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Week In Politics: Republicans Urge Vaccine Hesitant Citizens To Get The Shot

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Click on maps of the U.S. showing the rise in coronavirus infections, and you see several states with many counties trending red thanks to the delta variant and low vaccination rates. Just 34% of the population in Alabama is fully vaccinated, and Governor Kay Ivey does not mince words.

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KAY IVEY: Folks supposed to have common sense. But it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks - the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.

SIMON: And on Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urged vaccine skeptics to roll up their arms.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: I want to encourage everybody to do that and to ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice.

SIMON: We're joined now by NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Governor Ivey, Senator McConnell - of course, both Republicans. A number of Republicans this week made a vocal push for vaccinations.

ELVING: That's right. There's been a mini surge of people who decided it was time to be on the right side of history, on the right side of science. And we should say this is more than welcome. It's just what we talked about a week ago, people stepping up in the most affected parts of the country to be advocates for their own people's health. You could call it the coalition of the better late than never. And it is crucial to getting this resurgence of COVID under control.

SIMON: I want to ask about one Republican governor in particular, Governor DeSantis of Florida. He has encouraged vaccinations. At the same time, he's ruled out lockdowns, and he's been critical of new mask mandates like the one in Los Angeles County. In the middle of a health crisis, human crisis, what's his political calculation with one of the worst state surges in the nation?

ELVING: There are some Republican leaders around the country, in Florida in particular, who have prided themselves on resisting some of the mandates from medical authorities, especially coming from Washington. And at least up to now, that fear of coercion has been more important. So now Florida is the No. 1 state for new infections, 1 in 5 of all infections nationwide. But Governor Ron DeSantis still seems to want to continue his feud with Anthony Fauci. And the fight that has been going on for 18 months over who's been right and who's been wrong - that seems to be more important than getting more people to get serious, get masked and get vaccinated.

SIMON: Back to events in Washington, D.C., and infrastructure talks - Ron, I think I've been asking what about infrastructure talks ever since the Roman aqueducts were built (laughter).

ELVING: Or at least the Works Progress Administration (laughter).

SIMON: OK. All right, maybe that's closer. Anyway, Congress has about two weeks left before the summer recess. Where do things stand now?

ELVING: There was a test vote this past week in the Senate, a procedural vote. It did not move the bill forward on the floor of the Senate, but perhaps it did move the backroom conversation to what could be called its last phase. Let's be clear. Right now, this needed bill is at least a temporary victim of the filibuster - very old institution we still have with us, controversial in itself. And all efforts at bipartisanship, all efforts to pass this package as a compromise between the parties have thus far fallen short. Both parties would like to tell the voters that they tried. They would both like to say they tried to bridge the gap. But in the end, both want what they want, and they want vastly different things, and they're willing to risk a great deal to achieve their own ends.

SIMON: Finally, the blowup this week - a select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection so far has just one Republican member, not for lack of effort and a lot of finger-pointing.

ELVING: There's outrage here on the Republican side because the one Republican member of the committee is Liz Cheney, the representative from Wyoming. And she's there as a choice of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She was not chosen by Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. And this week, Pelosi rejected two of McCarthy's choices, so McCarthy withdrew all the others. And here we have one more partisan showdown even on what would seem to be an obvious case, an obvious national need for shared interest and healing.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.