(CNN) — The omicron variant may be showing the first hopeful signs of passing its peak. But the political rage of covid-19 is only intensifying, and given its future electoral implications, it seems certain that it will outlast the pandemic itself.
After two years of poisonous partisan bickering over the crisis, new battles are breaking out across the country.
- In New York state, the requirement to wear masks indoors is back in force, after an appellate judge stayed a lower court ruling that had overturned it. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul praised the court for temporarily blocking a decision previously celebrated by conservatives for “siding with common sense.”
- Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is punishing the federal government for cutting two monoclonal antibody therapies because they don’t work against omicron. The White House called this latest pandemic eruption from the rising star of the Republican Party “insane.”
- New Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of local school district mask mandates. Although he campaigned for parental choice, he also said before taking office that he would not prevent local officials from enforcing their own rules. But by undermining local districts, he has now effectively pivoted toward former President Donald Trump’s base, while technically keeping his word. Some school districts and parents are fighting back in court, but even an eventual defeat of the state’s new governor could establish his credentials with the party’s populist base. And since a second consecutive term is constitutionally barred, Youngkin is free from re-election concerns and can look ahead to a possible political future.
- The White House on Tuesday abandoned the fight for its rule that requires vaccines and tests for employees of large companies after the conservative Supreme Court annulled them and eliminated one of President Joe Biden’s key weapons in the fight against omicron and any future variant.
- And one of the original breakups of the modern Republican Party, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin made headlines after allegedly flouting Manhattan’s vaccination mandates at an indoor restaurant and later testing positive for the virus, delaying her trial for libel against The New York Times that had brought her to town.
A defining trait of conservatism
The pandemic was always destined to pour oil on America’s scorched-earth policy. In no other Western country is the struggle between government power and individual rights so acute. It has been in America’s DNA since before the revolution and has been steadily compounded by the extremes of a two-year crisis since Trump denied the true danger of the virus and tried to force the entire country to open up at the height of the crisis. of its deadly first wave.
The confrontation over Covid-19 precautions has now become a defining feature of the conservative movement. It channels the fervent resistance to governance and hatred of East Coast elites — in this case, public health officials — that has long inflamed Trump’s base. That means any GOP politician with aspirations in presidential politics must go down well with the party’s most ardent supporters by embracing their pandemic dogma like masking resistance, vaccine skepticism and claims of tyrannical federal power.
The willingness of Republican hopefuls like DeSantis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and now Youngkin to play conservative media gallery on the pandemic boosted their careers. But it is also a path that cost thousands of lives. Most of the patients who die from the omicron variant right now are not vaccinated. And the data shows that the risk of dying from covid-19 is higher in red states.
But if the wave of omicron becomes the final explosion of the pandemic, the costs to political leaders resisting government and public health guidelines for partisan purposes are also reduced. And Republicans with their eyes on higher office may be even more tempted to rack up points that can be cashed in during future primaries.
A new calculation of risk
The latest infectious variant also introduced a new dimension to the politics of the pandemic.
Generally less lethal to the vaccinated and boosted, but much more transmissible, omicron has blurred ideological lines on pandemic precautions. As new political clashes unfold, and elected officials try to keep their health systems from being overwhelmed, Americans are clinging to a sweet spot of acceptable risk.
Many people, at least those without young children who cannot yet be vaccinated, are reconsidering the harsh regimens against Covid-19 and the limits they have placed on their behavior away from home. The partisan divide between Liberals, who are more likely to adhere to government restrictions, and Conservatives, who constantly push to remove them, may become less sharp. And parents’ desperation to keep schools open after two years of their childhood have been ripped from them is adding an even more emotional note to the issue of masking in schools, on both sides of the ideological divide.
Republicans aren’t the only ones fretting about the political implications of a pandemic the president hoped would be history after promising to stamp out the virus as a candidate. The hopes of Biden and his Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections in November may hinge on a swift economic turnaround after months of Covid-related growth hits and spikes in inflation. Only an unexpected and quick return to normalcy this summer will allow Biden to fend off attacks from Republicans, who are exploiting the public’s weariness with the virus and its economic fallout as part of the electoral argument that the president and his party are out of it. wave and they are incompetent.
A confrontation over covid-19 in the Sunshine State
DeSantis’ defiance of the federal government’s public health advice has likely made him a top contender in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, if Trump doesn’t run and assuming the governor wins his own re-election race this year.
This Monday, he lashed out at the Biden administration after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed the emergency use authorization for two treatments against covid-19 with monoclonal antibodies . The move effectively meant that the therapies could not be used, as they were found to be less effective against the omicron variant, which is causing almost all infections in the United States.
But DeSantis, who has consistently opted for politics over science cited by federal officials during the pandemic, said the decision was made “without a shred of clinical data” and deprived Floridians of effective treatments. Fighting back, White House press secretary Jen Psaki accused DeSantis of being part of a group of right-wing politicians and social media commentators who espouse pseudoscience.
“Let’s take a step back to realize how far-fetched this is,” Psaki told reporters on Tuesday.
“What the FDA is making clear is that these treatments… that the governor is fighting for… don’t work against omicron and have side effects,” he said. “We’ve sent them 71,000 doses of treatments that are effective against omicron, and they’re also effective against delta, and they’re still defending treatments that don’t work.”
Former White House senior adviser for the COVID response, Andy Slavitt, warned Tuesday on CNN’s “Newsroom” that DeSantis’ latest stance was “consistent with the kind of quack armchair medicine that politicians have been practicing for the entire pandemic.” He also criticized the governor of Florida for not doing more to defend booster injections, which are unpopular with sectors of the conservative base despite the fact that Trump has spoken out in support of them and that they greatly reduce the chances of hospitalization and death from covid. -19.
Controversy in New York
A stay granted by a judge that allows New York’s indoor mask mandate to temporarily remain in place could help ease some confusion about changing coronavirus mitigation measures in the state. Hochul introduced the rule requiring indoor mask wearing in the state as part of intense efforts to curb the spread of omicron. A judge ruled Monday that the state Department of Health did not have the authority to enact that mandate without legislative approval. But New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office filed a motion to stay the ruling. More hearings on the case will be held this Friday.
The controversy over Palin’s visit to New York, meanwhile, injected another partisan twist into the discussion about the power of governments to regulate the behavior of individual American citizens.
The former Alaska governor was seen dining at a Manhattan restaurant called Elio’s on Saturday, something the restaurant’s manager, Luca Guaitolini, confirmed to CNN. Current New York City guidelines require those 12 and older to be vaccinated in order to dine indoors. CNN has contacted an attorney for Palin for comment on the allegation that she dined indoors without being vaccinated. But so far there has been no response. The case raised questions about whether restaurant owners adequately screen vaccination status.
Guaitolini told CNN that he wasn’t working Saturday, but was told by the manager on duty that he had checked 150 to 200 vaccination cards that night.
Biden admits defeat
In another development Tuesday, Biden withdrew vaccine and testing regulations blocked by the Supreme Court earlier this month.
The regulations required companies with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers were fully vaccinated or tested regularly and wore a face covering at work. Conservatives criticized the legislation as an infringement of individual freedoms and an unnecessary impediment to business itself. Biden had viewed the new rule as his best hope of getting vaccine skeptics to finally get vaccinated and ending the pandemic.
But in a huge victory for conservatives, the Court ruled that the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration had overstepped its bounds. The ruling was the latest sign of how Trump’s right-wing majority enshrined in the country’s highest office could reshape American life and how the COVID-19 crisis is setting precedents for the extent of presidential authority in a national emergency.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism