Do Republicans have an alternative to vaccine mandates?

President Biden.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

Here is a suggestion for journalists: Every time Republican officials complain about President Biden's new vaccine mandates — or threaten to file a lawsuit against the federal government — those officials should be asked how they propose to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

You don't like the president's new rules? How would you do better? What's your plan?

Biden's announcement on Thursday of his plan to battle the latest coronavirus surge brought immediate backlash from Republicans. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) accused the president of trying to start a revolt. "Honestly what the hell is wrong with Democrats? Leave people the hell alone," he tweeted. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem piled on with a lawsuit threat against the president. The Republican governors of Texas, Arkansas, South Carolina, Iowa and Arizona made similar criticisms and vows of opposition.

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Vaccine mandates are heavy-handed. At this point, however, they are entirely justifiable. America is once again facing a dire COVID-19 emergency. The country is facing the equivalent of 9/11's death toll every two days. Hospitals across the country are staggering under the pressure of overflowing ICUs. All of this carnage is driven largely by the unvaccinated. The tools to fix the problem, or at least substantially mitigate it, are sitting there unused by the people who need it.

It's a catastrophe that cries out for a solution. Biden, whatever the faults of his plan, is offering one.

Republicans do have the power and responsibility to help bring about solutions — they control the governorships of 27 states, after all. And there are conservative ideas to tackle the crisis. Ross Douthat, the New York Times columnist, has suggested the federal government should offer to write big checks to Americans to entice them to get their shots. Presumably there are other freedom-honoring proposals from the right. But while some GOP governors have made the case for vaccines to reluctant constituents, the party's leading players have mostly devoted their policy energies to campaigning against vaccine passports and mask mandates. The results have been disastrous.

Right now, they're making the problem worse.

The GOP's obstinacy has caused some progressive commentators to conclude the party is actually encouraging COVID's spread to undermine Biden's presidency. I'd like to believe that's not true. Unless Republicans start offering solutions, though, their unstinting opposition will continue to look cynical — and worse, have deadly ramifications for their constituents.

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