Republican lawmakers are accusing President Joe Biden of setting a low bar for his first 100 days in office to ensure a victory lap when he’s reached his goals of vaccinations and school reopenings—accusations the White House has spent several days pushing back against.
“Either you are going commit to opening up all schools safely, or you’re going to be leaving millions of kids behind for no reason other than you’re afraid of standing up to the teachers unions. Because the science is very clear: You can open up every school safely today and the money is there to do it,” House GOP Whip Steve Scalise said in an interview this week with Fox News.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, attempting to explain what Biden’s goal of having a majority of schools “reopened” by April 30, recently told reporters that the aim would be for 50 percent of schools to be open at least one day a week. By several measures, the United States has already met that goal. Biden’s 100th day also comes in April, which would be at the end of the normal school schedule.
She later defended the goal after pushback from Republicans and other Biden critics.
“Certainly, we are not planning to celebrate at 100 days if we reach that goal,” she told reporters. “We certainly hope to build from that.”
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy called the school reopening plan “unacceptable.” He and others have been advocating for a full reopening of schools, citing the closures’ impacts on learning and student mental health.
After the backlash, Biden said during a CNN town hall discussion on Tuesday that Psaki had misspoken when outlining the goal.
“That was a mistake in the communication, but what I’m talking about is, I said opening the majority of schools in K-8th grade because they’re the easiest to open, the most needed to be opened in terms of the impact on children and families having to stay home,” Biden said. “I think many of them five days a week—the goal will be five days a week.”
Biden set ambitious goals for his first 100 days in office, but as details emerged, the proposals for school reopenings and vaccinations already were on track to be met. Aside from his coronavirus recovery plans, he’s also tacked on plans to reform the nation’s immigration system, invest in the climate crisis and other priorities he campaigned on. Biden has signed nearly five dozen executive orders—many of them attempting to unravel work that Trump did through executive orders during his time in office.
Executive orders don’t hold the weight of law and can be undone in future administrations if they aren’t put into law by Congress.
Biden initially set a goal to have 100 vaccinations in people’s arms in 100 days when he unveiled his coronavirus response plan last fall. Vaccinations are currently tracking at more than 1.5 million people per day and were just under 1 million a day when Trump left office.
“Our country was on track to deliver 100 million doses over the next 100 days well before Biden even assumed office, thanks to Operation Warp Speed—the vaccine development and distribution plan his administration is pretending doesn’t exist,” Representative Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican who is vice chairman of the House GOP caucus, blasted on Twitter.
On school reopenings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last week its long-awaited guidance for safely reopening schools for in-person classes. It includes advice to prioritize social distancing, mask wearing and more wide-spread testing. Biden has included funding for those priorities in his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that the House is expected to take up next week.
Psaki told reporters that vaccinations for teachers will not be a requirement to reopen schools, even though some teachers’ unions have pushed for vaccinations before returning to classrooms.
Last month, Biden also rejected the suggestion that his vaccine goal was too small.
“When I announced it, you all said it was not possible,” he told reporters. “C’mon man.”