Pandemic Politics


Photo by Harold Mendoza | Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the lives of nearly a million Americans – and had a profound impact on how we live, work, travel, go to school, and our mental health. Two years on, it is now being used to shape the midterm elections – in ways that are inconsistent, and downright hypocritical.

Consider the border. From early on, the pandemic has been used as the reason to keep the borders closed. In March of 2020 under President Trump, the CDC first invoked Title 42: a health emergency measure allowing the quick expulsion of migrants who could theoretically be bringing in a communicable disease.  

But the Biden Administration has kept Title 42 in place – even long after the widespread availability of the vaccine. 

Now under pressure from progressives and immigration activists, it’s scheduled to be lifted on May 23rd, but many Republicans and several leading Democrats are opposing that change. This week a bipartisan group of senators sponsored a new bill to keep Title 42 in place, called “The Public Health and Border Security Act of 2022.”  

Six Republicans were joined by five Democrats:  Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Jon Tester of Montana, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Two of the co-sponsors – Kelly and Hassan – are up for reelection in swing states. Other Senate Democrats who have spoken out against lifting Title 42 include Mark Warner of Virginia, Catherine Cortez Masto of New Mexico, and Raphael Warnock of Georgia. Cortez Masto and Warnock are also up for reelection this year. 

Notable is how rarely we hear the issue of public health in the debate over Title 42. Manchin and Tester are among the only lawmakers to mention COVID in their advocacy. Instead, this is largely a debate about immigration, not public health policy. Ask yourself: is Texas Governor Greg Abbott threatening to bus migrants to Washington D.C. because he is worried about the spread of disease, or is he sounding an alarm about porous borders?  


Many Republicans lobbying to keep Title 42 in place are simultaneously pushing for the end of mask mandates, presumably because the pandemic has passed. And many Democrats apparently agree that the risk of COVID has diminished such that asylum seekers no longer be deterred, but argue that the pandemic still necessitates giving relief to those who owe money for student loans. This week the Biden administration announced a moratorium on federal student loan payments, interest, and collections until August 31, as well as a reset for the roughly 7 million borrowers who are in default. 

Democrats who say the COVID-related border restrictions need to end are arguing that loan forbearance continues due to COVID! And Republicans who say we need to keep border restrictions tied to covid argue that loan forbearance tied to covid is unnecessary!    


The Wall Street Journal looked at hypocrisy on just one side of the aisle when noting this: “President Biden has used the pandemic to justify doing by fiat what he can’t pass through Congress, including his eviction moratorium and vaccine mandate. Now his administration is effectively canceling student debt on the installment plan.” 

It went on to point out that the pandemic loan pause has already cost taxpayers an estimated 100 billion-plus, and the new extension will add another 15 to 20 billion.  

And with everyone back to work who wants to work, when will there ever be a better time for those who owe to resume making payments? 

And what about those who met their obligations. Does anyone else remember the angry Iowa father who confronted Elizabeth Warren on the campaign trail back in January 2020?

Here’s what’s missing: consistency. If you think the pandemic conditions no longer warrant slowing immigration, then it follows that student loan payments can also return to normal.

But if you believe the pandemic requires continued denial of those seeking asylum at the border, then logically we need to provide those who owe on student loans some added time.      

Show me the politicians who apply that sort of critical thinking instead of ideology. 

Michael Smerconish

Using the perfect blend of analysis and humor, Michael Smerconish delivers engaging, thought-provoking, and balanced dialogue on today’s political arena and the long-term implications of the polarization in politics. In addition to his acclaimed work as nationally syndicated Sirius XM Radio talk show host, newspaper columnist, and New York Times best-selling author, Michael Smerconish hosts CNN’s Smerconish, which airs live on Saturday at 9:00 am ET.

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