The Morning Jolt

White House

Biden’s Pandemic Promises Careen into Reality

President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 26, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On the menu today: Joe Biden’s pledges on the pandemic shift from, “I’m going to shut down the virus,” to “there’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months”; Biden continues his pattern of making a bold and sweeping promise that his staff has to explain he didn’t really mean; and Patrick Leahy takes a quick trip to the hospital.

The ‘Ready from Day One’ Team Says There’s Nothing They Can Change for Months

President Biden made it clear that stopping the coronavirus pandemic was his top priority upon taking office, and the American people are likely to largely judge his presidency upon that, at least for the next year or so. The president is getting deserved grief for the difference between his late October  promise, “I’m not going to shut down the economy, I’m not going to shut down the country, I’m going to shut down the virus,” and his assessment of a “dark winter” and recent assessment that “there’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.”

Q: Now that you’re president, you’re saying there’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months. What happened to two months ago when you were talking declaratively about, ‘I am going to shut down the virus’?

Biden: Well, I’m going to shut down the virus, but not — I never said I’d do it in two months. I said it took a long time to get here. It’s going to take a long time to beat it, and so we have millions of people out there who are who have the virus.

Biden and his team are slightly backtracking from the claims in that CNN report, with some unnamed official contending, “There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch.” But only slightly, as Biden said yesterday:

It’s also no secret that we have recently discovered, in the final days of the transition — and it wasn’t until the final days we got the kind of cooperation we needed — that once we arrived, the vaccine program is worse shape than we anticipated or expected.  A lot of you who follow this — and nobody is — I mean this sincerely, the press is the smartest group of people in town; you hone this stuff down, clearly — I think you found the same thing.

I expect we’ll hear the “we didn’t get enough cooperation” excuse from the Biden team a lot; please read Tobias Hoonhout and Ryan Mills’s reporting on the transition briefings and meetings between the administration. “We provided the Biden team over 300 transition meetings, including the very first one on Warp Speed which I kicked off myself,” former Health and Human Services chief of staff Brian Harrison told National Review. “The idea that they’re walking in, having no clue what was going on, is absolutely preposterous.”

Also, recall how Dr. Anthony Fauci characterized what the Biden team inherited, six days ago:

Q: President Biden said that what was left was “abysmal,” essentially. Is there anything actionable that you are taking from the previous administration to move it forward? And is that delaying your efforts to get the vaccine?  I mean, that’s the question that —

FAUCI: No, I mean, we’re coming in with fresh ideas, but also some ideas that were not bad ideas with the — with the previous administration.  You can’t say it was absolutely not usable at all. So, we are continuing, but you’re going to see a real ramping-up of it.

In today’s Washington Post, Peter Hotez, the co-director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development, argues that the Biden administration is still doing too little, too slowly:

I do not see how giving 500 million shots to Americans by this summer will be met with the current projections for scaling production of the two mRNA vaccines or even those in addition to the Johnson & Johnson adenovirus vaccine that the Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize for emergency use soon.

We also need the AstraZeneca-Oxford (AzOx) adenovirus vaccine, which has been authorized in Argentina, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, India, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Britain. The United States has delayed emergency use authorization even though it has already purchased a 300 million-dose guarantee from the company. On Friday, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will rule on the AzOx vaccine. The EMA has been reviewing the company’s dossier since Jan. 12. Both our FDA and the EMA are considered the world’s two premier regulatory agencies. If the EMA rules in favor of releasing the AzOx vaccine, I believe we have no choice but to do the same to quickly expand our vaccine supply.

We’re going to hear variations of “Biden’s only been on the job for a week!” Never mind Biden’s repeated promises that his administration, and his pandemic response team in particular, would be “ready from day one” and “already ready to jump in.” The counter-question is, when is it fair to judge Biden on the decisions he’s made regarding the pandemic while in office? After two weeks? A month? Two months? 100 days?

As you can see from the elaborate promise on the campaign trail and the much more modest projection once elected, Biden hasn’t shaken his old malarkey habits. When he’s got an audience in front of him, he wants to please them and generate roaring applause. Biden has told environmentalist protesters or supporters that he wants to “end fossil fuels,” “get rid of fossil fuels,“phase out fossil fuel production,” and “ban fossil fuel exports.” There is a pattern that whenever Biden is challenged on being insufficiently committed to the green agenda, he insists he agrees with his critic. And then when called out for those comments, Biden insists he never said what he said.

In one of his debates against President Trump, Biden said he would transition away from the oil industry, and then his staff has to rush in and explain he only meant subsidies for the oil industry. He declared, “I will not ban fracking. Period.” And then he banned fracking on federal lands.

The unofficial slogan of the Biden presidency is, “Well, he didn’t mean it that way.”

Trouble for Gotham City’s Ubiquitous Senator

As much as I disagree with him, I wish the Vermont senator a long and healthy life. Leahy, who is 80 years old, was briefly hospitalized Tuesday. The detail-free statement from his office says he’s been discharged.

“After getting test results back, and after a thorough examination, Senator Leahy now is home,” the news release from his spokesman stated. “He looks forward to getting back to work.”

I’d hate to see health issues catch up with Leahy, particularly after he’s survived all of those Batman villains. Leahy is the current president pro tempore of the Senate and will preside over the upcoming impeachment trial. He is also third in line in the presidential line of succession behind the vice president and speaker of the House.

If, God forbid, Leahy cannot perform the duties of his office, his temporary replacement would be appointed by the governor of Vermont . . . Republican Phil Scott. State law requires a special election to be held not more than six months from the date the vacancy occurs. Vermont’s statutes say the governor may request a list of potential replacements from the senator’s party, but is not required to select someone from that list or from the same party as the departing senator.

In other words, this 50–50 Senate could reverse control back to the GOP with a single vacancy or party change, at least for a few months. Something akin to this scenario happened before in 2001, when after about five months of GOP control of an evenly split chamber, Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched from the Republican Party to an independent who caucused with the Democrats.

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it yesterday, Rhode Island is another strong contender for worst-run state vaccination program. Frustrated Rhode Island seniors might want to consider committing crimes and getting incarcerated, to move ahead in line. The state started vaccinating incarcerated persons over age 65 in January. Adults 75 and over are projected to start in February.

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