by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
White House demands for more COVID-19 funding, second gentleman Doug Emhoff’s positive diagnosis, and the spread of the BA.2 omicron variant have muddied President Joe Biden’s attempts to move past the pandemic.
Overshadowed by the Ukraine war and de-prioritized as restrictions have relaxed to reflect falling case numbers, the White House had started to pivot toward other agenda items without declaring the public health emergency over. But the setbacks have eroded the perception of progress amid calls for preparations to begin for the next outbreak.
The White House is snared in a messaging trap as Biden and his aides implore Congress to approve more COVID-19 spending amid the BA.2 variant threat “without seeming to suggest that new lockdowns are around the corner” before November’s midterm elections, according to former Republican operative John Pitney.
“Most Americans are sick of restrictions and want the pandemic to be over,” the Claremont McKenna College politics professor, who has written about the politicization of autism, told the Washington Examiner. “Sounding the alarm bell might trigger resentment instead of watchfulness.”
The White House has, to some extent, minimized the risks posed by the BA.2 COVID-19 variant. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, has repeated that he expects an “uptick” in cases considering the strain is between 50% and 60% more transmissible than the original omicron sequence. But he said last weekend that he did not predict the United States would “see a surge,” particularly among the vaccinated and boosted.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has similarly sought to reassure the public that the administration is monitoring BA.2’s spread at home and abroad in China and Europe. The mRNA shots are also an advantage the U.S. has over countries, such as China, currently experiencing outbreaks, she contended.