Republicans pull back from the Covid brink — for now

Sanity prevailed Thursday night when the Senate overcame an effort by a handful of conservative Republican senators who had threatened to force a government shutdown unless they got a vote on an amendment to defund President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 vaccine mandates.

The vote on blocking the use of federal money to enforce Biden’s vaccine requirements narrowly failed, 48-50, but the brinksmanship that could have thrown the government into chaos on Friday ahead of a midnight funding deadline was another example of how the power of a few has so often seemed to threaten the will of the many in this never-ending pandemic. It showed the lengths to which some Republicans will go to cater to the desires of the less than 30% of American adults who are not fully vaccinated.

Despite strenuous objections to a shutdown from many of their GOP colleagues, who pointed out that Biden’s vaccine mandates are already tied up in the courts, Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Roger Marshall of Kansas argued that they were taking a critical stand for unvaccinated workers in their states who might lose their jobs over their vaccine objections.

“All we wanted to do was have a vote to give a chance to the hardworking mom or dad, soldier, sailor, airman or Marine struggling to put food on the table,” Lee said in remarks on the Senate floor. “I hope with everything in me that when we cast this vote tonight that a majority of us will do the right thing, and that we’ll vote the way that we know we should vote. That we’ll stand with those people who may lose their jobs.”

Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, countered that the pandemic has already killed more than 780,000 Americans — “a higher body count than any war we have ever fought in.” She noted that many businesses with vaccination requirements have seen their vaccination rates rise well above 90%.