A group of Republican lawmakers are speaking out against their party’s “self-interested” leaders, who think that elected officials and their staff should be a high-priority on the COVID-19 vaccine distribution list.
“And I’m encouraging the vaccines as one of the priority groups after elderly and some of our frontline workers that we think about the people who have to be essential at the Capitol,” Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said during a Friday event.
The State Legislature will be back in session in January, so granting lawmakers early access to a COVID-19 vaccine would allow them to conduct their work in person, the argument goes.
“If that helps us get back in person sooner, I would support that,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said.
Daudt made a similar comment during a press conference earlier this week, saying he would “very strongly recommend” prioritizing at-risk Capitol employees.
“Although we are a pretty essential — you know, the Legislature’s duty is pretty essential and frankly, if it were to help us get back to the Capitol and get face-to-face and in-person hearings, I think those things are really important, so I would very strongly recommend that we give it to anybody in the Legislature who does feel that they are high-risk or that they have family members at home who are high-risk, which I don’t consider myself in that bucket,” said Daudt.
The New House Republican Caucus, led by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, said legislators “should not think for a second that they will get special treatment simply because of the office they hold.”
“During the last few days, several government officials have discussed the possibility of state legislators in Minnesota receiving the COVID-19 vaccine before the Minnesota public. We want to be clear on this issue: the citizens of Minnesota must be the priority when it comes to vaccine rollout, not self-interested politicians,” the New House GOP said in a statement.
The caucus said frontline workers, elderly populations, health care professionals, first responders and other vulnerable groups “must be put first.”
“This pandemic has hurt these individuals the most and they should be at the front of the line when the vaccine becomes available,” the statement added. “We will not tolerate any political games from elected officials. This vaccine must be rolled out in a way that prioritizes those who most desperately need and want it.”
Gazelka expanded on his comments in a Facebook post Friday night, noting that he “would like those in the legislative branch who are vulnerable or afraid to also get the vaccine.”
“The legislative branch has to pass a two-year budget and we really all need to be at the Capitol to meet in person. Zoom helps but it is a poor substitute for face-to-face meetings,” he said.