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Vaccines, measles and science cause issues in 2016 Republican presidential primary

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Christie, Paul waffle on vaccines
  • Christie walks it back; Paul goes further
  • Ben Carson goes the other way, saying vaccines are necessary and “safe”
  • House Republicans vote for the 56th time on whether to repeal all or part of the health care law. Today’s vote is on full repeal.
  • Plus, how the Pentagon has been trying to get around the sequester
  • Taking their shots: We suppose we shouldn’t be surprised anymore by the things that become issues in a presidential campaign, but this one we didn’t exactly see coming. On Monday, Republican contenders for the White House in 2016 waded into the measles outbreak and landed in a vaccine controversy. It started with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s vacillation on the subject and flared with Sen. Rand Paul taking it further. Christie, in an overseas trip to the United Kingdom said that while he vaccinated his own children, he thinks there should be a “balance,” that “parents need to have some measure of choice.” He later walked back the comments in a statement from his office, saying there was “no question kids should be vaccinated.” It’s amazing, by the way, how overseas trips can cause all kinds of gaffes for potential contenders looking to burnish their foreign policy bona fides.

    And then there was Rand Paul: The libertarian likely candidate went on Laura Ingraham’s talk-radio show and said that, even though he’s a doctor and isn’t “anti-vaccine,” he believes they should be “voluntary.” He then went a step further on CNBC later in the day. He called vaccines a “good thing”, but then, despite the scientific evidence, declared: “I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

    Fact check: Some parents of children with autism — with the help of a few celebrity backers — have passionately argued that vaccines caused their child’s disorder, but the problem with the theory is there is no science behind it. In fact, the one study that seemed to find a link between vaccines and autism was debunked and retracted in 2011. The New York Times wrote of the man who conducted the “study”, Andrew Wakefield: “The British Medical Journal concluded that the research was not just unethically financed but also ‘fraudulent.’” The Centers for Disease Control has definitively declared, “MMR vaccine does not cause autism.” As to the measles outbreak at hand, the CDC also notes that nearly everyone in the U.S. got the measles before the MMR vaccine, and in 1964 and 1965, 12.5 million Americans came down with rubella, also known as German measles. It killed 2,000 infants and caused 11,000 miscarriages. By 2012, there were just nine cases reported in the United States. Yet, in just January of this year, more than 100 cases were diagnosed, centered in California.

    Carson definitively backs vaccines: Certainly it should be pointed out that not everyone in the GOP field sides with Paul. While Ben Carson is a favorite among the base, the pediatric neurosurgeon strongly sided with getting children vaccinated. “Although I strongly believe in individual rights and the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, I also recognize that public health and public safety are extremely important in our society,” Carson told The Hill in a statement. “Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country and we should not allow those diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them.”

    The science problem: The problem for Paul and the GOP field at large is every time stories like this come up, it plays into the narrative that the party is “anti-science.” Whether it’s evolution, climate change or even Ebola (which Christie was at the center of, too), the party has struggled on its response. As Jeremy Peters writes in the New York Times, “It is a dance Republican candidates often do when they hedge their answers about whether evolution should be taught in schools. It is what makes the fight over global warming such a liability for their party, and what led last year to a widely criticized response to the Ebola scare.”

    What about Democrats? Hillary Clinton appeared to needle Republicans with this tweet:

    And while Democrats were gleefully sending around Paul’s and Christie’s comments, conservatives were pointing out that in 2008, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama struck a different tone, giving credence to the notion that vaccines could cause autism. But there’s a problem with this: That was three years before the study that caused all of this controversy was retracted. And they were calling for more research. That’s something even Autism Speaks, the leading advocacy group for bringing attention to autism, was calling for. Academic, scientific medical research is conducted to rule in or out whether something is true — not to come to a conclusion someone wants. Now, the White House at the Jan. 30 briefing, though, did seem to indicate a similar position to Christie’s. Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “The President certainly believes that these kinds of decisions are decisions that should be made by parents.” But, he added, “the science on this is really clear.” On Saturday, the president put any question of whether he believed parents should get their children vaccinated to rest. “There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not,” he said, adding, “You should get your kids vaccinated.”

    The gap between science and American opinion: This whole episode, however, does highlight the difference of opinion between scientists and the general public on science, specifically vaccines. While some could argue that vaccines should be spaced out more for children or not every vaccine is or will be necessary in the future, specific to MMR, Pew released a survey a few days ago that found scientists with the American Association for the Advancement of Science said the MMR vaccine should be required, by an 86 to 13 percent margin. While the vast majority of the general public agreed (68 percent), 30 percent of Americans said it should be up to parents to decide:

    Childhood Vaccines

    What’s more, there’s an age gap. Younger people under 50 — the ones currently having children — are less likely to believe the MMR vaccine should be required. Nearly four-in-ten (37 percent) of them said it should be up to parents whether to get the vaccine. But just 22 percent of those over 50 said so.

    Another House GOP vote on repealing the health care law: For the 56th time since John Boehner became speaker in 2010, House Republicans will vote to either repeal, defund, or delay all or parts of the health care law. Today’s vote will be for full repeal, something House Republicans have done half a dozen times already. It’s a perfunctory vote meant to give freshmen, who have never voted on health care, the chance to do so. Many Republicans want to toss out the law, but despite past efforts to replace the bill, they still have no working alternative. Even though the law remains a net-negative in public opinion, a Kaiser poll found that nearly two-thirds want the tax subsidies to remain available even if the Supreme Court rules to strip them out. That puts the GOP in a box — Republicans have to decide whether they want to be the party that fixes the law or wants to completely gut it. NewsHour’s Quinn Bowman notes that procedural votes begin between 1:35 pm EST and 1:50 pm EST, followed by 90 minutes of debate, with a final vote expected between 4:20 pm EST and 4:35 pm EST.

    Pentagon’s attempt to to get around the sequester: NewsHour’s Dan Sagalyn digs into the Pentagon’s accounting and reports that it has been using funding for “Overseas Contingency Operations” as a way around the defense spending caps, known as the “sequester,” the across-the-board spending cuts that went into place when budget negotiators couldn’t reach agreement in 2012-2013. Sagalyn reports: The Overseas Contingency Operations section of the budget, which nominally is supposed to cover the costs of fighting overseas wars and counter terrorism operations, calls for spending $7.9 billion on what the Pentagon labels “Investment, Equipment Reset and Readiness.” The money is to be spent on the replacement and repair of equipment and munitions, such as helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, trucks, Hellfire and Laser Maverick missiles. When asked at Monday’s defense budget briefing about how this $7.9 billion would be spent, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work acknowledged that it would fund items that one would normally expect to be funded in the base budget. “We’d be the first to say that over the course of the decade or so that we’ve had overseas contingency operations funding, that too much has crept into that account on the investment side and the like,” Work told reporters. “And we’re determined to fix that.” Sagalyn will have more on the NewsHour website later today.

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1924, former President Woodrow Wilson died. What state did Wilson serve as governor of? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out.

    2016:

    • In a Quinnipiac swing state poll, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are nearly tied in Florida, and Clinton is tied in Ohio with GOP Gov. John Kasich.

    • And a new poll out of Florida found a strong majority of Sunshine State voters would like Sen. Marco Rubio to run for reelection, instead of running for the presidency.

    • Jeb Bush is adding even more people to his “not yet official” presidential campaign team, including a former ad maker for Ron Paul and Ted Cruz.

    • Rand Paul finished last in the straw poll conducted after last month’s Koch summit. His outfit, not to mention his comments on some taxes and his non-interventionist foreign policy, put off donors.

    • Chris Christie has been taking his expensive taste abroad, letting Sheldon Adelson pay for his private plane to Israel and Jordan’s King Abdullah pick up the tab for a family weekend that included $30,000 worth of hotel rooms.

    • Democratic sources tell MSNBC Hillary Clinton is eyeing Brooklyn or Queens for her campaign’s home base.

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