Politics

Time for Senate Democrats to Isolate!

These people need to act like their favorite child is getting married next weekend.

Chuck Schumer tucks the straps of a black surgical mask behind his ears.
Atta boy, Chuck! Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

In a surprise to just about everyone, Sen. Joe Manchin—the man who has been almost single-handedly obstructing action on climate change by refusing to support any version of Democrats’ Build Back Better agenda—announced Wednesday evening that he and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had reached a deal. The revised legislation would be the biggest step the U.S. has ever taken toward combating climate change by a long shot, and possibly one of the most significant pieces of climate spending in the world.

Advertisement

The bill’s passage is far from guaranteed, though.

First, it has to jump over a few hurdles: The Senate parliamentarian has to give it the thumbs-up. Various other fickle members of the House and Senate will need to put their egos aside and support it. The fragile coalition will need to survive an onslaught of Republican amendments.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

But there’s another, more banal threat looming over this legislation: that wily little coronavirus that’s been mucking up our best-laid plans for two years and counting.

With only 50 Democrats in the Senate, the party needs every single member to be sitting in the chamber, preferably alive and upright, and ready to support this thing when it comes up for a vote.

Advertisement

Lest you think I’m being paranoid about one of them missing the vote because they are out sick, consider that several senators are currently down for the count. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (a Republican, so not really of much concern as far as passing this bill goes, but best of luck to her) is recovering from COVID at her home in Alaska. Manchin himself is actively sick with the virus as well. This morning, on a Zoom press call to discuss the bill, he was taken by a dry coughing fit so bothersome that he had to step away to get a drink of water. (“You gotta hydrate all the time,” he said.)

And the majority whip, Sen. Dick Durbin—whose job description literally requires him to run around the Capitol leaning in and whispering and cajoling and bellowing and emphatically clearing his throat and just opening his mouth in close proximity to every Democrat in the Senate until he gets a final vote count—also announced this morning that he has tested positive for COVID-19. Here’s a video of him speaking unmasked, and sounding more than a little hoarse, tired, and dry-mouthed, on the Senate floor two days ago.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Yes, any COVID-infected senators will surely get Paxlovid, in addition to the most attentive medical treatment money and power can buy. But also, the average age of a Democratic senator is approximately 99 (I’m rounding, here). So it is my professional opinion that they should all stop getting COVID, starting now, until Joe Biden signs the climate bill into law.

Advertisement
Advertisement

How can they manage this task? Well, they need to start acting like their favorite child is getting married next weekend. They need to behave as if, eight days from now, they are scheduled to fly to Genoa to make a pilgrimage to their ancestral homeland and meet an elderly long-lost relative who may not survive until autumn. Or, they could pretend that their best friend in the whole wide world is leaving on a yearslong, super-dangerous trip to outer space, and that their only chance to hug her goodbye is next Friday.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Or, honestly, more to the point—they should act like they are about to visit the last unmelted glacier on Earth, or the fast-warming Great Barrier Reef, or a centuries-old grove of Sequoia trees that are about to be consumed by a wildfire—and also, they’ve already put down a $50,000 non-refundable deposit for the trip. (…Is that a lot to a senator? If not, make it a cool million!) Mostly, they have to act like they absolutely cannot get COVID in the near future, to ensure a livable future for us all.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Because these are the stakes for the Senate Democrats who have been pushing like hell for a climate action and groaning about Manchin’s obstinance. If they actually want to see this bill pass before the upcoming recess, while they still have momentum on their side, the time is now: Put on a good mask. Preferably, a big, dorky respirator that looks like it has no business being in the Capitol building.

Advertisement

At the very least, don’t even think about showing up to the Phish show or the sip ‘n’ paint event this weekend. Leave public entertainment to those who have not been tasked with keeping the world’s floods, hurricanes, droughts, extinctions, mass human displacement, and mosquitoes to a minimum.

Democrats have an advantage here. They will face little to no backlash from their constituents if they try to avoid getting COVID for the next few weeks. Republicans? Their political careers depend on their indifference to the virus. So, Senate Dems: Work smarter, not harder. Stop breathing other people’s breaths for a few short weeks. And, while you’re at it, take Manchin’s advice: You gotta hydrate!

Advertisement