in them there hills and all bets will be off. At the moment everyone is feeling sorry for the patients, but as soon as the hospitals get swamped, I suspect we’re going to start seeing a drumbeat for a) triage and b) not rescuing people who deliberately put themselves in harms way.)

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  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    @grumpy realist:

    …some lawyer WILL start realising the potential gold in them there hills and all bets will be off.

    Which is why McConnell is so desperate to get some sort of business immunity from lawsuits in any future covid relief package.

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  13. Gustopher says:

    What triggers a vote for majority leader? Could we get a brief window of Democrats in control with all the Republicans being quarantined?

    I can think of a bunch of bills that should go to Trumps desk for a veto, and there are doubtless some judges to vote down and make restart the process…

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  14. Gustopher says:

    @gVOR08: I believe that is HarvardLaw92 that points that out, having had some exposure to the moron in question.

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  15. gVOR08 says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Grumpy was really talking about action against patients who caught the virus though gross negligence. But there are already IIRC meatpacking plant employees suing their corporate masters. Trump didn’t want to use the Defense Procurement Act to get masks and other PPE, but he did use it to declare meatpacking an essential industry, but I don’t believe that gives them total immunity for abusing the health of their employees. McConnell wants to rectify that oversight. And for all corporations. (If corporations are people, do they catch COVID?)

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  16. Nightcrawler says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Not as dark as mine! I started beating the drum that Grumpy referred to quite some time ago. I feel sorry for the innocent victims. The people who put themselves in harm’s way can choke for all I care. This includes the GOP legislators who enabled all of this.

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  17. Nightcrawler says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I think it’s bound to happen, and I can’t blame them.

    I also wouldn’t be surprised if someone is caught pushing OD’s of morphine to patients who clearly won’t survive, not just to end their suffering quickly but also to free up resources for patients who might make it. Put me on that jury, and I’ll acquit them.

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  18. grumpy realist says:

    @Nightcrawler: Am too lazy to Google-fu it now, but IIRC there’s already been one case in Germany where a medical practitioner has been accused of doing precisely that.

    As I’ve said before, cultures end up with the ethics they can afford. Put that together with the human desire for “fairness” and yah, at some point if this keeps going on our health system is going to break.

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  19. Moosebreath says:

    @grumpy realist:

    “I wonder at what point the people on the front lines, the doctors and nurses, are going to get fed up and just walk off their jobs? Why should they hang around and rescue people who deliberately put themselves at risk to catch COVID?”

    It’s already happening:

    “Nearly 800 nurses at a Bucks County [Pennsylvania] hospital went on strike Tuesday morning over what they describe as dangerously low staffing levels that prevent them from providing high-quality care to patients.”

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  20. Nightcrawler says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Ethics are also highly situation-dependent.

    If you saw a dying animal along the side of the road, crying out in pain and beyond hope, would you shoot it in the head and end its suffering quickly? I would. That’s what’s ethical under that scenario.

    This is why I would acquit anyone who decided to quickly and humanely end the suffering of COVID-19 patients who were beyond hope to free up resources for someone who might live. That’s what’s ethical in that situation. Such people should be provided with intensive mental health care for the trauma they’ve endured, not thrown in prison.

    What’s not ethical is that the ostensibly “most powerful” and “richest” country on the planet has deteriorated to the point where medical personnel are going to be put in that sort of situation to begin with.

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  21. Nightcrawler says:

    @Moosebreath:

    They’re back on the job, for now, without a resolution. But for how long? How long can we push these people before they finally snap and walk out?

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  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Nightcrawler: You may be underestimating the power of the wage trap. Since I was in my 30s–the middle to late 1980s, I’ve heard various economists and financial advisors bloviating about how American’s don’t understand how hard it can be to make ends meet on a mere 3 or 4 hundred thousand. Doctors and nurses may well burn out, but they’re likely to not be able to afford to quit any more than the counterperson at Mickey D’s, Staples, or the line worker at Smithfield’s meat packing plant can.

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  23. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Well, not everyone who contracts Covid-19 has deliberately put him or herself in harm’s way. And what you’re suggesting could establish a bad precedent. Would you deny medical care to the obese? The drug-addicted? The alcoholic? The bulimic? The anorexic?

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  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Nightcrawler: I suspect it is common medical practice for those who are dying. Give them morphine to ease they’re going. They did it with my mother.

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  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I’ve heard various economists and financial advisors bloviating about how American’s don’t understand how hard it can be to make ends meet on a mere 3 or 4 hundred thousand.

    Really? I mean really? Because I made it just fine for decades on $35-45K. Even now my wife and I are doing OK on $45-50K.

    Of course we are perfectly OK with the 1800 sq ft log cabin on 12.5 Ozark acres and driving a beat up Ram pick up and a decent Ford Explorer (i think, it’s a small “suv” that gets 35 mpg).

    Of course no California weather, no Lexuses, no Rolexes, no Italian furniture, no Foie gras every Sunday, but we’re clothed, housed, and fed just fine.

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  26. Nightcrawler says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I’m talking about people who literally have mental meltdowns from the trauma and end up sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth and mumbling to themselves.

    People who are in mental health crises don’t make logical decisions.

    Of course, those people might not walk off the job so much as walk to the nearest bridge and jump off it.

    You can only see so much death and destruction before you just go looney.

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  27. Nightcrawler says:

    @CSK:

    I don’t think he’s referring to a normal scenario, or even what we saw back when the apocalypse first began, in March. He’s talking about a situation where hospitals are literally overrun, which we are going to see in about three weeks, as masses of Thanksgiving travelers get infected, infect others in their community, and decompensate.

    In that sort of situation, personnel are going to have to decide who gets care and who doesn’t, because there won’t be enough resources to treat everyone who comes through the door.

    From the article I linked to:

    “I don’t see how we avoid becoming overwhelmed,” says Dan Johnson, a critical-care doctor. People need to know that “the assumption we will always have a hospital bed for them is a false one.”

    ….

    “We can prepare over and over for a wave of patients,” says [another physician], “but we can’t prepare for a tsunami.”

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  28. grumpy realist says:

    @CSK: If you have a situation where your medical supplies and personnel are limited, then yes, you do start carrying out triage. Usually it’s based on who you can actually help, but that’s because triage is regularly used after a disaster. If you deliberately walked into the disaster? Yah, I can see social consensus making the decision of not helping out people who put themselves in harms way.

    Certain parts of Italy already during their first bout with COVID-19 were making the decision to not to try to save people over 65.

    What’s more likely in the US is that states with open hospital beds will end up refusing to take the overflow from other states that have been much more casual about COVID-19, insisting that the beds need to be reserved for their own inhabitants.

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  29. EddieInCA says:

    Can’t tell you how grateful I am to be in a business where Unions have power. I get tested four times per week, every week. Everyone on our crew is taking it seriously because the unions, Studios, networks, and production companies are taking it seriously.

    We’ve been shooting for six weeks, 300 people working, and we’ve had two positive cases – both asymptomatic cases – and only 14 people into quarantine due to contact tracing.

    I feel safe going to work every day. We follow all the guidelines and we’re broken into pods and groups to avoid a massive outbreak. I can honestly say that if I catch it, the contact tracing will be easy: my wife. that’s it. That is the only person of whom I’m EVER within six feet. Period.

    That the Film and TV business has a better Covid safety protocol than the White House or US Senate is mind boggling to me.

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  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @EddieInCA: That the Film and TV business has a better Covid safety protocol than the White House or US Senate is mind boggling to me.

    Well, Republicans.

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  31. Nightcrawler says:

    @grumpy realist:

    What’s more likely in the US is that states with open hospital beds will end up refusing to take the overflow from other states that have been much more casual about COVID-19, insisting that the beds need to be reserved for their own inhabitants.

    That’s definitely going to be the case, and then, the hospitals in those “casual” states will end up having to do triage.

    I’m glad I’m in Delaware now, and not Florida. Even if I don’t get infected with COVID-19 (and I would refuse treatment for that anyway), I could get into a running accident or have another type of medical emergency. People in states like Florida and South Dakota are going to end up dying of emergencies that could have been treatable if hospitals weren’t overwhelmed.

    While that could happen in Delaware, it’s a lot less likely.

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  32. Nightcrawler says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Proving that companies could prevent massive outbreaks if they wanted to.

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