Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

They Laughed It Off

COVID? Capitol insurrection? The GOP’s deadly denialism.
January 12, 2021
They Laughed It Off
Unmasking themselves.

Delaware Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester had one simple request.

As she barricaded inside a safe room with her fellow members of Congress during the siege waged by MAGA insurrectionists inside the Capitol, she approached a group of Republican colleagues and asked them to wear face masks. After all, it is a pandemic. The same day their lives were threatened by a mob thirsting to hang Vice President Pence, the deadly coronavirus claimed 3,964 American lives.

How did the Republicans respond?

They laughed her off:

Punchbowl Midday: January 8, 2021

They laughed her off like every other clear and present danger posed by the Trump administration. They waved her away. They mocked her, blinded with their denialism, content in their smugness, and haughty in their total lack of concern for the health and safety of others.

It was like a dark and twisted vignette from Mean Girls. (Wear a mask? “You can’t do that. That’s social suicide. Damn, you are so lucky you have us to guide you!”) Only this time, these arrogant juveniles weren’t refusing someone a seat at their table. They were potentially putting their colleagues—including, for all they cared to know, some with special health concerns, or with vulnerable family members—at risk of serious illness.

If the rioters egged on by the president they so proudly supported weren’t going to kill them all, these Republicans don’t care if COVID does.

As of this writing, three Democrats have reported testing positive for COVID, apparently as a result of the lockdown. One of the three, Rep. Pramila Jayapal blasted her callous Republican colleagues:

Another of the members infected last week, Rep. Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), is a 75-year-old cancer survivor. She writes in an op-ed this afternoon, “I was nervous about spending a week among so many people who regularly flout social distancing and mask guidelines, but I could not have imagined the horror of what happened on Jan. 6.”

Sadly, the sickened Democrats shouldn’t expect any sympathy cards, get-well-soon emails, or tweets of humble contrition from the anti-maskers, though.

The nihilistic Trump ghouls aren’t trying to save anybody. Not their country. Not their colleagues. Not even themselves.

Members of Congress can be reimbursed for buying bulletproof vests, but they don’t have any special protective immunity from the virus. As the national death toll continues to climb—it looks all but certain to be above 400,000 by the time Donald Trump leaves office—it would be absurd to think there won’t be more cases diagnosed on Capitol Hill, or to rule out the possibility that a member of Congress could die from it. One elected (but not yet sworn in) representative already has died of COVID: Luke Letlow, a Louisiana Republican elected in November, never made it to Washington to take the oath with the other House freshmen. The married father of two died on December 29 while being treated for COVID. Letlow had no underlying conditions. He was just 41.

Yet just eight days after Letlow died, his Republican fellow travelers blithely refused the offer of masks in a confined space with a large group of other people.

Just as they have refused to acknowledge the peril President Trump put them in on January 6. The five dead people in their place of work haven’t convinced them of the danger the president poses to them, either. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy begrudgingly admitted that Trump bears “some” responsibility for the Capitol riot—but that doesn’t go nearly far enough.

As the MAGA terrorists hunted lawmakers, several Republicans—including McCarthy—desperately tried to call on the White House for help.  They thought Trump would respond to their pleas. Wrong: He was too busy watching it all on TV.

They didn’t understand what was happening.

The president sent his MAGA minions to Congress to hold them hostage. That was the point. So, of course, he didn’t send help; he delighted in the spectacle.

These Republicans still refuse to see what’s happening. It’s much easier for them to wave away the truth—as easy as waving away an offered mask.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.