President Joe Biden railed against Republicans he said fostered "bullying in schools" by thwarting guidelines from officials designed to control the spread of COVID-19.
"Local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic while the governor picks a fight with them and even threatens their salaries or their job — talk about bullying in schools," Biden said in the State Dining Room on Thursday. He said that for those whose pay is threatened, "I promise you, I will have your back."
"If these governors won't help us beat the pandemic, I'll use my power as president to get them out of the way," Biden said, adding that the federal government had already begun taking legal action against states undermining local authorities. While Biden did not name Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis directly, the president has sparred repeatedly with him over COVID-19 protocol in recent months.
When the governor banned mask mandates for K-12 schools and threatened to withhold pay from educators who bucked this, the Biden administration offered to pay the salaries of superintendent or school board members who lose state funds as a result. DeSantis has said parents should decide whether a child should wear a mask.
On Friday, a Florida appeals court ruled in favor of DeSantis's order, issuing a stay in the case that effectively reinstates the ban.
"The only 'bullies' here are those who want to violate parents’ rights to force-mask kindergartners," Christina Pushaw, DeSantis's press secretary, told the Washington Examiner. "Governor DeSantis believes that parents know their kids best, and under Florida law, parents have the right to make health and education decisions for their own children."
Biden unveiled his six-pronged strategy in remarks at the White House on Thursday, training his fire on Republicans and the unvaccinated. The plan is designed to limit infection rates as children return to classrooms this fall and businesses itch to resume normal operations.
Besides getting more shots into the arms of teachers and children ages 12 and up, Biden is calling for sweeping mitigation measures, such as widespread mask-wearing and tests.
The president's plan mandates vaccines for federal workers, boosts access to free COVID-19 tests, and imposes new mask-wearing rules. By invoking the Defense Production Act, he said the cost of self-administered rapid tests would drop by about a third. Biden will also force large businesses to hold employees to vaccine or testing regimens.
The playbook will also level punitive measures, doubling fines for people who refuse to wear masks while traveling.
"If you break the rules, be prepared to pay," Biden said, aiming criticism at travelers who've jousted publicly with flight attendants and others over such measures. "And by the way, show some respect."
Biden also said he would not let unvaccinated people hold the economy back, suggesting they were responsible for an economic slowdown.
"We cannot let unvaccinated [people undo] this progress," he said.
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Original Author: Katherine Doyle