(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden’s contention in a recent interview that the “pandemic is over” is complicating Senate Democrats’ efforts to secure needed Republican support for COVID-19 relief funding that had been requested by Biden’s administration.
“COVID is not over,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Monday when asked about Biden’s remarks, made during a 60 Minutes appearance that aired the previous day. “I don’t know what he meant — some people use ‘pandemic’ or ‘epidemic’ or other phrases. And he said that COVID isn’t over, the pandemic is over. But the way I look at it, COVID isn’t over.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin agreed.
“The variants are still out there. We are all hoping that it’s over [but] nobody is going to predict with certainty that it is. I’m not,” Durbin, D-Ill., told ABC News on Monday.
When pressed on the fact that the president twice resolutely stated that he believed the pandemic had ended, Durbin shrugged: “Maybe he knows something I don’t.”
“The president has asked in the past not just for pandemic funds for COVID-19 but to prepare for what might be next. And I think that’s always obvious and fair to do that,” Durbin said. “Maybe that’s his approach to it, I’d have to ask him.”
Biden on Sunday told CBS’ 60 Minutes that “the pandemic is over,” adding that “we still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”
His comments soon became fodder for Republicans who already opposed the additional $22 billion COVID funding for testing and vaccine development that the White House sought.
The administration’s efforts to get lawmakers on Capitol Hill to approve more money have been repeatedly blocked by Republicans. Currently, the White House hopes to have the $22 billion included in a must-pass government funding bill.
But at least 10 Republicans would need to support that move.
“It makes it eminently harder for sure,” Republican Minority Whip John Thune said Monday.
The top Republican on the Senate’s health committee, North Carolina’s Richard Burr, wrote in a Monday letter to the president that he “watched with great interest” Biden’s 60 Minutes interview.
In the letter, Burr asked for more information about how Biden’s view that the “pandemic is over” might influence some of the administration’s policies, including its request for more COVID-19 funding.
“Despite Americans having largely returned to normal life, which you acknowledged when you noted that attendees at the Detroit Auto Show were not wearing masks, your Administration continues to request un-offset emergency funding from Congress, enforce vaccine mandates, and maintain federal emergency declarations that cost taxpayers billions of dollars,” Burr wrote in the letter.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., called Biden’s request for additional money “crazy” since he has now said the pandemic is ended.
“The president saying the pandemic is over is … just kind of mind-boggling,” said Cassidy, who previously worked as a doctor. “He wants tens of billions for COVID and he says the pandemic is over?”
When asked if Biden’s comments meant there was no need for further funding, Cassidy was brief: “Sounds like it to me,” he said.
But some Democrats defended the president. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Monday that Biden’s comments were consistent with the changing needs of addressing COVID-19.
“What he’s saying reflects reality. People are not acting like we are in the same kind of crisis we were two years ago,” Murphy said. “It would not be consistent with reality if President Biden was out there suggesting what we’re living through today is the same thing as what we’re living through two years ago.”
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