President Donald Trump’s decision to tell the world he was taking hydroxychloroquine during the coronavirus pandemic sparked the kind of concern and backlash one would expect over a treatment that packs the chance of having deadly side effects.
But those medical worries weren’t as troubling to some long-shot Republican congressional candidates, who are grabbing the opportunity to use Trump’s embrace of the drug for himself as a way to show off their allegiance to the president.
“.@realDonaldTrump taking hydroxychloroquine to ward off coronavirus is a kick-ass move that proves why he is the bravest and strongest of all American presidents,” James P. Bradley, a Republican U.S. House candidate in California, tweeted.
“You’d have to be extremely naïve to believe that none of these Democrats knocking @POTUS are also taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventative measure,” Errol Webber, a GOP congressional candidate in California, tweeted after Trump touted taking the drug.
In an interview, Lauren Boebert, a Republican congressional candidate in Colorado running to the right of GOP incumbent Scott Tipton, criticized those who were quick to go against the treatment.
“With the way the media hates President Trump, if taking hydroxychloroquine was truly bad for him, they’d be encouraging it rather than having a meltdown,” Boebert tweeted on May 20.
Neither Bradley, Webber or Boebert are taking the drug, they told The Daily Beast.
“No I am not taking it,” Bradley said in an email. “However, if I were to contract the virus I would consult my physician first and have no fear if it was prescribed to me.”
“I’m not at risk for coronavirus,” Boebert added, before saying she was standing with the president and his “medical freedom.”
But other Republicans have been happy to talk about their taking the drug during the pandemic.
In Congress, two sitting House members also promoted in media interviews their own experience with the drug, including Roger Marshall. The Kansas doctor is running in a crowded GOP U.S. Senate primary in the reliably red state and looking to win out over longtime Trump supporter Kris Kobach.
He told The Wall Street Journal earlier this week that he and members of his family were taking the drug prophylactically.
“I would encourage any person over the age of 65 or with an underlying medical condition to talk to their own physician about taking hydroxychloroquine and I’m relieved President Trump is taking it,” Marshall told the Journal.
Hydroxychloroquine was an early favorite of Trump’s during the March days of the pandemic, though as concerns about the drug grew Trump appeared to grow more muted. By late April, Trump’s own Food and Drug Administration warned that “hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19.”
Research on the drug has continued to be troubling since. A new study published Friday by The Lancet also failed to show a “a benefit of hydroxychloroquine,” when it comes to COVID-19 and more alarmingly described “a greater hazard for in-hospital death with COVID-19.”
A conspiracy-filled approach to the issue came from Josh Barnett, an Arizona GOP challenger in the state’s deeply Democratic 7th District whose chances at making it to the House are slim.
He tweeted: “If hydroxychloroquine is soooooo dangerous then why are Democrats so against @realDonaldTrump taking it? Do they suddenly care about him and his health? LOL NO! Its because it works and they don't want anything to fix Covid and rev this economy back up.”
Rarely one to shy away from such concern, Trump has also promoted ideas about other pandemic-era treatments that struck fear in the heart of medical professionals, including a much maligned April briefing where he pondered injecting disinfectants or blasting the body with ultraviolet light.
The statements from the GOP congressional candidates troubled Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, who said “maybe they see this as somehow boosting their election probabilities by supporting these preposterous statements and actions by the president.”
“If this is their campaign, then I feel sorry for their districts,” Redlener said. “These are people who should not hold public office. To help support the president making these horrible public decisions about taking non-indicated and potentially dangerous medications, if this is all they have to prove their loyalty to the president, or their connection to the president, then I’m sorry to hear that they’re running.”
The concerning medical move by the nation’s leader has also become part of some Democrats’ campaign rhetoric, but in a far different way.
“The president is claiming that he’s been taking hydroxychloroquine, a discredited drug he’s pitched as a miracle cure, for weeks,” tweeted John Lesinski, a Democratic congressional contender in Virginia. “Is he really? Who knows. Who cares. It’s yet another thing he’s wasting our time on while we have NO national plan to approach this pandemic.”
Medical experts have bemoaned the way politics has become intertwined with public health during the coronavirus pandemic. And the controversy over hydroxychloroquine has only made those feelings more tense at a time the country is reopening from the pandemic and the nation’s death toll continues to increase.
Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine and public health at UCLA, said he’s not surprised that people are defending their party or their president but added that “people need to look at the science and the data.”
“There’s people’s lives at stake, so it is dangerous to support your team against the medical evidence,” Klausner said.