Opinion: It’s Biden’s ‘cleanup on Aisle 46′ moment

The past two weeks in Washington have provided us with two prime examples of unforced political errors in an election year.

Last week, Republicans in Congress cringed as U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. created a firestorm among Democrats by unveiling a national ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

This week, it was President Biden’s turn to step on his party’s message, as he declared on ‘60 Minutes’ about the Coronavirus — ‘The pandemic is over.’

It was a hanging curveball for the GOP, as Republicans quickly called for the feds to drop all sorts of Coronavirus restrictions.

“It’s past time tyrannical government overreach came to an end,” said U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens.

Clyde joined other GOP lawmakers in calling for the repeal of all national emergencies related to the Coronavirus, and an end to Pentagon policies that have forced out military personnel who refused to get the Coronavirus vaccine.

“With the pandemic officially over, now it’s time to end all vaccine mandates,” said U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc.

Biden’s remarks also came at a rather inopportune moment for the White House, which has been struggling to get Congress to approve billions in new funding for Coronavirus vaccines and antiviral treatments.

Why do you need to spend billions more if the pandemic is over?

The President had asked Congress for $22 billion in extra Coronavirus funding, but Republicans have clearly signaled they won’t support that as part of a temporary funding bill which must be approved by Sept. 30.

Even Dr. Anthony Fauci – the government’s top infectious disease expert – was sending a different message than the President.

“We are not where we need to be if we’re going to be able to quote, live with the virus,” Fauci said, urging Americans to get vaccinated and boosted. “We’re dealing with a very, very complicated situation.”

About 400 Americans are still dying every day from the Coronavirus – and studies show those deaths continue to occur at a higher rate in counties carried by Donald Trump in 2020 versus counties won by Joe Biden.

It took two days for Biden to finally clarify his comments – which basically boiled down to he meant to say massive progress has been made, but that the fight against COVID is not over.

But the damage had been done. Virus skeptics had their priors confirmed. The GOP had a new line of attack. And health activists on the Democratic side were gritting their teeth at the muddled message.

It’s not the end of the world for Democrats. But it was a ‘Clean up on Aisle 46′ moment - just weeks before Election Day.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com