President Joe Biden speaks during a video call with the White House Covid-19 response team and the National Governors Association in the South Court Auditorium at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Dec. 27, 2021. Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Republican allies of Gov. Ron DeSantis are making hay of President Joe Biden’s remarks this week seeming to point to a smaller federal role in fighting COVID relative to the states.
“Look, there is no federal solution. This gets solved at the state level,” Biden said Monday during a video conference call with Democratic and Republican state governors.
DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw responded by issuing a series of tweets and retweets mocking the president. One contrasted Biden’s statement with his warning in August that DeSantis, who has opposed vaccine and mask mandates in the state, should “get out of the way” of people “trying to do the right thing.”
“Shot, chaser,” she wrote.
“What a difference a year makes,” Pushaw wrote in a separate tweet noting Biden’s promise last year to “shut down the virus, not the country.”
Helen Aguirre Ferré, a former DeSantis aide now serving as executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, had this to say on her Twitter thread: “@joebiden failed at handling the pandemic and now punts to governors like @RonDeSantisFL who actually solves problems.”
“Complete collapse of an administration … ,” wrote Evan Power, chairman of the Leon County GOP, above a picture of Biden walking toward a Marines helicopter for a trip to his home in Delaware.
The response reflects a long-simmering conflict between the president and a governor running for reelection (and perhaps for president in 2024) over how best to respond to COVID, which has killed 817,000 Americans and more than 62,000 Floridians. Florida, among other states, is in court challenging the Biden administration’s attempts to enforce workplace mandates for vaccinations.
DeSantis argues vaccines and face masks should be a personal decision and persuaded the Legislature in a special session last month to outlaw vaccination mandates unless employers offer opt-outs somewhat more permissive than the Biden mandates do.
Meanwhile, the omicron COVID variant — regarded as highly transmissible but less dangerous than previous strains — continues to spread in Florida and throughout the country.
Here is more context for the latest state-federal row:
Biden was participating in an administration COVID response team’s conference call with the nation’s governors (DeSantis’ official schedule for the day does not indicate that he participated).
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas had just praised Biden for attempting to “depoliticize our COVID response” in a recent address. “I think that was helpful,” Hutchinson said.
“As we face omicron, the governors and your administration must be working together more closely than ever,” he added.
He added, however, he worries that the administration’s plan to send 500 million COVID at-home tests to Americans, free of charge, might interfere with an Arkansas program to distribute such tests through its school system, given their finite supply.
“One word of concern or encouragement for your team is that as you look towards federal solutions that will help alleviate the challenge, make sure that we do not let federal solutions stand in the way of state solutions,” the governor said.
The president’s quoted remark came in reply. He added: “And it ultimately gets down to where the rubber meets the road, and that’s where the patient is in need of help, or preventing the need for help.”
“This is not like March of 2020, the beginning of the pandemic. We’re prepared and we know what it takes to save lives, protect people, and keep schools and businesses open. We just have to stay focused and continue to work together,” he said.
“My message to the governors is simply: If you need something, say something. We’re going to have your back any way we can.”
He noted administration steps to increase availability of vaccines, boosters, and testing.
While acknowledging long lines at testing sites, Biden noted that when he entered office the country could offer “no — zero — over-the-counter home tests.” Since then, eight versions of the home tests have won regulatory approval, he said.
Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to speed manufacturing of these home tests, he continued.
He pledged support for hospitals burdened with COVID caseloads, including personal protection equipment, ventilators, and military medical personnel.
“The bottom line is, we want to assure the American people that we’re prepared. We know what it takes. And, as this group of bipartisan governors has shown, we’re going to get through it by working together,” Biden said.
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