ANDyesterday afternoon, President Joe Biden hosted a good old-fashioned bill-signing ceremony at the White House. Before several dozen listeners in the State Dining Room, the President celebrated the long-awaited passage of a postal reform bill. After his brief remarks, a large, bipartisan group of lawmakers crowded around Biden as he penned the legislation. They huddled closely together, as politicians do, and silently crowded around the first position in the photo. Neither of them wore a mask, although Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wore one around her wrist like a purse.
The event was a taste of the normalcy that Biden has been trying to create of late. However, reality set in that morning when Pelosi announced that she tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the highest-ranking government official since former President Donald Trump’s near-death battle with the virus in October 2020. The 82-year-old spokeswoman stood maskless next to 79-year-old Biden yesterday; She also attended an even larger, mostly mask-free event at the White House the day before, attended by Biden and former President Barack Obama.
Biden’s own test came back negative last night, the White House said in a statement. Because he only briefly interacted with Pelosi at both events, he is not considered a close contact under CDC guidelines. But that may be wishful thinking. The virus appears to be stalking the president: two members of Biden’s cabinet, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. tested positive after attending Saturday night’s annual Gridiron Club dinner, a gala that brought together several hundred members of DC’s elite. The president’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, also tested positive after dinner.
Biden, who did not attend the Gridiron Club event, is going about his business this week, reflecting what he called the “new moment” the country has entered in its fight against the pandemic. “We’re certainly moving forward, back to more normal routines,” the president said during last month’s State of the Union address. “COVID-19 no longer has to rule our lives.”
As he has done throughout his tenure, Biden is attempting to emulate government recommended behavior. He is fully vaccinated and double boosted after receiving an additional vaccination within a few days their eligibility for people over 50 years of age or people with a weakened immune system. When the CDC pushed for masks to be worn in public places, the president wore one except when speaking, to the point where Republicans taunted him for keeping his face covered while he was flying during trips between his helicopter and the White House went outside alone. After the CDC updated its recommendations, Biden is again ready without a mask in the confined space.
Yet the quest for normalcy is complicated when the leaders doing the urging according to CDC, still at highest risk of becoming very ill or dying from COVID. People in Biden and Pelosis’ age group, 75-84, account for just 3.3 percent of the COVID-19 cases recorded during the pandemic, but they account for more than a quarter of all deaths. That older Americans make up such a small portion of the total cases is likely because millions of them are long retired and interact with far fewer people than the President of the United States and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. (Both of Pelosi’s octogenarian lieutenants, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 82, and Majority Whip James Clyburn, 81, survived mild COVID-19 cases during the winter’s Omicron surge.) In more than half the country, including the District, COVID cases rise again of Columbia public health experts are encouraging people at higher risk for severe COVID, including the elderly, to take more precautions. Can Biden do that while projecting “normality”?
The CDC is already recommending that older adults take extra precautions to reduce their risk of contracting the virus, but the White House has given no indication that Biden will do so. This afternoon, he watched alongside his Supreme Court nominee, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, as the Senate confirmed her to the bench. The two hugged and wore no mask. Biden’s current dovish stance on the virus could represent a political imperative for the president heading into an already anticipated election season difficult for his party; The public, Biden acknowledged last month, is “tired, frustrated and weary” after more than two years of living in the pandemic. Certainly now is a comparatively better time to get the coronavirus than when Trump fell ill just under a month before the 2020 election, before vaccines were available.
Perhaps the White House is reconciled to the President eventually catching the virus, since both the Omicron variant and are transmissible its even slicker cousin, BA.2, have proven themselves. Recent infections among officers, even in Biden’s age group, have been mild. Pelosi is showing no symptoms, her office said, as is Garland, who is 69. No one should wish anyone sick, least of all the President. But considering how close the virus is to Biden and how little concern the White House is (publicly) expressing, a positive test result wouldn’t be surprising; it might even be, well, normal.