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Democrats livid over GOP's COVID-19 attacks on Biden

Democrats are up in arms this month over GOP charges that President Biden is to blame for the prolonged COVID-19 crisis.

They argue that Republicans, from former President Trump to his most vocal allies in Congress and in state capitals, bear plenty of responsibility for public resistance to masks and vaccines, noting the opposition to those leading mitigation efforts comes overwhelmingly from the right.

The criticism of masks and vaccines has sabotaged Biden's efforts to get the nation past the pandemic, some argue.

"They've done everything possible to ensure that we can't get past it," Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) said of the Republicans. "They've fought mask requirements, vaccine requirements. They've spread misinformation. They have amplified dangerous conspiracy theories. 

"There is one group to blame in this country for the continued spread of COVID," she added, "and that's those actors who have done each and every one of those things."

The pandemic is a factor in Biden's falling approval ratings and the worries Democrats have over next year's midterm elections. Pandemic fatigue is a huge political problem for the party, which feels as if it faces a Catch-22 since the pandemic is less likely the end the more people avoid vaccinations or even booster shots.

Biden and his health team are scrambling to contain the spread of the virus, an effort complicated by the recent arrival of the new omicron variant, which originated in South Africa and surfaced this week in several states.

As health experts race to determine the severity of the new threat, GOP leaders have put the fault squarely on Biden, accusing the president of politicizing the crisis with vaccine mandates while failing to honor a central campaign promise of bringing the virus under control.

"I know President Biden promised America that he could handle COVID," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Friday in the Capitol. "More people have died from COVID this year than last year."

GOP lawmakers, conservative news outlets and right-wing activists have led the charge against the push for universal vaccines and mask requirements - steps seen as vital, in the eyes of the country's top public health experts, for containing the global pandemic.

Most recently, a handful of Senate conservatives threatened to shut down the government in an effort to defund Biden's vaccine mandate for private employers. And House Republicans voted near-unanimously against that government funding measure, many of them to protest the same vaccine requirement.

Other GOP leaders have publicly backed vaccines, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a polio survivor who has aired public service messages pressing for vaccinations. A majority of Senate Republicans also disliked the strategy by a minority of their members to hold up this week's funding bill.

Yet a majority in the GOP in Congress also appeal solidly against the vaccine mandates Biden has pursued for government workers, businesses and healthcare workers, and it is increasingly moving to the center of the political debate.

"We should not fund tyranny over the American citizens," Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said Thursday just before the House vote on the funding bill.

The opposition has sparked an outcry from the president's Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, who are firing back at the Republicans for doing too little to encourage their supporters to do their part to contain the virus's spread. 

"It's definitely hypocrisy," said Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.). "The Republicans - the party that's supposed to be for individual responsibility - is not taking the responsibility of telling the people that are within their communities, within their districts and states, to take the step that's in line with that philosophy, which is to become vaccinated to control the pandemic."

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), former head of the Progressive Caucus, predicted the GOP's "blame Biden" campaign will backfire, citing the unprecedented nature of the global pandemic and the limited audience the message is targeting. 

"Most people know that this is not the federal government's problem, what's happening potentially with a variant in another country being spread by people watching Fox News in the United States. ... That's a problem on their side," he said. "Don't forget, almost all of their messaging these days is to an audience of one - Donald Trump."

Researchers have found that, while racial disparities persisted through the early days of vaccine distribution, those discrepancies have largely disappeared in the subsequent months. But partisan differences have become only more pronounced. 

A report released last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that, among adults who identify as Democrats, 90 percent say they've received at least one dose of the vaccine, versus 61 percent of Republicans. The results reveal that "Republicans make up an increasingly disproportionate share" of the nation's unvaccinated population, the researchers reported, and that "political partisanship is a stronger predictor of whether someone is vaccinated than demographic factors such as age, race, level of education, or insurance status." 

"These results suggest substantial challenges for any efforts to further increase vaccine uptake among U.S. adults," KFF warned

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), a co-chairman of the GOP Doctors Caucus, is among the Republicans who's given full-throated endorsement to vaccines while leading district-based efforts to encourage constituents to get them. But Burgess suggested the poll numbers are inaccurate and the vaccination rate is not as partisan as they indicate. 

"I know in my part of the world it's not. We've got a very good vaccine hub set up and good participation," he said. 

The problem, Burgess maintained, is Biden's mandate, which has stolen the appetite of some conservatives to get the vaccine at all. 

"When you try to force things, that's what you get," he said. "That was wrong by the administration. ... And they knew that." 

Trump, whose administration oversaw the development of the three vaccines currently in use, piled on this week, saying there's a simple reason for the ongoing vaccine hesitancy: "No one trusts this administration."

It's an argument that's been roundly rejected by Democrats, who contend the Republicans are merely deflecting blame for the recalcitrance of their own supporters. 

"By blaming it on Biden - at the same time not taking personal responsibility of their own actions, which is telling their people to get vaccinated - they're just keeping the pandemic going a lot longer," Gomez said, "which in the end it's going to devastate the red states by greater amounts than the blue states."

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), a physician, also warned of the regional disparities.

"This increasingly is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," he said. 

With the arrival of the omicron variant, there are some signs that the dam of hesitancy is breaking. A Morning Consult poll released on Tuesday found that, in light of the new strain, 30 percent of unvaccinated adults are now more open to being inoculated

"We hope that's true," Biden said. 

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