Biden rebukes GOP governors for barring mask mandates

President Biden on Tuesday rebuked Republican governors who have imposed bans on mask mandates and pleaded with them to “get out of the way” of businesses and schools that want to impose coronavirus-related requirements.

“We need leadership from everyone and if some governors aren’t willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic, then they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it,” Biden said in a speech from the White House.

“I say to these governors, please help. If you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives,” Biden continued.

Biden’s criticism was directed at states, all of them Republican-controlled, that have banned mask mandates in school districts, universities or businesses. He particularly singled out Florida and Texas, noting that they currently account for one-third of new COVID-19 cases. Other states like Vermont, South Carolina, Iowa and Arizona have also prevented schools from mandating masks.

Biden said the directives “forbid people from doing the right thing.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, have issued executive orders barring mask mandates even as federal health officials updated guidance to encourage vaccinated Americans in areas of high transmission to wear face coverings indoors.

Biden described a mandate in Texas as “most extreme” because it subjects schools to fines if they require mask use.

Asked later by a reporter whether it was his opinion that those governors were personally making decisions that would harm their constituents, Biden said their decisions were “bad health policy.”

“I believe the results of their decisions are not good for their constituents and it’s clear to me and to most of the medical experts that the decisions being made like not allowing mask mandates in schools and the like are bad health policy,” Biden said.

As he was leaving the East Room, Biden was asked why he doesn’t call DeSantis to communicate the message to him directly.

“He knows the message. We had a long discussion,” Biden said, apparently referencing his meeting with DeSantis regarding the tragic condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., last month.

The overall remarks represented Biden’s sharpest criticism of governors for their handling of the pandemic for some time. Back in March, Biden called the decision by Abbott and Mississippi’s GOP governor, Tate Reeves, to lift coronavirus restrictions, “Neanderthal thinking.”

DeSantis, who is viewed as a likely GOP 2024 candidate, signed an order last week making face masks optional in schools across the state of Florida, after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance that recommended everyone in K-12 schools wear masks indoors.

Abbott in May signed an executive order prohibiting state officials from requiring mask use. Last week, he signed a new order that reinforced that ban and also prohibited state agencies from mandating coronavirus vaccines.

Biden stressed during his remarks Tuesday that the areas with the lowest vaccination rates have the highest counts of COVID-19 cases, describing the pandemic as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” He also warned the situation is likely to worsen before it improves.

“Experts tell us that we are going to see cases rise in the weeks ahead, a largely preventable tragedy that will get worse before it gets better,” Biden said.

White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters on Monday that seven states with the lowest vaccination rates account for over 17 percent of cases, with one in three cases occurring in Florida and Texas in the past week.

At a briefing Tuesday afternoon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is engaged with officials in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana about how they can offer assistance amid the rising infections.

“We are talking about what their needs are and how we could help meet their needs,” Psaki said. “Ideally, we will come to an agreement on how we can provide additional assistance to help address parts of the country where there are rising case numbers.”

Biden also used his speech to praise state businesses that have moved to impose vaccine mandates in recent days, referencing companies like Walmart and Tyson Foods.

“Even Fox has vaccination requirements,” Biden said, referring to the television network Fox News.

Last week, Biden announced that he would require federal employees to show they are vaccinated or submit to regular testing, mask wearing and social distancing. The White House hopes the move will prompt companies and state and local governments to follow suit. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) on Tuesday announced that the city would require proof of vaccination for workers and customers in settings like restaurants, gyms and theaters.

The sweeping policy is the first of its kind in the United States. Biden told a reporter on Tuesday that he believes more cities and states should impose similar rules, before appearing to backtrack, saying he believes it will suffice if businesses make their decisions on mandating vaccines.

Updated at 6:17 p.m.

Tags Bill de Blasio Coronavirus COVID-19 vaccine Greg Abbott Jeff Zients Jen Psaki Joe Biden mask mandates Ron DeSantis
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