Republican lawmakers chided President Biden on Monday for declaring the COVID-19 pandemic “over” while he’s pushing Congress to spend another $22 billion in emergency relief ahead of a looming fiscal deadline.
Rep. Mary Miller of Illinois was among the GOP lawmakers citing an inconsistency between the president’s pandemic declaration on “60 Minutes” on Sunday and his emergency spending request.
“Now that Biden says the pandemic is over, he should END the military COVID vax mandate and STOP making young children wear masks in Head Start!” she tweeted.
Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican, said of the president’s COVID request, “Inflation is through the roof because of Democrats’ reckless spending.”
Mr. Biden said COVID-19 remains a challenge but he thinks the pandemic stage has ended.
“The pandemic is over,” the president said on “60 Minutes.” “We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. It’s — but the pandemic is over.”
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The president has asked Congress for $22.4 billion in COVID relief, part of a $47.1 billion emergency spending request that includes $11.7 billion to provide lethal aid and budget support to Ukraine.
Congress is facing a Sept. 30 deadline to pass funding for fiscal 2023, and lawmakers are considering a stopgap budget measure known as a continuing resolution to keep the government running while budget negotiations continue.
Mr. Biden’s comments are part of a shift from treating the coronavirus as a manageable threat instead of a hair-on-fire crisis. Roughly 30,000 people are hospitalized for the virus in the U.S., a low level compared to the rest of the crisis, which began in early 2020.
But less than two weeks ago, the president’s COVID response coordinator said the pandemic was still ongoing.
“The pandemic isn’t over,” said Dr. Ashish Jha in a White House press briefing on Sept. 6. “We will remain vigilant, and of course, we continue to look for and prepare for unforeseen twists and turns.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance in recent months to focus on severe disease instead of routine testing, strict quarantines and physical distancing.
Experts say there is no formal mechanism for declaring an end to the pandemic phase, so it is more of a state of mind or assertion by leaders.
The U.S. still designates COVID-19 as a public health emergency and the World Health Organization considers it a public health emergency of international concern, though WHO’s chief recently said the pandemic phase is coming to a close.
“Last week, the number of weekly reported deaths from COVID-19 was the lowest since March 2020,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We’re not there yet, but the end is in sight.”
Some conservatives said Mr. Biden’s assessment that the pandemic is over should prompt the government to stop pandemic-based policies such as vaccine mandates for those in the armed services.
“Biden now says ‘the pandemic is over’ as he’s kicking tens of thousands of healthy soldiers out of the military with his COVID vaccine mandate,” tweeted former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “These soldiers should be reinstated immediately.”
Some liberals also took issue with Mr. Biden’s declaration.
Kentucky state Rep. Attica Scott lamented that “Democrats keep playing these games with our lives.”
“You don’t get to just declare a global pandemic over,” the Democratic lawmaker told the president on Twitter.