Managing Editor Pat Kreitlow says the difference between this headline and the 1975 Gerald Ford classic is literally a matter of life or death.

We understand that’s a strong headline. When our March 17 newsletter was similarly titled “Trump to City: Drop Dead,” a few folks thought we were being unfair in dredging up the historic 1975 New York Daily News front page “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”

But both cases involved sitting presidents ignoring pleas for help. The difference is that Gerald Ford eventually signed off on a financial rescue package for New York City, while Donald Trump never rose above antipathy over the coronavirus pandemic. (Even now, he claims he may delay sending any new vaccine to the Empire State. Classy to the very end.)

It is not unfair in the slightest to call out a leading official who turns a deaf ear to cries for help. And it is clear that Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has entered this historic roll of enmity. 

Vos was aware that Gov. Tony Evers was unveiling a new package of coronavirus relief measures. Vos called a news conference for Tuesday afternoon, generating instant speculation that he would end the Legislature’s seven-month abdication of its duties in a time of crisis and finally partner with Evers on new assistance efforts.

Nope

Vos gave the pandemic the same treatment he gave to cries for action to resolve police violence and systemic racism—stifle the bills and call for further study.

Pressed for any show of good faith negotiating, Vos then admitted that legislative Republicans “do not have bill language drafted. We do not have specific provisions that we are offering like [Evers] does.”

But how can this be? As noted by Wisconsin Public Radio’s Shawn Johnson and others, Vos and the others who sued Evers over his safeguards in the spring told the state Supreme Court they were in the process of drafting legislation “to respond to the pandemic in a comprehensive and balanced fashion.”

Vos was either lying to the Wisconsin Supreme Court then, or he does not have the support or political courage to reveal whatever it was his caucus had been drafting when they were last in session. That was now seven months ago.

The admission and continued empty grandstanding from Vos could not have more poorly timed. The daily COVID-19 statistics came out moments later showing 92 new coronavirus-related deaths in Wisconsin, shattering the previous record for highest number of deaths in a single day.

Like his US Senate co-conspirator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Vos is fixated on protecting business interests, not human lives. Both are insisting that any new relief measures for people also include measures designed to limit accountability if workplaces do a poor job of ensuring that workers and customers return to safe environments. “Open for business” should not be a door that opens to an intensive care unit.

The package of measures proposed by Evers includes ensuring that all workers, including healthcare workers, be allowed to claim workers’ compensation benefits if they contract the coronavirus while at work. That’s because earlier this year, Vos introduced and Republicans passed a last-minute amendment to a coronavirus relief bill making it more difficult for first responders to receive workers’ compensation if they became infected with COVID-19.

Another provision from Evers would prohibit evictions and foreclosures through 2021. But Vos, who as of 2019 owned 23 rental properties in Whitewater worth $3.8 million, said a ban on evictions “wouldn’t be good for the economy.”

Whose economy, Mr. Speaker? Are you certain every tenant is as comfortably employed as a state legislator and does not fear being unable to pay this month’s rent?

As for the demand from Vos to shield businesses and other entities that he says “are doing things the best they can” to avoid potential lawsuits, someone should remind the Speaker that it has been Republican lawmakers or conservative-leaning law firms that have been doing the suing, seeking to overturn each public health emergency order the Evers’ administration has issued since the start of the pandemic. 

Politically, Robin Vos doesn’t have to care about any of this. He won re-election and his gerrymandered majority is intact. This has moved beyond a political matter. (And it’s certainly not a financial matter, given the billions he shoveled toward Foxconn.) This is now just a matter of straight-up morality. This moment calls for more than paying lip service to safeguards. This moment is far beyond the myth of “rugged individualism.” It is time to put the public first in public health.

Without some long overdue leadership, the virus will keep spreading, the economy will keep faltering, and people will continue to drop dead. He could play a lifesaving role and answer the cries for help.

It seems he just doesn’t want to.

President Ford never said the words “drop dead.” Nor did President Trump. Nor has Speaker Vos. But in each case, their lack of compassion, empathy, a sense of urgency, or political ability sent that kind of message very clearly. Perhaps this headline will, too.