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Biden changes his mindset by confronting GOP governors about the Covid spike

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CNN

When Republican governors began prematurely lifting coronavirus restrictions in their states in early spring, President Joe Biden and his team kept their heads largely bowed and increased vaccine distribution while staying away from rhetorical battles with political opponents.

But this week, as the Delta variant and low vaccination rates in several southern states drove cases skyrocketing, Biden took a new approach: scourging Republican governors who stand in the way of mask and vaccine requirements – and the governors of Texas and Calling Florida especially for the adoption of “bad health policies”.

“I say to these governors, please help. But if you don’t want to help, at least get out of the way, ”Biden said during his remarks on the pandemic on Tuesday. “People are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives. ”

Over the past week, Biden has shown a renewed willingness to cross lines he was previously reluctant to break, frustrated with the behavior of certain Republicans, and angry with Americans who refuse to get vaccinated.

Early in his presidency, Biden sought to keep politics out of his efforts as he worked to support nationwide vaccination efforts and distribute coronavirus supplies, believing open criticism of individual governors or vaccine-reluctant Americans would backfire.

Now that another surge threatens the progress he’s made on the pandemic, Biden believes the time of silence is over. Coupled with the government’s renewed openness to vaccine mandates and increased criticism of vaccine disinformation, direct calls on governors to change their behavior reflect Biden’s impatience with forces he believes are prolonging the crisis.

When a reporter asked Biden specifically about the Republican governors of Florida and Texas, the president went further, claiming that some of their decisions – like banning school masks or banning vaccine mandates – were inconsistent.

“I believe the results of their decisions are not good for their constituents,” he said. “And it is clear to me and most medical experts that the decisions that have been made, such as the ban on wearing masks at school and the like, are bad health policies.”

Even so, Biden shrugged off a question of whether he would call Governor Ron DeSantis personally to share his concerns – “To say a happy birthday?” He scoffed – and instead said the Governor of Florida knows where Biden is.

“He knows the message. He knows the embassy, ​​”Biden said, adding he and the governor” had a little discussion “when the president visited the collapse site of a condo building outside of Miami last month.

The White House defended Biden’s decision not to personally call governors like DeSantis, citing regular conference calls chaired by Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the White House is in contact with Florida officials to discuss the federal Covid efforts despite the state governor’s actions.

“We’re working closely with Florida public health officials and the governor’s team to see if we can send a team there to meet their needs. So it goes on, ”she said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t shout if we think more steps can be taken.”

However, until recently officials said they were careful to avoid “rhetorical battles” with Republican governors who fueled the pandemic culture wars and would likely welcome a confrontation with the Democratic president in office.

“Getting into a heated public argument about it is exactly what sometimes plays into the hands of the people who make these decisions,” a senior administrator told CNN in March. “The president’s general view of the world is not to take the bait, not to reinforce the rhetoric, and not to try to start a war.”

That mentality changed this week when another senior official told CNN this week that some GOP governors “put their political interests above public health”. Psaki then made a similar point during her daily briefing on Tuesday, which was later repeated by the president himself.

DeSantis, who is expected to seek presidency in 2024, responded quickly to Biden on Wednesday, positioning himself as a defender of “parental rights” and warning that he “doesn’t want to hear a slip about Covid” from Biden until he “ makes the border safe ”.

“If you’re trying to restrict people and get mandates and ruin their jobs and livelihoods, if you try to lock people up, I’m in your way. I stand for the people in Florida, ”said DeSantis.

Biden’s noisy frustration with DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott highlights the difficulty he is facing in containing another surge in the virus. Most of the decisions that will most likely stop the spread – like ordering masks and vaccines or ordering more bans – are made at the state level, limiting the president’s power to alter the virus’ trajectory.

While Biden announced a new requirement last week that federal employees be vaccinated or otherwise subjected to strict containment measures, he cannot make the vaccine mandatory for all Americans. Nor can he apply nationwide mask requirements; The guidance offered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week was just a set of recommendations for states and communities to take up.

The White House has made it clear it doesn’t believe all Republican governors are blocking progress on the pandemic. You quoted Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson as admitting this week that he regrets the signing of a law banning local masking mandates as a GOP leader taking positive steps to combat the pandemic.

But officials have dulled their assessment of other governors who have opposed federal guidelines and instead let themselves be guided by opposing CDC-recommended public health measures.

When DeSantis spoke in Miami on Tuesday, he tried to downplay the current situation in Florida, where coronavirus-related hospital admissions have increased 13% from the previous high in Florida on July 23, 2020, according to the Florida Hospital Association.

“I think it’s important to point this out because the media obviously creates hysteria,” said DeSantis. “You’re trying to be a fear maker, you’re trying to do this stuff. And when they talk about hospital stays, our hospitals are open for business. ”

According to a press release on Tuesday, 11,515 patients with Covid-19 are currently hospitalized in the Sunshine State. The Florida Hospital Association reports that 84% of all inpatient beds and 86.5% of ICU beds are occupied. Of those hospitalized with Covid-19, 21% are in intensive care and 13% are on ventilators, according to the FHA.

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