Top Republicans, who were already skeptical about approving more Covid-19 relief money, said Monday that President Joe Biden’s comments that the “pandemic is over” essentially shuts the door on the slim chances of more money getting approved.
“It makes it eminently harder for sure,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, told CNN. “It also begs the question as to why (he’s approving) other pandemic-related measures, like student-loan forgiveness, cancellations.”
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and member of leadership, responded by saying, “If it’s over, then I wouldn’t suspect they need any more money.”
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, sent a letter to the White House Monday to ask for a “clarification if that means the emergency status is over because a lot of things change.”
“I don’t think they were going to get any Covid money through anyway,” Burr said.
In an interview that aired Sunday with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Biden said he believes the Covid-19 pandemic is “over,” but acknowledged the US still has a “problem” with the virus that has killed more than 1 million Americans.
“The pandemic is over,” Biden said in the interview. “We still have a problem with Covid. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. It’s – but the pandemic is over.”
Despite Biden’s remarks, the White House has pushed for $22.5 billion for additional Covid aid to help with vaccines, testing and therapeutics. In April, senators in both parties reached a $10 billion deal for Covid aid but that stalled over an unrelated dispute over an immigration amendment. Before that, a separate package of Covid money was stripped out from a government spending bill because of opposition from a bloc of House Democrats over the spending cuts to pay for it.
“Covid aid is not going to happen,” Sen. Mitt Romney, the Utah Republican who cut the $10 billion deal that stalled over the spring, told CNN. “Not with Republican votes.”
The White House has pushed to include Covid aid in the must-pass continuing resolution to keep government agencies afloat past this month, but there is virtually no chance that will happen now.
Democrats pushed back on Biden’s remarks.
“The variants are still out there,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin when asked about Biden’s comment. “We are all hoping it’s over – nobody is going predict with certainty it is. I’m not.”
Asked about Biden’s declaration, the Illinois Democrat added: “He may know more than I do. I’m sure he does.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, said: “Covid is not over.” And he added: “We need help.”
This story has been updated with additional developments on Monday.