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White House admits Biden cannot force people to wear masks or get vaccines as Texas and Mississippi drop safeguards

Griffin Connolly
·3-min read
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has stressed that the White House can only do so much in responding to the pandemic. (Getty Images)
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has stressed that the White House can only do so much in responding to the pandemic. (Getty Images)

With Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi rolling back Covid-related public health safeguards, the Joe Biden administration has recognised the stark reality when it comes to overseeing the pandemic response: There’s only so much the White House can do.

“He can't do this alone. The federal government cannot do this alone,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday, reiterating a point Mr Biden has made repeatedly in his first month and a half in office.

“This is going to require additional sacrifice from the American people. He doesn't think that's easy. None of us think that's easy,” Ms Psaki said.

While Mr Biden has struck agreements with drugmakers and manufacturers for enough vaccines to ensure every American has the opportunity to get vaccinated, it is up to Americans to set up appointments to actually get their jabs.

“He can't force individuals to do that,” Ms Psaki said.

“He can just project the recommendations of public health officials. He can take steps, as he has over the last couple of days, to ensure that communities are prioritized who are playing key roles in society. But he can't do it on behalf of the public and it’s going to require the public to play an important and vital role here too.”

On Wednesday, Mr Biden was highly critical of Governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Tate Reeves of Mississippi, who have both decided to dispense with mask mandates in their states and limitations on businesses, including restaurants that had previously been forced to operate at reduced capacity.

Despite the nation’s progress with vaccine distribution, including the president’s recent announcement that US will have a stockpile of doses for every American adult by the end of May, “the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask and forget it,” Mr Biden said.

“As of yesterday, we had lost 511,874 Americans,” he said. “We’re going to lose thousands more ... Getting a shot in someone’s arm and getting the second shot, [that is] going to take time, and it’s critical, critical, critical, critical that they follow the science. Wash your hands, hot water. Do it frequently, wear a mask and stay socially distanced. I know you all know that. I wish the heck some of our elected officials knew it.”

Ms Psaki defended her boss’s “Neanderthal thinking” comment, suggesting it was a “reflection of his frustration and exasperation” with the course being charted on Covid by many red-state governors and Americans who are putting others at higher risk by not heeding public health guidance.

The press secretary also blamed the previous administration for not providing leadership to convey proper Covid protocols and the efficacy of following public health guidelines.

“People across the country have sacrificed. And many times they haven’t had information they need from the federal government, they haven’t had access to a greater understanding of what the public health guidelines should look like,” she said.

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