President Joe Biden decided to wade into the debate over recalling California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently, pledging the White House’s full support for the embattled governor.
In some ways, this makes sense: the head of the Democratic Party standing up for another leading Democrat in a state that leans left. In fact, Biden owes Newsom more than he realizes, as Newsom was first to implement strong government lockdowns last spring, effectively neutering Bernie Sanders’s campaign and ushering in the basement campaign that led Biden to the White House.
Yet while the California recall may have been started by Trump supporters, it isn’t about Donald Trump or partisan politics. It’s about holding Newsom accountable for a year’s worth of arbitrary lockdown orders that have crushed the economy and cut people off from each other.
It’s about a homeless crisis that is spiraling out of control, despite voters passing billions of dollars of new taxes to solve it. It’s about a government that has decided to aggressively punish lawful businesses during the pandemic while releasing convicts back onto the streets.
It’s about incompetence, best demonstrated by the multi-billion-dollar unemployment fraud that is just being unearthed, and double standards, like Newsom dining at one of the world’s most expensive restaurants with a group of lobbyists while publicly shaming Californians who wanted to spend Thanksgiving with their families. (It didn’t help that the French Laundry received $2.4 million in government loans while small businesses suffered.)
The recall is also about Newsom’s lack of transparency, including his refusal to provide information about the data supposedly driving the COVID lockdown orders and lying about the French Laundry incident being outdoors. More than anything, the recall is about Newsom’s failure to get schools reopened for in-person learning, despite reams of evidence that shows it is safe and that the costs of school closures far outweigh the benefits.
That is where Biden’s support for Newsom may cause problems. After all, Biden may be the only elected official who has been weaker on school re-openings than Newsom, saying that his grand plan to get kids back to school “within 100 days” meant getting a “majority” of schools reopened for “some teaching” at least one day per week.
The White House backtracked on that plan within days. Then it issued a new plan that, as a practical matter, will keep many schools shut, with a loophole that allows schools to jettison in-person learning for virtual or “hybrid” models if COVID transmission rates exceed a certain level. Schools and teachers’ unions across America are using such loopholes to keep schools closed without any individualized (or even generalized) threat of harm.
Where does the White House come up with these plans? Linking school to COVID transmission rates may seem like good education policy inside the Beltway conference rooms, but in the real world it doesn’t. Most parents want their kids to be at school learning from a real person and acting like normal people, not bots.
Even Newsom realizes that. He is now trying to negotiate with teachers’ unions to get schools re-opened soon. It won’t work. The teachers’ unions are demanding that all teachers be vaccinated before kids go back on campus. As Newsom admits, that is both unnecessary and unrealistic. It would keep schools closed longer.
Meanwhile, the union leaders know they have leverage. Recall elections in California have no contribution or spending limits, at least for Newsom. Think the governor will stand up to the unions when they are dangling millions of dollars in recall defense funds in front of him?
He should. Newsom does not need to negotiate with anybody. He could get California’s kids back to school immediately by rescinding the “stay at home” order he issued last March.
That order—which Newsom said would not last “many, many months”—is still in place and is the basis for all the state and local health orders that are keeping schools (and other things) closed. Eliminating it would allow local governments to do what they want and would force those who want to close to justify it.
He also stopped California’s economic rebound last summer by closing restaurants and gyms and other indoor activities in response to a non-existent “summer surge,” paving the way for unions to demand that schools also be closed. That’s why more than 1.5 million Californians have already signed the recall petition, including many Democrats like me.
The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last week that urged Americans to “follow the science, not the teachers’ unions.” While Christie’s commentary is interesting—especially given his experience fighting teachers’ unions in New Jersey—the comments about it shed greater light on the mood of American parents. As one commentator, from California, wrote:
Thank you, Chris, for standing up for our kids. I’m a lifelong Democrat who just changed my CA registration to ‘declined to state.’ I have lost faith in the Democratic Party and see clearly the hypocrisy in claiming to care about ‘the least of these’ while selling them down the river in order to keep their union members happy. Unions have lost my support. Democrats have lost my support. Not one of our elected leaders is standing up for kids. It’s abhorrent. I hope the Republicans can manage to nominate a moderate, non-bigoted candidate in 2024 so that suburban women like me have someone to vote for because we have absolutely noticed that Republicans are the only ones fighting for school re-openings. For now, I find solace in putting my energy into the Recall Newsom campaign. Someone has to pay for this betrayal, and our Governor is a good start.
I’ve heard the same message from dozens of California parents. Some are leaving the state for good. But there will be enough of them to left to hold Newsom and other elected officials accountable if they don’t get every school re-opened soon.
That should be a warning to the White House. Anger over the government’s arbitrary COVID lockdown orders isn’t a sign of domestic extremism. Californians are proving that lockdown frustration is a bipartisan electoral force. Newsom could be just its first victim.