Psaki sidesteps questions on Cuomo's leadership during pandemic

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiRussian military buildup puts Washington on edge White House looks to rein in gas prices ahead of busy travel season Biden: Guilty verdicts in Arbery case 'not enough' MORE avoided answering questions on Sunday on whether President BidenJoe BidenSouth Africa health minister calls travel bans over new COVID variant 'unjustified' Biden attends tree lighting ceremony after day out in Nantucket Senior US diplomat visiting Southeast Asia to 'reaffirm' relations MORE still believes New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoWill media portrayals of Rittenhouse lead to another day in court? NY Assembly report corroborates Cuomo harassment claims The real 'threat to democracy'? Pols who polarize us with their opinions MORE (D) represents the “gold standard” when it comes to leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.

On ABC’s “This Week,” host Jonathan Karl played a tape from last April of Biden saying Cuomo was “sort of the gold standard” as New York battled with skyrocketing cases in the early months of the pandemic, adding that the governor "has done one hell of a job." Cuomo's office's handling of coronavirus outbreaks in the state's nursing homes is now the subject of a federal investigation by the FBI and the U.S attorney in Brooklyn, who is probing unidentified members of Cuomo's administration. 

When asked if Biden still believes Cuomo represents the "gold standard," Psaki insisted that Biden would continue to work with Cuomo, as he would with all governors.

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“We work with Gov. Cuomo just like we work with governor’s across the country,” Psaki said, noting his position as the chairman of the National Governors Association. “He plays an important role in ensuring that we’re coordinating closely in getting assistance out to people in his state and to states across the country, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Psaki said investigations into nursing home deaths during the pandemic would be up to law enforcement to “determine how that path is going to move as we look forward, but we are going to continue to work with a range of governors, including of course Gov. Cuomo, because we think the people of New York, the people of states across the country, need assistance not just to get through the pandemic but to get through this difficult economic time, and that’s where our focus remains.”

When Karl pressed again whether Biden still believes Cuomo is the gold standard of leadership during the pandemic, asking her to answer with “just a yes or no,” Psaki said, “It doesn’t always have to be a yes or no answer, Jon.”

“I think the president is focused on his goal, his objectives as president of the United States,” Psaki said. “I’m not here to give new labels or names from the president. I’m here to communicate with you about what our focuses are and what his objectives are as president.”

Cuomo has faced increased criticism, including from other Democrats in New York, which has also prompted Democratic state Senate leadership to take steps to remove his emergency powers amid questions surrounding nursing home deaths. He has refused to apologize, instead blaming critics for being in a "toxic political environment."