Biden Said the ‘Pandemic is Over,’ Now Republicans Want the Administration to Act
According to the White House press secretary, the president said we must keep fighting the pandemic, but “we can acknowledge the massive amount of progress that we have made.”
President Biden said, “the pandemic is over” and now Republicans want him to put his money where his mouth is. But White House officials are arguing it’s not so cut and dry.
In a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday night, Biden declared the pandemic had ended while noting the coronavirus was still a concern.
“The pandemic is over,” he said. “We still have a problem with COVID. We're still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over. if you notice, no one's wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so, I think it's changing. And I think this is a perfect example of it.”
This surprised the president’s top health officials, according to Politico.
On Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the president’s chief medical adviser, told Politico, “What he really meant is that the very severe stage of the pandemic of having … 3,000 deaths a day — that stage is no longer present,” but that “people should not be cavalier that we’re out of the woods.” However, Republicans are seizing on this opportunity to further question the administration’s request for $22 billion for covid in as part of a continuing resolution as well as the administration's COVID policies.
Sen. Richard Burr, ranking member of the Senate Health, Labor and Pensions Committee, wrote a letter to the Biden on Monday that questioned the actions of the administration given the president’s declaration.
“If that is the case and you, as president, direct policy of your administration, I have questions about actions your administration is taking that do not align with your announcement,” Burr stated in the letter. “Without a clear plan to wind down pandemic-era policies, the deficit will continue to balloon and the effectiveness of public health measures will wane as the American people continue to be confused by mixed messages and distrust of federal officials.”
The senator’s questions included how the administration would now handle the emergency declaration for the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s masking guidance and the use of the covid pandemic to forgive student loans.
Burr also asked questions specifically pertaining to the federal workforce: “With the pandemic being over, when will vaccination requirements for federal workers and contractors end? Immediately? Within 15 days? 30 days?” Also, “Will you finally direct federal workers who were onsite prior to the pandemic to return to work in person?”
The vaccine mandates for federal employees and contractors are currently not being enforced due to ongoing litigation and last month the Biden administration’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force relaxed its testing and vaccination guidance for federal employees and contractors. The task force also has been issuing guidance for agencies’ entry plans, which have varied among agencies and in some cases, sub-components. Government Executive asked the Office of Management and Budget, whose director is a member of the task force, for comment on both, but it did not respond by the time of this article’s publication.
Additionally, a group of 17 House Republicans called on Biden Monday to terminate the national emergency for the pandemic following the interview, saying the authorities it granted the federal government are unnecessary.
“Under the emergency declaration, the federal government is estimated to have spent upwards of $10 trillion, resulting in an economic crisis, record inflation, and contributing to our nearly $31 trillion national debt,” they wrote.
More lawmakers, beyond the 17, have also called for this termination.
“The COVID Public Health Emergency remains in effect [and] HHS will provide a 60-day notice to states before any possible termination or expiration,” Sarah Lovenheim, spokesperson for the Health and Human Services Department, tweeted on Monday afternoon. “As we’ve done previously, we’ll continue to lean on the science to determine the length of the [emergency.”
As for the funding request, for months, Republicans have already been wary about improving more funding, despite consistent pleading from administration officials. Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told CNN that Biden’s comments makes the request for COVID relief “eminently harder for sure,” and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told the outlet. “If [the pandemic is] over, then I wouldn't suspect they need any more money.”
Then on Tuesday, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said he was open to a discussion about more funding for COVID-19 vaccines, but it is something they'll have to take a look at, including the money not already spent, Fox News reported.
Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., tweeted, “I wouldn’t hold your breath” over the president ceasing “reckless spending” due to the pandemic.
Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee tweeted on Tuesday that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “never got the memo” about the pandemic being over and the agency “continues to move forward with a permanent COVID-19 health care standard to expand [government] control and extend the #permanentpandemic.”
Government Executive asked OSHA for comment on the status of the standard and for response to the criticism, but it did not respond by the time of this article’s publication.
Lastly, various Republicans have asked if the president would now re-enlist the servicemembers who were involuntarily separated from the military for refusing the vaccine mandate, including Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., ranking member of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
As Military.com reported in January, the service branches have varied approaches to handling relistenments for service members. The vaccine mandates for the military as well as federal employees and contractors, have long been opposed by Republican lawmakers.
Government Executive asked the Defense Department to respond to this call. The department acknowledged the request, but did not provide a comment by the time this article was published.
During the briefing on Tuesday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, the president was “clear” in the interview that we have to keep fighting COVID-19, but “he believes is we can acknowledge the massive amount of progress that we have made,” when asked about the Burr letter. “Just think about where we were when this president walked into this administration; where again a response to this once-in-a-generation pandemic was mismanaged by the last administration.”
She reiterated the need for more COVID funding for tests, treatments and vaccines because now “we know what works.” Echoing what National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier in the briefing, “we have to be prepared for the next generation of vaccines and treatments. We have to be prepared for the next potential pandemic ensuring that we’re leading the way when it comes to research, when it comes to development, when it comes to innovation and keeping testing readily accessible.”
If the country loses access to these things, Jean-Pierre said, then “we have to ask Republicans, why didn’t they act?”