White House Already Blaming Congress for Next COVID-19 Spike
TBiden’s Administration is already preparing for an increase in COVID-19 caseloads and has started to play the blame game politically in case of a failure in their response.
The White House was critical of Congress’s inability to approve new funds for a fourth round booster shot free of charge and to cover therapeutics as well as other measures to lessen the effects of another case surge. “Our primary concern right now is that we’re about to run out of funding,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on March 21, warning Americans that they may have to pay for their next booster shots if more funding isn’t passed. Two days later, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients echoed: “The consequences of congressional inaction are severe, and they are immediate.”
Republicans in Congress have refused President Joe Biden’s request for $15.6 billion more funding to make additional booster shots free and fund treatments, saying Congress has allocated enough to cover those expenses, and it’s incumbent on states and agencies to spend what’s already been passed.
Kristen Hawn is a Democratic strategist who consults in competitive House elections. She says the politics surrounding the pandemic put the Biden White House into a difficult spot. Polling shows that Americans are tired of the pandemic, but it’s still up to the Biden Administration to be ready to provide help if there’s another spike in infections. “It’s a predicament,” Hawn says. White House officials need public pressure to obtain funding from Congress. “People want it to be over. However, there is a chance for another wave, and we need to be prepared for it.” Hawn says. “If another variant comes along people are going to expect shots in arms, they’re going to expect testing. Those things don’t just happen.”
The White House knows that Biden’s performance on COVID is one of the few bright spots in the public’s sagging perception of his presidency. The White House wants to maintain that perception. 53% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the pandemic, according to polling conducted in mid-March by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research—well above the 43% who approved of Biden’s job performance overall. “Biden’s job rating on COVID is his strongest job rating,” says John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster who has worked closely with Biden. “It’s well above his overall job rating, and it shows people have a lot of confidence in him on that issue.”
How voters see Biden’s handling of future case surges could impact whether Democrats are able to beat predictions and keep control of the House in November’s midterm races. The country’s position on the pandemic is being closely monitored by political operatives, who will be looking at it when school starts in fall. “Where we are when kids go back to school is probably how things are going to be judged politically,” says an advisor close to the Biden White House.
The White House published a 97-page document in early March called the “National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.” It includes efforts to boost U.S. vaccine production to 1 billion doses per year, fund the development of a single COVID-19 vaccine shot, distribute vaccines for children under 5 after the FDA approval, and increase U.S. production of COVID-19 test kits. “Part of that plan requires money and we need urgent funding for things that are already running out,” says White House spokesman Kevin Munoz.
Health officials need to be prepared to buy therapeutics and masks in the coming surge, even if the cases are lower. Omicron case numbers led to record setting deaths and hospitalizations in January. It was the fault of the Biden Administration for failing to do enough to prepare for a new surge, and not making sufficient free vaccines and masks accessible to the general public in time. The Administration will argue that Congress is responsible for any similar failings in the wake of the latest surge.
There’s reason to believe the U.S. could see another spike soon. Coronavirus cases have been increasing in Germany and the Netherlands as Omicron subvariant BA.2 spreads more readily. American epidemiologists have noticed signs of the latest version of the virus in Northeastern US states. But, they believe Omicron infection in winter might help reduce a spike.
A poll shows that Americans desire to end the pandemic. From its high of 800,000. in January, the number of cases of COVID-19 in America has fallen by 97%. The country is open and all schools, offices, and restaurants are now open. Every day, more than 800 Americans die from coronavirus-related infections. But Democrats have politically moved away from lockdowns and widespread mask mandates, and they aren’t likely going back. Last June, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer was one of the first Democratic governors to say that her state wasn’t going back to lockdowns or sweeping mask mandates and would let school districts decide their own policies. Since then, many Democratic leaders have adopted this position, including Biden. It is likely that they will not change, even if there are more cases. The advisor close to the Biden White House says: “Democrats will be incredibly resistant to go back to anything other than, ‘We have the tools to to deal with this.’”
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