“They’re killing people.”
President Joe Biden’s shot at social media networks like Facebook over Covid-19 misinformation circulating on their platforms may betray frustration that his success in fighting the pandemic is being undermined by vaccine hesitancy.
Some Republican leaders and conservative talk show hosts are seeking to boost their political profiles and ratings by hyping the government vaccine effort as the actions of a totalitarian government trying to erode American freedoms. And it’s having a terrible toll, as Covid-19 cases shoot up in Republican-led states especially and as it emerges that almost everyone now dying from the disease is unvaccinated. Social media networks, including Facebook, are some of the main venues where the misinformation is propagated. (Facebook isn’t happy and accused Biden on Saturday of lashing out because he missed his deadline to get 70% of adults to take at least one dose of the vaccine by July 4.)
The President’s comment poses an interesting question. Is it time to start drawing a tougher political line against conservatives apparently seeking to undermine the vaccine push that is central to the success of his term?
The White House has made strenuous efforts to depoliticize the pandemic, reasoning that the virus doesn’t distinguish between Democrats and Republicans. Given ex-President Donald Trump’s repeated efforts to undermine public health guidance and to take care of his own political goals rather than public health, it was probably always too much to expect a fresh start. And anecdotal evidence suggests vaccine skeptics are more likely to have their minds changed by their doctor or friends and family than government public health experts or a President they don’t like.
But the pundits and conservative politicians who are attacking the government over its efforts to convince people to save their own lives are not just harming the voters who listen to them. They are prolonging the crisis in the United States and affecting everyone else’s freedom to return to life as normal, especially if high infection levels breed vaccine-evading variants.
So, while public health practice would suggest that adding a partisan note to the vaccine question could be counterproductive, it would not be at all surprising if, at some point, Biden’s patience snaps again.
Dreamers face another nightmare
Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children are in limbo again after a federal judge in Texas ruled that a program shielding them from deportation is illegal and blocked new applications.
The plight of this group — which all but the most extreme immigration hawks agree should be allowed to stay in the US — underscores how the politics of immigration has thwarted sensible policy making for years. Former President Barack Obama took the constitutionally controversial step of establishing a program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, that allowed members of the group — known as Dreamers — to stay and work in the United States.
Trump, who made demagoguing immigration a centerpiece of his political appeal, tried and failed to get the Supreme Court to declare the program illegal. But Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia had launched a new challenge, in another example of the way conservative states are seeking to check liberal policy moves made at the federal level. US District Judge Andrew Hanen, who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, ruled that Congress had not granted the Department of Homeland Security the authority to create DACA and that it prevented immigration officials from enforcing removal provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Biden said he was disappointed in the ruling and pledged his government would appeal. Even Hanen wrote that given the fact that DACA recipients, their employers and their loved ones had come to rely on the program, it would not be “equitable” to terminate it immediately.
But the ruling was yet another reminder that Dreamers are vulnerable to every shifting wind. There is some talk that Democrats may try to embed legislative protections for those affected in upcoming budget bills, but it’s unclear whether such a move would infringe the rules of congressional procedure. Current political tensions over immigration, with Republicans hammering Biden over migrant flows at the southern border, probably augur against any bipartisan action for Dreamers.
It means months more of anxiety for people — many of whom are now adults, brought to the US when they were children — who have effectively known no other home than the United States.
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