Jan 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Dems frustrated with Biden’s Omicron response

A compilation shows Reps. Tim Ryan and Elissa Slotkin, side-by-side.
Reps. Tim Ryan and Elissa Slotkin. Photos: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call (left); Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Fed-up Democratic lawmakers are prodding the Biden administration to do more to contain COVID-19.

Why it matters: The outreach reflects building pressure from constituents left confused and wary by shifting and conflicting guidance — a black eye for an administration that ran on its competence.

Driving the news: Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Tim Ryan of Ohio are urging President Biden to purchase and distribute domestically manufactured KN95 masks to any American household requesting them.

  • They would be paid for with previously allocated COVID-19 funds.
  • In a letter seen first by Axios, the pair writes the nation is at a "crossroads" in the fight against the coronavirus.
  • "We strongly encourage the administration to take the opportunity to prevent further loss of life ... by leveraging the federal government's substantial authority to prioritize American-made masks and PPE," they write.

The details: The lack of readily available rapid testing, particularly before the recent holidays, is also among the chief concerns detailed by aides and members. Another sore spot: changes in the CDC’s guidance.

  • Over 40 members of the House and Senate wrote a letter to the president Monday calling on the administration to expand COVID-19 rapid testing.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki conceded to reporters this week the administration was “not where we needed to be” in terms of testing supplies.
  • A White House official later cited the administration’s vaccination and COVID-relief efforts, adding: “We’re honest about the challenges we face and continue to address them with Congress, which is why we’re heartened by the praise we’ve received on announcements today, while continuing our work to manage a once-in-a-generation pandemic.”

What they're saying: Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) tweeted on New Year's Eve: “Free at-home and in-person COVID-19 tests. Free N95/KN95 high-quality masks. For every person in our country. For whenever they need them. For the duration of the pandemic. This is not complicated.”

  • Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) retweeted a tweet from Capt. Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, who criticized the CDC for cutting the quarantine time for those who've tested positive for COVID-19 from 10 days to five.
  • He argued pilots shouldn’t feel pressured to fly unless they are medically fit to do so, saying the ALPA “will not allow corporate interests to replace the good judgment pilots show daily in making decisions about whether they are healthy to fly.”

Will McKelvey, former health policy adviser to Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), criticized the CDC for not requiring a negative rapid test after its new five-day quarantine period.

  • He labeled it “disappointing, but predictable due to the shortage of rapid tests.”
  • McKelvey added: “This shortage could have been avoided by focusing on approving and distributing inexpensive paper-strip tests, like more than a dozen Congress-members pushed for in 2020.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional White House comment.

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