Nearly half of House Republicans still won’t say publicly whether they are vaccinated against Covid-19, even as new cases rise nationwide.
Some of the 97 Republicans who aren’t sharing their vaccination status told CNN they don’t have a responsibility to model behavior to their constituents.
“I don’t think it’s anybody’s damn business whether I’m vaccinated or not,” Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas told CNN. “This is ridiculous, what we’re doing. The American people are fully capable of making an educated decision about whether they want to get the vaccine or not.”
Over the past few months, CNN has sent multiple inquiries to members of Congress and reviewed public statements but is unable to confirm the vaccination status of almost half the Republican conference.
Still a few of them offered some explanations during hallway interviews with CNN this week.
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida told CNN “that’s very nosy of you,” when CNN started asking about his vaccination status, but the congressman cut off the question before it got to whether or not he was vaccinated.
“I think we should be talking more about freeing Britney,” he added.
Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Republican from Georgia, told CNN he couldn’t believe that reporters were asking about his vaccine status.
In the Republican Senate conference, 46 of 50 senators confirmed to CNN that they are vaccinated. Only two refuse to say if they are not vaccinated: Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota.
“I don’t feel like it is my job to encourage people to do something that they don’t want to do,” Cramer said.
More and more Republicans are starting to endorse the idea of other Americans getting vaccines, but that doesn’t mean every Republican wants the public to know their own personal vaccine status.
To be sure, the needle is starting to move ever so slightly. Since CNN last reported on members’ vaccination statuses in May, CNN has learned of 17 more House Republicans had been vaccinated.
CNN confirmed that 114 of 211 Republicans in the House have been vaccinated, meaning 54% of the conference.
And their persistent silence stands out even more this week, as the Delta variant rages across the country and has even made its way to Capitol Hill.
Pushed on if he was worried about the virus spreading or mutating the longer people wait to get vaccinated, Cramer said, “Nah, I don’t. You know me, I haven’t been worried about this since the beginning.” He added later, “I am a policy maker, I am not an educator.”
“There is this fixation on certain things and vaccinations are one of them,” Cramer said. “None of the treatments or therapies have ever been given any credit … and people intuitively know that is not right.”
And then there are the select few that go further than not disclosing their vaccine status by stating they don’t plan to get vaccinated at all. Two GOP senators, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul of Kentucky, confirmed to CNN that they are not vaccinated. And in the House, Thomas Massie of Kentucky is the only member since the vaccine became widely available to confirm to CNN that he was not vaccinated.
Co-chair of the GOP Doctor’s Caucus Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland told CNN members not sharing their vaccine status does not impact positive messaging around the vaccine.
“I would say not at all,” Harris said. “Look, we believe in health privacy.”
Freshman Republican Peter Meijer of Michigan, who has been open about being vaccinated and encourages his constituents to do so, told CNN that while it is his colleagues’ choice whether or not they want to get the vaccine or disclose it, “I think individual leaders should do right by those who support them. And in my view, that’s, being upfront and honest. And it’s also not doing anything that may harm those individuals.”
As silence on vaccine status remains, misinformation looms
The silence from some Republicans does even more damage when considering the extent of misinformation that some Republican lawmakers are spreading.
Freshman Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene was temporarily suspended from Twitter on Monday after sharing misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines. Greene, along with fellow freshman Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, have also invoked Nazi-era imagery to mock President Joe Biden’s latest Covid-19 vaccination efforts.
Sen. Ron Johnson, one of the two non-vaccinated GOP senators, has repeatedly spread vaccine misinformation, including a news conference in June and on a right-wing radio show in May.
On his colleagues who spread misinformation about Covid vaccines, Meijer told CNN, “I don’t know why some, especially on the fringes, are doing the equivalent of telling folks not to wear seatbelts when we’re suffering tremendous amounts of highway fatalities. I mean, your voters are believing this.”
“So, there’s a moral and humanitarian imperative to be upfront and honest,” Meijer said.
“At the end of the day, every leader is going to be accountable for his or her own actions.”
‘It’s not too late’: Some Republicans make last-minute push for vaccines
While a significant portion of elected Republican lawmakers remain silent about their vaccination status, many lawmakers have started to speak out more solidly in favor of the Covid-19 vaccine in an effort to combat the misinformation and hesitancy circulating within their own party.
In the latest sign that Republicans are increasingly shifting messaging strategies on the necessity, safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, Minority Whip Steve Scalise announced he had finally received his first shot this week and went on Fox News to encourage others to get vaccinated before it was too late.
Scalise said he got the Covid-19 vaccine now because of the rising number of Delta variant cases and that he waited this long because he had antibodies from a previous infection. While antibodies from previous infections do make getting infected again less likely, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that even people who have been previously infected should still get vaccinated.
“I had the antibodies but ultimately with this new Delta variant you’re seeing, I’ve toured a lot of hospitals in the last few weeks and you’re seeing the cases go up,” Scalise said on Fox on Wednesday, pointing out that the overwhelming majority of people who are getting hospitalized for Covid-19 are not vaccinated.
Even though Scalise waited so long to get vaccinated, he said, “I’ve always felt it was safe and effective.” CNN reported that Scalise received his first vaccine shot Sunday.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a polio survivor, has long advocated for vaccines and has talked about vaccines during multiple visits to his home state of Kentucky, but on Tuesday, he issued one of his fiercest calls to get vaccinated yet.
“These shots need to get in everybody’s arm as rapidly as possible, or we’re going to be back in a situation in the fall that we don’t yearn for, that we went through last year,” McConnell said Tuesday. “I want to encourage everybody to do that and to ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice.”
“I think you should be vaccinated,” Republican Rep. James Comer of Kentucky later pleaded to viewers on CNN Wednesday. “It’s not too late.”
As part of the growing chorus from Republicans urging their supporters out about the need for Covid-19 vaccines, the GOP Doctors Caucus held a news conference on Thursday with Scalise and Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik to discuss the impact of the Delta variant, but the focus was more on wanting to uncover the origins of Covid than on encouraging vaccine efficacy.
This rise in enthusiasm for vaccines among GOP House members, as cases climb and vaccination rates stall, comes as Republicans face an uphill battle in getting their own constituents vaccinated.
Each state that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 has fully vaccinated fewer than half of its residents, according to the latest data from the CDC. In those states, an average of 42% of people are fully vaccinated, compared to an average of 54% fully vaccinated in states that voted for President Joe Biden.
GOP Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas said on Thursday that all Republicans have a responsibility to encourage people to get vaccinated.
“We all do,” Burgess said. “Look – down in my part of the world, is probably the heart of Trump country, where’s the best place to open a vaccine hub? A NASCAR racetrack. And we did. And it ran for months, and the vaccination rate was incredible. Now the hard part is getting that last mile of people who need vaccinations.”
For some Democrats, the Republican evolution in messaging, which has been drastic across conservative media as well, is too little too late.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said he thinks many of his Republican colleagues in the Senate have handled the vaccine issue responsibly, but he’s argued GOP members in the House have been complicit in allowing misinformation to spread.
“There is no doubt that a big swath of the national Republican Party is sending an anti vaccine message to their base,” Murphy said. “It is not the Senate Republicans, but the House Republicans have been criminally negligent when it comes to how they have approached the vaccination campaign.”
Some Republicans that have pushed for Covid vaccines all along
Although a significant portion of the Republican conference has been slow to get on the bandwagon, some Republicans have made the push to get their constituents vaccinated an ongoing fight.
“It is discouraging that so many people remain unvaccinated. I am a big fan of vaccinations. I had a personal experience with that in my own life and it is pretty clear from all the evidence that if you get the disease, you are much more likely to survive it if you get vaccinated,” McConnell told CNN last week.
Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, told CNN that he, too, has been making a vaccine push back home, teaming up with his Democratic colleague Sen. Jon Tester to encourage people to get the shot in a public service announcement.
“It is important we try to get the message out there in as many avenues as possible. Some people trust Steve, some people trust me,” Tester said.
Freshman House Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, who took to the House floor on Wednesday to reassure that the Covid vaccine is safe and effective, is a doctor who has administered vaccines to constituents in her district.
Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina and the ranking GOP member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he makes his vaccine status a topic when he’s talking to constituents.
“What I tell them is, if you don’t want to go to the hospital and you don’t want to die, get a vaccine,” Burr said. “We have always had an anti-vaccine group in America. This is for a different reason, but they should not take it lightly. This is a very serious virus. People should not risk their lives or their children’s lives.”