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Why I believe Mitt Romney should be America’s vaccine czar

Sure, Romney may have missed his opportunity to become president of the United States, but he could still help heal the nation.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, arrives at the Senate for a roll call vote to confirm Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be secretary of State, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Joe Biden should appoint Sen. Mitt Romney to oversee the nation’s immunization efforts.

The new administration is under immense pressure to deliver vaccines, and fast. While Biden and company are reportedly buying enough vaccines to cover every American who wants one, there’s still a major logistical hurdle: getting hundreds of millions of needles into just as many arms.

Having observed Romney from the time he was delivering sermons to local Boston congregants as a lay religious leader to his current role as Utah’s junior senator, there are few people in public life endowed with the same missionary zeal for solving large-scale logistical problems.

Sure, you may disagree with Sen. Romney’s politics. Perhaps you’re a Trump supporter who doesn’t like his stance on impeachment, or maybe you voted for Biden and disagree with Romney on his immigration or fiscal policies. But when it comes to turning around a sluggish vaccine roll out, it’s hard to ignore the allure of Romney’s resume.

From his time at Bain to Boston’s Big Dig to the 2002 Winter Olympics, Romney is best in a crisis.

At Bain — where he made a name for himself in business — he jumped into action after a colleague’s daughter went missing in Manhattan. He shut down the office, chartered a plane and set up a command center with his employees in a New York City Marriott. They eventually found the teenager.

And then there’s Boston’s Big Dig tragedy. While Romney was governor in Massachusetts, a massive concrete slab fell from one of Boston’s infamous Big Dig tunnels and killed a 38-year-old driver. Romney cut off his vacation and dove headfirst into crisis management. He developed an almost irritatingly exhaustive knowledge about what happened and started flooding the media with accurate, credible information that largely won back public confidence in the project.

All this, of course, was a prelude to alchemizing the scandal-ridden Salt Lake Winter Olympics into a profitable enterprise. Colleagues have described Romney as the kind of guy who “thrives” when solving a problem. Well, we currently have a big one, and American lives are hanging in the balance.

Romney, for his part, would undoubtedly answer the call to serve his country. He’s already displayed an unusual interest in finding solutions to combating COVID-19. In various interviews and Senate hearings, you can hear Romney prattling on about what we should learn from South Korea or how research suggests trying this or that. In early January he was vocal about criticizing the pace of the vaccine distribution. And even before COVID-19 hit our shores, Romney became famous for awkwardly blowing out birthday candles one at a time so as not to sully the cake and spread germs. If ever the country needed Romney’s unique confluence of skills (and quirks), it’s now.

None of this would negate the work of fellow Bain alum, and Biden’s current COVID response czar, Jeff Zients. Not only are they both steeped in the “Bain way” but what Zients lacks in political cachet or experience in government at the state level, Romney could help supplement. And let’s be honest, when it comes to “COVID response,” there’s plenty of work to go around.

At a time of partisan division, putting Romney over immunization would serve as a uniting force. Biden has talked a lot about unity. But, to date, there have been few concrete overtures toward conservatives. Appointing Romney in this role would show that Biden is serious about working across the aisle and breaking party ranks to accomplish what’s best for the country. And no need to worry about Romney’s senate seat. Utah’s Gov. Spencer Cox could surely appoint one of Romney’s many square-jawed sons to keep the seat warm while he’s away.

Sure, Romney may have missed his opportunity to become president of the United States, but he could still help heal the nation. Biden should give him the chance.