For a moment there I thought I was having a flashback to 2020. I’m sure most of you remember the regular complaints from the media about Donald Trump not taking part in this or that briefing on a regular basis. But this week’s headline from Real Clear Politics isn’t some blast from the past. Governors are raising complaints that neither the President nor the Vice President has dialed in to the weekly conference calls where they coordinate strategies for tackling the pandemic. Prior to January 20th, either Mike Pence or Donald Trump (sometimes both) would join the call to field questions and requests for federal assistance. But thus far, Joe Biden has been leaving the job to Jeffrey Zients and (of course) Dr. Fauci.
The phone calls come from inside the new administration, but the president is not on the line. In fact, Joe Biden has not dialed in to any of the weekly COVID-19 coordinating calls with the nation’s governors since he came into office, a sharp contrast with his predecessor and a break from last year’s pandemic ritual.
Every Tuesday, usually at 11 a.m. EST, all 50 governors dial in to the same conference call to coordinate federal and state responses to the coronavirus crisis. And until this past January, they heard each time from the vice president. Mike Pence, as head of the White House COVID task force, led those weekly discussions. Donald Trump dropped by from time to time. The calls continue under the current administration but without Biden. “It’s been a real frustration, I think it’s safe to say, for all 50 governors,” New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu told RealClearPolitics.
Of course, he appreciates hearing from Jeffrey Zients, the new White House COVID response coordinator, and from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser. But Sununu told RCP, “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.”
Oddly missing are the cries of outrage from cable news talking heads describing Joe Biden as being derelict in his duties or “out of the loop.” Of course, that probably shouldn’t be too surprising. A recent poll done by MRC shows that a plurality of voters believe that the press is going significantly easier on Biden than they ever were with Donald Trump. (I’m not sure we needed a poll to tell us that.)
There are plenty of ceremonial bits of fluff that the White House gets hooked into at times, not to mention the many other calls that are routine handled by staffers or Cabinet officials. Not all of those require the President’s (or VP’s) personal attention. But wouldn’t you imagine that a call with the governors of every state in the middle of a pandemic to discuss the shifting landscape of infections and vaccinations would rank fairly high on the priority list? And is Joe Biden really all that busy these days? The White House website doesn’t even publish his schedule anymore so it’s hard to say.
Or maybe not Joe Biden himself. As noted in the linked article, Donald Trump frequently handed that responsibility off to Mke Pence, who was steering the pandemic response anyway. What’s Kamala Harris doing on Tuesday mornings these days? She’s certainly not touring the southern border to clean up the crisis there. Based on the number of headlines she’s generated in the past few weeks not involving interviews she’s given, it seems like she probably has some free time to handle this.
Don’t expect to hear much about this story outside of conservative outlets. Hopefully, the governors will be able to figure things out between themselves, assuming Fauci isn’t still moving the goalposts on them every Tuesday.
UPDATE: And you’ll never guess who is leading the calls now.
This report says Biden has participated in zero weekly COVID planning/coordination calls with governors. Those meetings are now led by…Andrew Cuomo. https://t.co/GQoPWeNUwu
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) April 26, 2021