Biden can still navigate mask mandate politics, but it won’t be easy

JThe Biden administration is in a political stalemate over masks.

The president and senior officials are trying to strike a balance between promoting life-saving security measures and easing an exhausted and divided country that is crying out for “normalcy”.

CDC medical experts recently said that mask-wearing “remains necessary to protect public health.” And Biden’s Justice Department announced on Wednesday that it had filed an appeal against Florida Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle’s recent ruling, which overturned the public transport mask’s mandate which was extended until May 3. .

Judge Mizelle – a Trump appointee who received an “unqualified” rating from the American Bar Association – in speaking out against the CDC’s recommendation became a right-wing hero and clearly struck a chord with many. members of the public. Major airlines, such as United and Delta, responded immediately by removing their mask mandates. This announcement prompted some passengers to cheer wildly, remove their masks mid-flight and shout “Finally! »

President Joe Biden responded to the decision with an unnecessary message that simultaneously undermines medical experts and members of his own administration. He urged Americans to decide for themselves whether to wear masks. Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the administration’s coronavirus response coordinator, meanwhile said he would always wear masks.

But a majority of Americans still haven’t received a booster, children under five aren’t vaccinated, millions are immunocompromised and at risk, some still think the pandemic is a hoax, and others continue to take ivermectin, green mist and urine. therapy instead of a life-saving vaccine.

Clearly, this is a hot and awkward mess, especially for an administration that can’t afford any political setbacks heading into an unfavorable midterm election with low poll numbers, inflation and a failure to deliver on big, bold promises thanks to a radicalized GOP and filibuster Democrats like the senses. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

In a sane world, this country would come together to save as many lives as possible during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. But this is America, where the right has been spreading misinformation and weaponizing masks and vaccines as part of their endless culture war.

As such, I have reached out to several political strategists (from both parties) to ask how they think President Biden should politically navigate the ongoing masking issue.

Republican pollster and consultant Frank Luntz told me Biden was “lucky” to receive this ruling from Judge Mizelle — who did for him what the CDC wouldn’t do to overturn the mask warrant. “Biden is smart enough to know that people don’t want to wear masks anymore, but he couldn’t walk away from public strategy,” Luntz wrote in an email.

The decision gives Biden political cover, and if indeed COVID cases increase due to the new variant – as we are witnessing in the UK – he can outsource the blame to an unqualified judge appointed by the former President Donald Trump.

However, a majority of the US population actually supports masking on public transportation according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs poll. 56% of those polled said they were in favor of requiring masks, 24% were against and 20% were undecided.

Karen Finney, a Democratic consultant, told me it was imperative that President Biden maintain a “clear narrative” that gives individuals the best and most up-to-date medical advice and information to keep themselves and their communities safe. That — not politics — should be “the guiding light,” she said, accusing former President Trump and Republicans of initially politicizing masks and vaccines, costing countless lives.

“The CDC should stick to what is good science, and the Biden administration should communicate what is good science to the public,” Finney urged.

Tim Miller, who was Jeb Bush’s communications director in 2016 and now writes for The Bulwark, agreed that President Biden would benefit politically from appearing decisive and in charge on the issue, which unfortunately has not been reflected in Regarding the masks. However, Miller thinks anything that restores a sense of normalcy would be political gain for Biden right now. “The reality is that even though the warrants have been dropped, life still doesn’t work To feel normal for people: inflation, masks, staff missing in places. All of this makes things look bad and contributes to Biden’s low approval rating.

Unfortunately, the CDC has already compromised itself with its history of mixed messages on masks.

This sentiment of gloom expressed by Miller is reflected in recent polls, in which the majority, unfortunately, do not praise the Biden administration for the infrastructure bill or job growth due to rising oil prices. essence and the feeling of unease. Perceptions, not facts, create political reality, and that’s troubling for Democrats.

DNC consultant Kurt Bardella, however, isn’t worried about the political slant of this current conundrum as he believes that “realistically, by November, no one will remember what happened here. in April”. Bardella thinks the White House is “playing well” in letting the CDC make the decision. “Agencies like the CDC must remain apolitical and let facts and science be their guide.”

Unfortunately, the CDC has already compromised itself with its history of mixed messages on masks.

“The CDC has woefully mishandled communications with the American people and in part created this political problem for the president and the Democratic Party,” according to Matthew Cortland, Senior Disability Fellow for Date For Progress. Last year, the CDC prematurely recommended removing masks just before the deadly Delta wave arrived and wreaked havoc across America. Last month, the CDC supported states in easing mask restrictions, but now it’s urging masking again. No wonder people are confused.

For those who are immunocompromised, chronically ill, or disabled, it seems like the CDC and elected officials are playing political football with their lives. The Disability Economic Justice Collaborative released a poll today that shows only 1 in 3 voters with disabilities think DC’s elected leaders care about them.

“Politicians don’t tend to think of people with disabilities as a constituency and an interest group they should serve,” Cortland told me. However, he pointed out, “disabled voters form an electoral bloc and there are literally tens of millions of us.”

These include people like my 5 year old daughter who survived stage 4 cancer and had a liver transplant. I recently wrote about how our family was able to travel thanks to airline mask mandates, which were a minor inconvenience but allowed us to enjoy our first vacation in three years. The reality, unfortunately, is that many Americans are effectively “done” with COVID and care more about their comfort than the elderly, disabled, and immunocompromised.

Anat Shenker-Osorio, political strategist and communications consultant, nevertheless believes that this is still an opportunity for the Biden administration to unite Americans and use it as a launching pad to get more people vaccinated. . Currently, only about 66% of the population is fully immunized and only 30% of the population has received a booster dose, which puts America behind most industrialized countries in vaccination rates. Shenker-Osorio told me that messaging about vaccines and masks is a tough challenge in part because public sentiment is mostly concerned right now about rising prices and the inability to make ends meet.

“That’s where their heads are, and that’s where the rhetoric needs to be — and also the ever-present need to make it clear that Trump and the Republicans are an authoritarian faction,” said Shenker-Osorio, who also thinks Biden can tie it all together. together in acknowledging people’s suffering and hardship during this rare pandemic, while encouraging us to make smart and informed personal choices that will not only protect ourselves and our loved ones, but also help our fellow Americans.

Ultimately, it’s these basic safety precautions, which include masks and vaccines, that will help us “overcome” the pandemic and mask mandates, but only if enough people choose to do so.

In the face of a brutal midterm election season, the rest of us can only hope that the Biden administration will not sacrifice public health and safety measures in a zero-sum political game, where a increase in the number of COVID victims is worth favorable polling figures.

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