President Biden laid down a stark challenge to Republican governors he accused of playing ‘pandemic politics’ on Thursday: Help America beat COVID-19 or reckon with the power of the federal government.
Unveiling policies that will require most federal employees to get vaccinated, Biden took angry aim at those getting in the way of mask mandates and vaccine plans.
‘What makes it incredibly more frustrating is we have the tools to combat COVID-19 and a distinct minority of Americans supported by a distinct minority of elected officials are keeping us from turning the corner,’ he said at the White House.
‘These pandemic politics are making people sick, causing unvaccinated people to die.’
The pointed remarks and the new raft of policies represent Biden’s most aggressive steps yet to end the pandemic amid surging cases of COVID-19, triggered by the fast-spreading Delta variant and a reservoir of millions of unvaccinated people.
‘If these governors won’t help us beat the pandemic, I’ll use my powers as president to get them out of the way,’ said President Biden as he attacked people getting in the way of public health measures during a speech at the White House on Thursday
A day earlier Florida Governor Ron DeSantis launched an emergency appeal to keep his ban on school mask mandates after a judge overturned his executive order for the second time
Public health measures to protect children have triggered a partisan response with some parents making a libertarian argument that school mask mandates are an attack on choice
There are about 150,000 new infections every day, on a par with the situation before vaccinations were widely available
So far only 53% of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those statistics have come at a cost to Biden, who has seen his approval rating fall as his hopes of ending masking restrictions and travel restrictions have been dashed so far.f
Republican governors, such as Ron DeSantis in Florida, have reveled in pushing back on public health measures. He has insisted parents must have the right to decide whether children should wear masks and threatened to dock the pay of school leaders who implement mask mandates for students.
Biden did not mention DeSantis by name. He did not have to.
‘Vaccination requirements in schools are nothing new. They work, they’re overwhelmingly supported by educators and the unions,’ he said.
‘And to all school officials trying to do the right thing by our children, I’ll always be on your side.
‘Let me be blunt. My plan also takes on elected officials and states that are undermining you and these life saving actions.
‘Right now, local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic, while their governor picks a fight with them, and even threatens their salaries or their jobs.
‘Talk about bullying in schools.
‘If these governors won’t help us beat the pandemic, I’ll use my powers as president to get them out of the way.’
Florida is one of several states where Republican governors have sought to prevent local governments and school districts from mandating masks
Republicans were quick to condemn Biden’s latest push to halt the pandemic
The Department of Education has already launched a civil rights investigation into states that have tried to ban mask mandates – on the grounds that it might prevent disabled children from getting a proper education.
And Biden promised that school officials who lost pay because they were trying to implement public health measures would have their salary restored by the federal government.
‘I promise you I will have your back,’ he told them.
On Thursday, he hit out at Biden’s new mandates and raised the specter of more legal tussles.
‘Forcing this and coercing people, I don’t think is the right decision,’ he said at a press conference.
‘I’d imagine that you’re gonna see a lot of activity in the courts if they try to do that through an executive action3.’
The plans for a new push come as the Delta variant sweeps through states with low vaccination rates.
There are about 150,000 new infections every day, on a par with the situation before vaccinations were widely available.
But Biden’s comments triggered a predictably partisan response.
‘President Biden continues to undermine confidence in safe and effective vaccines,’ said Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
‘He is using fear, control, and mandates.’