Watching the television coverage of the debate on Tuesday night, you may have noticed that one topic – “vaccination rates” – took on added resonance because of the speculation regarding whether Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer planned to bring a vaccine-tied bill to a vote after the election, as certain mainstream media members began suggesting.
It turns out the misinformation isn’t all that surprising.
Sources with direct knowledge of the situation say that the two Democratic leaders were using the “viral reading” phenomenon to manipulate their colleagues in Congress – including the president himself.
Pelosi and Schumer, they tell Fox News, wanted to ask the president to sign a bill that would restrict how states could report vaccination rates.
If successful, it would be the most divisive anti-vaccination measure in decades.
They already knew they had little chance of success. It was the viral aspect that gave them a public-relations edge in an already heated debate.
The House and Senate, which both approved the same measure, have been working furiously to get the bill out of conference before the end of the year, in a measure they hope to use to bolster their case ahead of the 2020 election. Pelosi has said the disease actually has been on the decline in recent years, and that measles is, for all intents and purposes, no longer an epidemic.
Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), a long-time opponent of mandated vaccinations, says he has doubts about that claim.
Citing multiple conversations with officials with direct knowledge of the situation, Flores says that the Democratic leaders were only trying to have the president to sign a bill that was purely political – to drive anti-vaccination arguments in an ongoing battle for constituents’ hearts and minds.
He says, “With our current Democrat majority in Congress, I would not be surprised if they were trying to tie anything that the president does to an anti-vaccination bill.”
Flores, who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says, “It was all about the politics.”
Democratic leaders have denied that their interest in vaccines was political in nature.
If passed, the bill would bar states from providing public funds for any medically necessary shots that people received at a facility that refused to comply with the standards set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Among the most contentious issues with the legislation is whether it would require individuals to report the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination status. Members of Congress were closely watching their constituents’ reaction to the potential signing of a bill that would ban them from voluntarily disclosing their vaccination records.
“I am pleased President Trump helped stop the partisan anti-vaccination bill,” said Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), an anti-vaccination advocate who also helped organize a flash-mob appearance by family members of dead children at the White House just after the president signed a separate anti-vaccination measure in July.
According to Flores, the CDC once calculated that 92 percent of the nation’s children are completely vaccinated. But the bill could be used to introduce confusion around that figure, say health experts.
The CDC considers “immunized” in the sense of someone being fully immunized against disease. Some companies offer a lower threshold, saying 95 percent of their employees are fully vaccinated – one option on the ACA’s health exchange is waiving the coverage requirement for vaccines if 100 percent of employees are fully vaccinated.
Flores says there are two reasons why the Democratic leaders were targeting his industry: It has a massive advertising budget and it is a “suburban special interest.”
“These folks on Capitol Hill, they don’t understand their districts,” Flores says. “They think they live in suburbs, but all they do is come from urban areas like D.C., Philadelphia and San Francisco.”
President Trump did not take his opposition to the bill to the heart of the debate – and many Democrats did not question the sincerity of his opposition.
Instead, the president has publicly questioned the efficacy of vaccines. In October, he famously said that “maybe vaccines are not good for you” during a meeting with the National Rifle Association.
This led, in part, to his losing the GOP’s 2018 midterm campaign platform – which explicitly avoided talking about vaccines.
In fact, no Republicans even agreed to offer an amendment in Congress, which GOP leaders tried to bring for a vote, that would have made it easier for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children.
Fox News did not immediately return a request for comment from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.