Rep. Tim Ryan says Democrats made a mistake by focusing so heavily on the Zika fight this summer, picking a parochial political battle over an issue that turned out not to be the disaster they’d been counting on.
Democrats used the mosquito-borne virus as political cudgel throughout 2016, saying Republicans were shortchanging the effort to develop a vaccine and thwart birth defects tied to the disease. Repeated fights over spending took up much of Congress’ legislative time in the spring and summer.
Mr. Ryan, an Ohio Democrat challenging Rep. Nancy Pelosi for her House leadership post, said over the weekend that was a mistake, saying it threw the party “off track” in an election year dominated by economic angst.
Yet some analysts say Democrats overplayed their political hand on Zika after Republicans balked at President Obama’s $2 billion request in February to combat the disease.
Democrats repeatedly filibustered a military spending bill that contained a GOP-drafted Zika package in early July, saying it didn’t provide enough money and barred funds for Planned Parenthood-aligned clinics in Puerto Rico.
The Obama administration then piled on pressure by swiping money from the Ebola fight in West Africa and then announcing cuts to AIDS and cancer research to continue efforts to develop a Zika vaccine and develop better diagnostic tests for the virus.
“Their goal was to continue to paint Republicans as callous and uncaring. But the Democrats have been crying wolf for so long that most voters just tuned out,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist.