Speaking on CNN with host John Berman, Symone Sanders, senior adviser and chief spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris, refused to answer a straightforward question: Does President Biden think that K-8 schools can reopen even if teachers have not been vaccinated?
Before Berman asked the question, he noted: “A lot of news last night at that CNN town hall — and one of the things that the president said is he hopes and expects that K-8 schools will be open five days a week by the end of the first 100 days. I’m wondering if you can help clear something up here because the answers on this have been hard to come by. Does the White House — does the president think that K-8 schools can reopen even if teachers have not been vaccinated?”
The president, I thought, was very clear last night. The vice president this morning, Vice President Harris was on the “Today” show and she reiterated. And let me reiterate yet again. The president and the administration’s position is that by the end of the first 100 days, which is around April 30, the president and vice president do believe that the majority of K-8 schools will be able to be reopened and operating safely. How does that happen? That happens by ensuring that schools have the resources that they need in terms of mitigation measures, it happens by people social distancing, making sure that we are doing things like wearing our masks, washing our hands frequently.
And I think by — the president also noted that by the end of late summer, beginning of early fall, during the traditional school year, September, I believe it is, that it is his hope that schools would be operating and open safely all over this country. And the way that we get there is by passing the American rescue plan. … I will just say, John, that [the] American rescue plan I think is an important point to make because that — that plan has money for schools to ensure that they get the resources that they need.
Berman persisted: “It’s not a trick question, and I feel like you guys have treated it like a trick question. I think people just want to know what the White House position is on whether or not teachers have to be vaccinated for kids to return safely to school? The CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, says the science is that teachers don’t necessarily have to be vaccinated for kids to return. And I think people want to know what the White House position is on that.”
Sanders dodged: “The White House position is that — and the president and vice president believe that teachers should be prioritized for receiving the vaccination, along with other frontline workers. And in at least 22 states and the District of Columbia, that’s exactly what’s happening.”
“Prioritized is one thing,” Berman pointed out. “And I think there’s wide agreement they should be prioritized. And why not? Is it necessary, though? That’s the question. It really is a yes/no question.”
Sanders, dodging again: “Well, John, I think the real question, frankly, if I can be frank here, is what you’re getting to is, is it safe for kids to go back to school? And the president and the vice president —”
Berman insisted: “Actually not. In this case, that’s not the question. The question, is it safe for teachers to go back to school? And that’s a very specific question in this case. And, again, I’m not sure — I don’t understand why it’s a hard question to answer. It may be that you want every teacher to be vaccinated. It may be the answer is, [yes], teachers should, if they can, be vaccinated before they return to school, but it’s not necessary.”
“Well, John, I think the president has been clear, the vice president has been clear, and I think I was really clear just now that it is the administration’s position, the president and vice president believe that teachers should be prioritized for vaccinations,” Sanders repeated. “And in 22 states, at least, and the District of Columbia, that’s exactly what is happening. You know, look, this is —”
Berman, patiently: “I’ll try one last time. I’ll try one last time.”
Sanders: “Okay. Go ahead.”
Berman: “Does the president — does the president feel that teachers have to be vaccinated in order for schools to open safely, yes or no?”
Sanders: “The president believes that teachers should be prioritized for vaccination.”
Berman, giving up: “All right.”
Sanders: “His wife, Dr. Biden, the first lady, is a teacher. He knows the importance of teachers being in the classroom. The president and vice president also know, John, that teaching for many people is not just what they do. It is who they are. It is a calling. And teachers want to be in the classroom.”
Sanders: “Parents want students in the classroom. And we want to do so safely and operating according to the science.”
Berman, concluding: “All right. All right. Not going to get a yes or no on that.”
One of the reasons that both Jen Psaki and Biden now have been so hesitant to respond "yes" when asked "When are we going to get back to normal?"–beyond prudent expectation setting–is that their policy preferences preclude that possibility. https://t.co/5oybzCrBr4
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) February 17, 2021