Biden baits GOP on COVID-19 at moment of political peril

Political rivals of President Joe Biden view his latest salvo of attacks against GOP governors over how to get the coronavirus pandemic under control, alongside sweeping new COVID-19 vaccine mandates, as an attempt to distract from his own problems.

The Democrat faces rolling waves of COVID-19 hot spots, inflation woes, slowed economic growth, and the fallout of a chaotic Afghanistan drawdown. Meanwhile, polls show the once-buoyant president backsliding as the return to normalcy he promised months ago has faded.

According to an Economist/YouGov survey this month, 39% approved of Biden's performance in office, while half disapproved — placing the president underwater by 10 percentage points.

Sixty percent of respondents said they believed the country was heading in the wrong direction. Just 26% felt it was on the right track.

Announced on Thursday, Biden's new rules aim to require vaccinations for federal workers, with vaccine mandates or weekly tests for employees at larger companies. Though exemptions may apply, Biden's rule will target some 80 million private-sector employees.

'GET THEM OUT OF THE WAY': BIDEN SAYS 'BULLYING' GOVERNORS MUST QUIT FIGHTING PANDEMIC RESTRICTIONS

Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, charged the White House was looking for a narrative shift as voters balked at the president's handling of other issues.

"The White House recently said it's ‘not the federal government's role to enforce a mandate. What changed?" Cotton tweeted. "Biden's poll numbers."

The senator added: "He needs a distraction from his failures."

Speaking in the State Dining Room on Thursday, Biden heaped blame on Republican governors, accusing them of thwarting efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19.

"If these governors won't help us beat the pandemic, I'll use my power as president to get them out of the way," Biden said.

Though the president didn't name governors in his address, he appeared to reference a threat by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to withhold pay from educators who defied a ban on mask mandates in his state. A Florida appeals court ruled in DeSantis's favor on Friday, reinstating a stay on mask mandates in schools.

"Any teacher or school official whose pay is withheld for doing the right thing, we will have that pay restored by the federal government 100%," Biden said. "I promise you, I will have your back."

Biden also claimed unvaccinated citizens are slowing the country's recovery from the pandemic.

"The constant stream of insults and threats from the White House is a desperate attempt to regain control of the Narrative and distract from the Biden administration's abject failures: Afghanistan, the border crisis, and the COVID-19 response," DeSantis's press secretary Christina Pushaw told the Washington Examiner on Friday.

Pushaw, who stressed DeSantis's support for COVID-19 vaccines, said Biden's mandates were "authoritarian and coercive" and ineffective.

DeSantis has called vaccine mandates unscientific and "fundamentally wrong," she said. "In Florida, we will fight back for individual rights."

Biden's remarks drew DeSantis's ire on Friday, with the governor telling attendees at a veterans' appreciation event in his state, "This guy doesn't take responsibility for anything."

"He's always trying to blame other people, blame other states," DeSantis said. "This is a guy that promised when he ran for president that he would shut down the virus."

He continued: "If you look now, there's 300% more cases in this country today than a year ago when we had no vaccines at all. So his policies are not working."

Democratic polling suggests requirements are popular in some electoral battlegrounds, including in five swing states that flipped from supporting former President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020.

Unite the Country, a pro-Biden political group, surveyed voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin last month on the prospect of proof of vaccine requirements, mask-wearing, and testing protocol in private corporations.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said they favored the measures, while 35% opposed them. Some 75% of adults nationwide have had at least one dose of the vaccine, the White House said this week.

"Given how closely divided those five states are, this is about as much consensus as you will ever find," tweeted Democratic pollster Steve Schale, who leads Unite the Country.

Schale said mandates may be a winning issue for Democrats in electoral races. He told Reuters the party could benefit if voting becomes "a referendum on whether people should take personal responsibility to get out of the pandemic."

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The White House said on Friday it had no time frame for the rule to take action, as it must pass through a federal agency first.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki assured reporters the administration was acting constitutionally.

"Everything we do is obviously reviewed legally," she said.

Nineteen GOP governors have said they plan to fight it.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota kept her response to the president brief.

"See you in court," Noem tweeted.

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