On Thursday, the rest of the state joined northern and north central Idaho in authorizing hospitals to operate under crisis standards of care.

Overwhelmed by a surge of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, hospitals can ration health care based on who has the best prospect for long-term survival — whether they suffer from the delta variant or any other malady.

The next day, the state’s political leadership — led by Gov. Brad Little — threatened to sue the one person who’s trying to take charge.

How dare President Joe Biden activate Occupational Health and Safety Administration rules requiring people working in companies of 100 employees or more to get vaccinated or undergo frequent testing?

“If you choose to continue to move forward in this direction, the state of Idaho will have no choice but to take the necessary legal actions to uphold its sovereignty, check the overreach of power by federal bureaucracy, and uphold the system of checks and balances our Constitution guarantees,” wrote Little, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise.

To say this is an overreach ignores precedent: OSHA protects workers on the job from exposure to airborne pathogens.

It could be weeks before Biden’s directive can worm its way through the federal rule-making process — long after the delta variant is expected to peak. Still, it will accomplish considerably more than Little’s months of begging — but never insisting — that Idahoans get the shot.

How morally bankrupt is it to follow up a statewide declaration of crisis in the hospitals with threats of lawsuits to preserve the status quo? This is leadership?

“The lack of solid leadership that we’ve had in this community with consistent guidelines and clear messages has been abhorrent,” Alicia Luciani, a registered nurse at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center’s COVID-19 unit in Boise told the Idaho Statesman. “If you walked into poisonous gas, sarin gas, and the leadership you were with said, ‘Hey, put on your gas mask or you’re gonna die,’ you would do it. Nobody’s willing to do that, is what it feels like.”

No wonder the message Dr. Ken Krell of Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls wrote to his staff reads as if it were written in a foxhole instead of an intensive care unit:

“In the end, what sustains us, and what we will remember about having survived this madness, are the remarkable people who endured this with us, the best of humanity — all of us — who demonstrated the best of our calling. We endured this together, and supported each other. We saved lives and lost lives, and we did both with compassion and competence. We will not forget this.”

The shopworn defense from Little’s corner involves threats from his right flank. If he does not at least protest Biden’s agenda, he risks losing next year’s GOP primary to Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.

But what value is Little’s reelection to a COVID-19 patient who is clinging to life on a ventilator?

How does securing a second term as governor justify tolerating one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country?

Is it so important to deny political ammunition to McGeachin, the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the right-wing fringe running roughshod over the Idaho House that Idaho’s overflow of sick people is spilling into Washington?

“Today in my state, Washington citizens in many cases cannot get heart surgery, cannot get cancer surgery that they need, because we are having to take too many people of unvaccinated nature and unmasked, many of whom come from Idaho, and that’s just maddening, frankly,” Gov. Jay Inslee said on Friday. “So we are calling for Idaho and the leaders there to lead and take some commonsense measures. I’m disappointed the governor of Idaho has spent more time trying to reduce protection by reducing vaccine usage instead of concentrating on this, and then clogging up my hospitals.”

What does it profit a governor to win a second term if he loses his soul?

Until now, there was a clear difference between Little and McGeachin.

The governor may have been a bystander to the latest wave. He’s refused to impose mandates on state college students or public employees. But at least he hasn’t interfered with businesses and entities that are trying to do the right thing. McGeachin tried to block local face mask mandates and has challenged the authority of hospitals to require their employees to get vaccinated.

No longer.

For whatever reason, Little has decided it’s better to fight Biden than to stop the virus. — M.T.