ANDERSON – In a recent speech, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy chastised President Joe Biden for failing to deliver on his promise to get the pandemic under control.

“I took President Biden at his word,” he said. “I took him at his word when he said he was going to get COVID under control. Unfortunately, more people have died this year than last year under COVID.” McCarthy didn’t mention, of course, that it has been mostly members of his own party standing in the way of delivering on that promise.

A survey in mid-September found that 90% of adults identifying themselves as Democrats had been vaccinated compared to 58% of adults identifying as Republicans. This divide has caused Republican politicians across the country to engage in a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, many call on constituents to follow public health recommendations and get vaccinated. On the other hand, some of these same politicians actively fight administration efforts to stop the coronavirus from spreading.

Take the president’s vaccine mandate. The order requires businesses with at least 100 employees to offer workers a choice, get vaccinated or begin following stricter protocols, including weekly testing to ensure they’re not infected with COVID-19. The only way for employees to avoid the mandate is to obtain a medical or religious exemption. The mandate is now on hold as a result of more than two dozen lawsuits, many of them filed by Republican officials.

Critics see this as a fight for individual freedom. They believe the mandate tramples on their right to control their own bodies. The Biden administration characterizes it as an issue of workplace safety. It contends employers have an obligation to do what they can to stop the spread of COVID-19.

A three-judge panel in the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the mandate to be “fatally flawed” and “staggeringly overbroad,” raising “serious constitutional concerns.” In response to a motion by the federal government, all of the cases have been consolidated in the Sixth Circuit, but no matter what that court eventually decides, observers predict the issue will wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In its own court filing, the Biden administration argues the delays are costing “dozens or even hundreds of lives per day.” Among those filing briefs in support of the government’s position is the American Medical Association, which argues that COVID-19 poses a “grave danger “ that has “wreaked havoc in communities across the country.” The United States has recorded at least 48 million cases and more than 775,000 deaths. Americans have been dying at a rate of nearly 1,500 a day.

The AMA argues in its brief that vaccines provide the most effective way to protect workers from infection. “The more workers who get vaccinated, the closer we are to slowing the spread of the virus and creating a safer environment,” the association told the court.

In a less cynical world, Americans of all political stripes would join hands to face down a common enemy. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

The minority leader’s spokesman, Matt Sparks, told The New York Times he saw no conflict between fighting vaccine mandates and blaming the Biden administration for the spread of the virus. He mentioned the administration’s failure to exempt anyone who had already had the virus from the vaccine mandate based on natural immunity. “The lack of acknowledgement of this fact further erodes the public trust in the vaccine and our public health officials,” he said.

Never mind that a study in Kentucky found that those with “natural immunity” were still more than twice as likely to contract the virus as those who were fully immunized. Such facts don’t matter to guys like McCarthy. For them, it’s all about winning the next election.

Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana.