WASHINGTON – (TNS) As schools wrestle with mask mandates and government agencies grapple with in-office work, Rand Paul is promising to pick a fight against continued coronavirus restrictions.
And he’s threatening to gum up work in the U.S. Senate well into the future to make his point.
The junior senator from Kentucky said he’ll introduce amendments to cut funding to government agencies and schools if they don’t operate in person.
Paul’s announcement comes just as the new school year is beginning and coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are skyrocketing again due to the highly transmissible delta variant. The U.S. is averaging more than 100,000 cases a day, while Kentucky is averaging about 1,800 new daily cases.
Still, Paul said he’s fed up with mandates, part-time schooling and changing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I will stop every bill coming through the Senate with an amendment to cut their funding if they don’t come back to work in person,” Paul vowed in a video released Sunday.
He added, “If a school system attempts to keep children from full-time in-person school, I will hold up every bill with two amendments, one to defund them, and another to allow parents the choice of where the money goes for their child’s education.”
Scott Lasley, a former Warren County GOP chairman from Paul’s home county, called the policy “hypocritical.”
“He’s frequently an advocate for decentralizing and allowing locals to make their own policy choices. It contradicts the history of his stated positions,” said Lasley. “I wouldn’t take it as a meaningful policy position. I take it as a political position.”
It’s unclear when Paul wants to deploy this strategy, but the Senate is now on the cusp of passing a sweeping infrastructure funding bill as early as Tuesday. Then the body is poised to immediately consider an even larger $3.5 trillion budget resolution that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is calling “the most consequential piece of legislation” since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal 90 years ago.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is trying to pass both components of President Joe Biden’s agenda before the Senate adjourns for an already delayed August recess.
While Paul’s proposed amendments would likely have little to no chance of passage, they could serve to slow down Senate business at crucial moments, including this fall, when pressure will be on Congress to raise the debt ceiling by the end of September.
For much of the year, Paul has consumed himself with fighting the government’s response to the pandemic, repeatedly confronting Dr. Anthony Fauci in Senate hearings and making media appearances questioning the effectiveness of masks.
While many GOP senators have been working on how $550 billion in new infrastructure should be spent, Paul has been laser-focused on how COVID-19 policies have trampled personal liberty.
The debate isn’t going away, especially with the dawn of a new school year. While students in blue states like California will be required to wear masks when they return to the classroom, other places like Florida have banned any such requirements.
In Kentucky, while the state has recommended masks in schools, there is no mandate. Lexington schools will require masks while many rural districts outside the city will not.
Paul’s latest video sparked a polarizing debate on social media on Monday, leading to several users on Twitter sharing an old photo of Paul receiving a shot in his arm from a doctor. But that image was not a photo of Paul getting the coronavirus vaccination, but rather a booster shot for Hepatitis. Paul has said he will not get a COVID-19 vaccine, claiming he has natural immunity from the virus since he acquired it in 2020.
The CDC recommends that even the previously infected should get the vaccine because it provides better protection than natural immunity. What’s more, it’s unclear how long natural immunity lasts.
What’s exceedingly clear is that Paul doesn’t see any political consequences to a posture that places him well outside the mainstream in Washington.
“I think it’s good politics, it plays well to his base. Certainly overall in Kentucky, it probably sells reasonably well,” Lasley said. “There’s no indication he’s vulnerable in his reelection, so he has the full freedom to do it on a full scale.”
(By David Catanese, McClatchy Washington Bureau via Tribune News Service)