This is dumb but interesting when you consider who it’s designed to hurt. Hint: Not Joe Biden.
MAGA types in the House and Senate considered forcing a shutdown to block federal vaccine mandates in December, the last time we had a standoff over government funding. The issue had more traction then because Biden’s OSHA mandate for large employers was still a live issue. Fast-forward six weeks and that’s no longer the case thanks to the Supreme Court.
In fact, just a few hours ago OSHA formally withdrew the mandate. It won’t even try to reformulate it in hopes of passing muster. The federal mandate for private businesses is dead.
But other vaccine mandates persist, like the one for federal workers and the one for staff at health-care facilities that receive money from Medicare and Medicaid. The Court upheld that mandate, 5-4. So MAGA Republicans still have a target if they want to pursue their shutdown gambit.
I’m guessing they will.
“Most Republicans say that vax mandates are tyrannical and foolish, but will they unite before government funding expires on Feb. 18 to pledge not to fund enforcement of these mandates?” [Chip] Roy asked.
“Will at least 10 of the 19 GOP senators who voted to punt last time now stand up for health care workers or not?” he continued. “We’re going to find out.”
In a letter, Republicans plan to tell House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that their party is reaching another crossroads where they “must once again decide whether they will vote to fund a federal government that is enforcing tyrannical COVID-19 vaccine mandates on the American people.”
Signatories to Roy’s letter include Paul Gosar, Lauren Boebert, and several other usual suspects. How excited do you think noted vaccine proponent Mitch McConnell will be to have a big intra-party fight about defunding the government over an issue that’s polling this way?
Forcing a highly unpopular government shutdown to protect a popular vaccine rule would be one of the dumber political plays the GOP has made over the past five years, especially with an election less than a year away. If you’re McConnell or Kevin McCarthy, your strategy from now until November is to play a “prevent” defense, avoiding any mistakes that would let the other team quickly put points on the board. A shutdown engineered by your fringiest members would be the opposite of that, signaling to voters that they can’t trust Republicans to govern responsibly if they hand power to them.
But Roy’s not stupid. He understands all that. So what’s this really about?
Three things, I think. First, it’s a chance for MAGA types in Congress to signal their populist virtue on the cheap. There’s no political cost to broadcasting your opposition to mandates in a draconian way when you know your party won’t let those draconian tactics prevail. Most of the members who end up signing on to Roy’s letter won’t need the extra brownie points with MAGA and anti-vax voters but Roy himself might. Remember that he refused to object to certifying Biden’s victory on January 6, 2021, putting him in the minority of his own caucus. Trump noticed that and hasn’t forgotten. Last summer, Roy’s 2018 primary opponent told National Review, “I have asked Trump for his endorsement to run against Chip Roy. If Trump endorses, I will run, and we will kick Chip Roy’s ass.” That opponent, Matt McCall, lost by just five points in their previous contest.
If you’re Roy, there’s never a bad time to shore up your right flank with gesture politics.
This may also be a ploy by the MAGA caucus more broadly to engineer a new litmus test for Republican candidates in House primaries. Last month WaPo noticed that populists like Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene are hoping to boost their numbers this fall, giving them more influence over the new House majority next year. One way to do that is to force go-nowhere issues like a shutdown aimed at defunding vaccine mandates, knowing that MAGA candidates will embrace that position wholeheartedly while more moderate Republicans will equivocate. Which could be dangerous in a primary.
Former Army Green Beret Joe Kent is running for a U.S. House seat in Washington state held by another Republican, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted to impeach Trump over his role in the events of Jan. 6 at the Capitol.
Kent said he has little interest in fighting with Democrats if he makes it to Congress. Instead, he wants to force Republicans into tough votes, starting with articles of impeachment against President Biden and a full congressional inquiry into the 2020 presidential election, which he says was stolen from Trump.
“A lot of it will be shaming Republicans,” Kent said. “I need to be going after the people in the Republican Party who want to go back to go-along-to-get-along. It’s put up or shut up.”
I support the effort to shut down government funding to stop the tyrannical vaccine mandates, Kent will inevitably say this summer. Why didn’t my opponent?
Finally, the MAGA caucus always enjoys making McCarthy and McConnell squirm by reminding them that they can galvanize populist opinion against the leadership at will. If McCarthy sides with Roy and the rest in their futile bid to force a shutdown, they’ve demonstrated their leverage over him once again. If McCarthy breaks with them, they have a new argument against him next year when it comes time to choose the new Speaker. Why, Jim Jordan surely would have fought for a shutdown if he were in charge of the caucus, the MAGAs will say. And maybe Trump will back them up and decide Jordan would make a better leader after all. Oh well. McCarthy bought the ticket, now he can enjoy the ride.