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Republicans appear at a news conference

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) holds a model of a coronavirus spike protein at a news conference on July 22, 2021. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

As Omicron Emerges in US, GOP Accused of Trying to 'Sabotage Our Pandemic Response'

One Democratic lawmaker said Republicans' plot to shut down the federal government over a vaccination rule is "extraordinarily cynical and dangerous."

Jake Johnson

Congressional Republicans on Wednesday refused to drop their threat to shut down the federal government over President Joe Biden's coronavirus vaccination requirements for employers, even after the first case of the Omicron variant was detected in the United States—intensifying concerns of another winter surge.

The House of Representatives has been forced to push back plans for a vote after lawmakers failed to agree on a temporary stopgap measure that would keep the government open beyond Friday, when federal funding expires.

"Republicans must do their jobs and allow a vote on legislation to avert a shutdown."

House leaders are reportedly grappling with disagreements over the duration of the stopgap bill, in addition to confronting a GOP contingent that is threatening to gum up the works over a Biden administration rule requiring employers with more than 100 workers to mandate vaccination or weekly testing. Right-wing federal judges have temporarily blocked the rule from taking effect.

Meanwhile, in the narrowly divided upper chamber, Sens. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah.) are leading a GOP effort to block any funding for the enforcement of the vaccination rule—even if it means shutting down the federal government in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who represents more federal employees than any other member of the House, said in a statement late Wednesday afternoon that "Republicans' plan to shut down the government on purpose to sabotage our pandemic response is extraordinarily cynical and dangerous."

"Vaccines are keeping Americans alive, and they represent the best possible tool we have to fight this pandemic," said Beyer. "Countering vaccination efforts at what may prove one of the most critical moments of the pandemic, with the discovery of a concerning new variant, could have disastrous consequences for the American people and the recovering U.S. economy."

The Virginia Democrat went on to warn that a shutdown would "inflict unnecessary hardship and fear on the families of millions of federal workers and contractors" and "demonstrate to our allies and our adversaries that our government can be stopped from functioning by a handful of ideologues who only care about appeasing the most radical elements in their political base."

“Anti-science Republicans are demanding a choice between a return to the unchecked spread of Covid we had under the previous administration and the bungled, self-destructive governance that led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history," Beyer continued. "Neither of these alternatives is acceptable—Republicans must do their jobs and allow a vote on legislation to avert a shutdown."

More than a dozen Senate Republicans—enough to tank legislation in the upper chamber—vowed last month to "oppose all efforts to implement" the administration's vaccine rule and indicated their willingness to use "every tool at our disposal" to block enforcement.

"We're opposed to the mandate," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told reporters Wednesday. "We don't want the federal government to be able to fund them in any way shape or form."

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) openly called for a government shutdown in a Fox News appearance Wednesday morning:

The GOP's shutdown ploy comes as coronavirus-related hospitalizations are once again on the rise in the U.S. According to a Financial Times analysis of new federal data, there were 58,067 Covid-19 patients in U.S. hospitals on November 30—a 20% increase from the end of October.

On average, the coronavirus is killing more than 900 people in the U.S. each day.

In a statement Wednesday following the detection of the first U.S. case of the Omicron strain—which scientists have described as a "Frankenstein mix" of mutations—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it "has been actively monitoring and preparing for this variant, and we will continue to work diligently with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners to learn more."

"Despite the detection of Omicron, Delta remains the predominant strain in the United States," the agency added. "The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and general prevention strategies needed to protect against Covid-19."

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent argued in a column Wednesday that "when placed in the context of all the other GOP maneuvering on Covid-19, it's hard to discern a broader consistent organizing principle [underlying the shutdown effort] other than opposition to pretty much any kind of collective action that might mitigate the pandemic."

"We all know perfectly well this tendency is rooted in the obsessions of the Trump movement, not in any consistent ideology," Sargent added. "And now it might bring us a government shutdown."

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