EDITORIAL: Politics as usual today costs lives

York Dispatch Editorial Board

You’d think a global pandemic that has sickened nearly 700,000 people, including more than 125,000 in the United States, would trigger a united response.

You’d think a domestic death toll that soared past 2,000 over the weekend would focus national leaders’ attention.

You’d think increasingly desperate calls from state governors for medical supplies would rally politicians of all stripes to work quickly and collaboratively.

You’d be dead wrong.

Even as the novel coronavirus continues to explode throughout the nation — including in Pennsylvania, which has seen some 3,300 cases and more than three dozen deaths — too many so-called leaders continue to respond to the unprecedented public-health emergency with business-as-usual blather.

Take Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie. Please!

An ambulance sits parked outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, March 20, 2020.

As the House prepared to vote Friday on a $2.2 trillion emergency package of aid tied to the outbreak, as new COVID-19 cases spiked and health-care workers scrambled for medical equipment and gear, as millions of newly jobless Americans filed unemployment claims, foremost on Massie’s mind was making some misguided point about big government.

He opposed the bill, and attempted to sideline efforts to quickly approve the measure by demanding a roll call vote. That meant House members — many of whom are 65 and older and, thus, at greater risk should they contract the virus — had to trek back to Washington from all over the country, despite advisories in many areas to avoid unnecessary travel. And recall, three House members have already tested positive for the virus.

Massie didn’t get his roll call vote — enough members returned so that they could pass the measure by a simple voice vote — but he got something much rarer in Washington: A bipartisan response. Democrats and Republicans alike denounced the idiotic stunt with President Trump going so far as to say Republicans should throw him out of the party.

The president may be right about Massie but, like the congressman, he too has been unable to put the greater good ahead of his partisan, personal and often petty considerations.

Speaking Friday at the dog-and-pony show that passes for the White House’s daily update on the coronavirus response, Trump suggested assistance to Washington and Michigan be reduced because the states’ Democratic governors haven’t been sufficiently “appreciative.”

Referring to Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump has tasked with overseeing the administration’s coronavirus response, the president told reporters, “I say, ‘Mike, don’t call the governor of Washington; you’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan. It doesn’t make any difference what happens.’ You know what I say: ‘If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.’”

That’s preposterous. Americans are dying, state leaders are looking to the president for, if not leadership — Trump has proven such actions are beyond him — than, at least, assistance, and the president’s recommendation is to ignore them.

“The woman in Michigan,” by the way, is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and, like other governors, she’s been rightly critical of the federal government’s haphazard, sluggish and at times indifferent response to the crisis. Trump’s characteristic reply: Insults on Twitter, including one in which he claims she’s “way in over her head.”

It is, as has become painfully obvious, the president who is out of is depth.

He continues to sow confusion where he should be providing reassurance. He substitutes self-congratulation for sober assessments of the crisis. And he reverts to dismissiveness and division when cooperation has literally become a matter of life and death.

Congressional Democrats, for their part, have been more willing to set aside partisan posturing in deference to a much-needed unified front. Despite misgivings about the emergency bill’s aid to corporations, for example, they nonetheless signed on to assure that assistance gets to small businesses and newly jobless workers post haste.

That spirit of collaboration is needed across the board and across the aisle.

The coronavirus pandemic has stricken tens of thousands, brought much of society to a standstill and thrown the economy into a likely recession. Now is not the time for business as usual.