President Joe Biden has skipped every conference call with the 50 state governors on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Vice President Kamala Harris has also been absent, only appearing on one of the calls that take place every Tuesday. “That was for about five minutes and she didn’t take any questions,” Nebraska GOP Governor Pete Ricketts told RealClearPolitics (RCP).
Biden and Harris’ absence and lack of communication have frustrated governors who have been blindsided by some pronouncements coming out of the administration.
“It’s been a real frustration, I think it’s safe to say, for all 50 governors,” New Hampshire GOP Governor Chris Sununu told RCP about Biden’s failure to talk to state leaders. “It would go a long way if the president would just get on the phone, or the vice president would get on the phone and take questions. Allow us to ask the folks in charge questions.”
Instead, governors hear from the administration’s medical experts, such as White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is leading the calls because of his position as chairman of the National Governors Association.
Cuomo’s response to the coronavirus has raised concerns and allegations of misconduct. New York Attorney General Letitia James revealed in January that Cuomo’s administration had knowingly undercounted the pandemic’s effects on the state’s nursing home population. Investigations into his response show that his attempts to hide nursing home deaths align with his efforts to sell his book touting his leadership during the pandemic.
In contrast to Biden and Harris, former President Donald Trump made multiple appearances on the weekly call, and former Vice President Mike Pence, who was leading the White House’s COVID response, led almost every call. The Biden White House said the president and vice president’s absence on the calls reflects a change in approach to the pandemic. According to RCP:
The new approach was also required, a White House official told RCP, because the pandemic response has changed dramatically from the early days when little was known about the virus to now, when half of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
And the COVID calls changed, the official added, only after the White House sought input from the states: “We took the feedback from governors in the prior administration that they wanted to have strong, regular, and coordinated response efforts with the federal government, and we’ve been focused on it.”
The administration works daily with states, the official continued, because its “whole-of-government pandemic response is rooted in effective and consistent communication. … While these calls [with governors] play one role in our relationships, it is not the sole mechanism.”
The governors said they were blindsided by the administration’s decision to recommend pausing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over a less than one-in-a-million chance the vaccine could cause the recipient to get blood clots. The White House official said that Biden and Harris found out about the recommendation, which came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), at the same time the governors did.
“We are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” the FDA said earlier this month. “As of [April 12], 6.8m+ doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the U.S. CDC & FDA are reviewing data involving 6 reported U.S. cases of a rare & severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the vaccine.”