Mitch McConnell: ‘I don’t think it serves any particular purpose’ to counter anti-vaccine lies

Senate Republican leader has repeatedly stated he believes vaccines are safe and helpful, but he refuses to stop his colleagues from spreading lies about them
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. March 15, 2013. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

First published by the American Independent Foundation

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked on Monday why he has not called out members of his caucus for their dangerous anti-mask and anti-vaccine rhetoric. The Kentucky Republican said he did not think speaking out against other people was helpful.

“I don’t think it serves any particular purpose to start criticizing others,” told a reporter at a University of Kentucky event. “I think the best thing for me to do is to say how I feel about it and try to encourage those people who care what I think to do the right thing.”

McConnell, who just Tuesday accused President Joe Biden of “cutting and running from Afghanistan” in “a colossal failure, even by the Administration’s own metrics,” has endorsed face masks and vaccination as ways to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

But many members of his Republican caucus have been actively undermining efforts to curb the spread of the virus and have pushed misinformation.

In December, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin invited an anti-vaccine doctor to testify before a Senate committee on hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial medication shown to be unhelpful and possibly dangerous as a Covid-19 treatment. In May, he objected to “indiscriminate vaccination” against the virus, and in June, he held an event to highlight the supposed health dangers of inoculation.

“This misinformation is putting people at risk and already hurting people,” one Wisconsin physician said at the time.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s editorial board called Johnson “the most irresponsible representative of Wisconsin citizens since the infamous Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy in the 1950s.”

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has incorrectly called mask requirements “antiscience.” He refused to get vaccinated himself, citing his “natural immunity,” and urged other people who have already had Covid-19 to ignore expert advice and skip vaccination.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (TN) said in July that mask requirements are “about power, not science.” On Aug. 18, she falsely claimed that “emotional, psychological, physical health issues that have arisen from children wearing masks.” The American Academy of Pediatricians has recommended “everyone older than age 2 wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.”

Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy told Fox News on Aug. 5 that the Covid-19 is safe and effective, but “if you don’t want to take the vaccine, don’t take it.”

Beyond just rhetoric, several GOP senators have proposed legislation to undermine mask and vaccine requirements. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota filed bills on Aug. 9 prohibiting both.

“My view on vaccines is simple. I got the vaccine because it was the right choice for me. But I also believe in individual freedom,” Cruz explained.

“Efforts by the Biden Administration and its allies to bully or force people to comply with mask and vaccine mandates — even though their guidance has been inconsistent and haphazard throughout the pandemic — will only succeed at infringing upon the rights of the American people,” Cramer added.

Through his leadership PAC, McConnell has contributed thousands to each of those colleagues.