An offhand comment uttered by President Joe Biden on Monday predictably outraged Republican leaders but also concerned some Democrats.
Biden, sitting in on his first White House COVID-19 briefing with the National Governors Association, told the state leaders that "there is no federal solution" to the pandemic and that ultimately, preventing another winter spike is something that "gets solved at the state level."
The president proceeded to urge governors to maintain vaccination and booster lobbying campaigns, told them that if they "need something, say something," and pledged the federal government to honor their pandemic requests.
BIDEN TELLS GOVERNORS THERE IS NO FEDERAL SOLUTION TO WINTER OMICRON WAVE
A number of Republicans claimed that Biden's comments justified rescinding the federal government's pandemic protocols for masks, testing, and vaccines and contrasted his Monday remarks with his campaign pledge to "end" the pandemic.
"When Joe Biden says 'there is no federal solution,' he's trying to avoid blame for his incompetence," Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted. "If he really believes this, he should rescind his unconstitutional federal mandates."
When Joe Biden says "there is no federal solution," he's trying to avoid blame for his incompetence.— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) December 27, 2021
If he really believes this, he should rescind his unconstitutional federal mandates.
"Biden says there's no federal solution to COVID and that this gets solved at a state level. He should immediately end his unconstitutional federal mandates," Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott also said in a statement. "The Texas solution is no mandates and personal responsibility."
"Now heading into the new year, faced with the reality his administration is flailing, Biden has completely reversed his entire approach to the virus, contradicting nearly everything he campaigned on and has implemented as president," a Tuesday statement from the office of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy added. "The reality is that the Biden administration has been caught unprepared time and time again. His is an administration marked by incompetence."
The White House responded to this backlash by framing Biden's remarks as calling for a strong federal-state partnership, not abandoning states to combat COVID-19 on their own.
"The Biden-Harris Administration is making sure states have what they need to tackle COVID including:
— 1,000 additional doctors and nurses
— stockpiling millions of gowns, gloves, masks, and ventilators
— adding vaccine and booster capacity
And more," reads a Tuesday tweet from the official White House account.
The Biden-Harris Administration is making sure states have what they need to tackle COVID including:— The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 28, 2021
- 1,000 additional doctors and nurses
- stockpiling millions of gowns, gloves, masks, and ventilators
- adding vaccine and booster capacity
The president himself also reaffirmed his pledge to have "the back of every governor fighting COVID-19 in their state."
"Last week, I rolled out a federal plan to tackle omicron by adding vaccination and booster capacity, hospital equipment, staff, and more," he wrote Tuesday afternoon. "We're going to get through this by working together."
My Administration has the back of every governor fighting COVID-19 in their state. Last week, I rolled out a federal plan to tackle Omicron by adding vaccination and booster capacity, hospital equipment, staff, and more.— President Biden (@POTUS) December 28, 2021
We’re going to get through this by working together.
Still, two senior Democratic officials expressed frustration to the Washington Examiner over what they called "unforced errors" coming out of the administration.
Both officials claimed that Republicans were overreacting to "standard political speech" from Biden, but said that the response should have been predicted by the White House.
"We hammered [former President Donald] Trump for basically saying, 'Hey, I think decisions on masking, testing, and other mitigation strategies should be left up to the states,' and then putting no federal plan in place at all," one official explained. "That obviously isn't what President Biden was saying, but the GOP will take any opportunity to turn a molehill phrase into a mountain of a negative news cycle. We can't afford to give them that chance."
The second official likened the president's choice of words to recent pandemic interactions White House press secretary Jen Psaki has had with the press, specifically her flippant response in early December to a suggestion in the briefing room that the administration send out free, at-home COVID-19 tests to every American household. That suggestion would later go on to be adopted as a major pillar of the president's winter omicron plan.
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"I don't think anyone, even the most hardcore MAGA Republican, can objectively say that Jen has done a bad job this year," that person claimed. "She's had the nearly impossible task of having to face a hostile press and answer questions about evolving policy while people across the country and globe are dying every day. No one is perfect, but every mistake we make, every word that's out of order, makes it that much easier for the other side to say we're losing this fight. That stands true for Jen, President Biden, and any other administration official out there making public comments on the pandemic."