President Joe Biden is now faced with the same issues that plagued the final year of the Trump presidency, only this time the president had 12 months to prepare.
On Tuesday, Biden addressed reporters on the administration’s efforts to ramp up testing as the nation confronts a new wave of the coronavirus pandemic introduced by the Omicron variant.
“This is not March of 2020,” Biden said. “Two hundred million people are vaccinated. We’re prepared; we know more.”
Except, just as abysmal testing at the surprise onset of the pandemic nearly two years ago was billed as a failure of the Trump administration, poor capability of meeting testing demand today is back in the headlines.
At the White House, Biden announced the military deployment of 1,000 medical professionals to coincide with construction of new vaccination and testing sites and a bulk order of 500 million rapid COVID-19 tests that would begin distribution in January.
The president’s speech was less reassuring of the 79-year-old president’s capacity to deliver on promises to manage the coronavirus. After fumbling through the brief address, Biden pivoted to questions seemingly out of nowhere.
“Let me answer some questions,” the president said, abruptly concluding his remarks mid-sentence.
Biden was peppered with questions surrounding the administration’s failure to prepare for a COVID surge that would require the radical expansion of rapid testing.
“Public health officials have been saying for months you need to surge rapid tests for just this moment,” said CNN’s Phil Mattingly. “Is it a failure that you don’t have an adequate amount of tests for everyone to be able to get one if they need one right now?”
Biden explained the shortage as a consequence of the coronavirus “spreading so rapidly.”
“It just happened almost overnight, just in the last month,” Biden said, 14 months after the president hinged his entire candidacy on shutting down the virus. Biden entered office with two effective vaccines immunizing 1.3 million Americans a day.
PBS Reporter Yamiche Alcindor pressed the president to offer a “message to Americans who are trying to get tested now, and who are are not able to get tested and who are wondering what took so long to ramp up testing.”
“C’mon, what took so long?” said Biden. “What took so long is it didn’t take long at all. What happened was, the Omicron virus spread more rapidly than anybody thought.”
When the topic pivoted to the president’s signature legislation, the “Build Back Better” bill set up to fail in the Senate following West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition, Biden touted the bill’s importance before cutting himself off.
“I’m not supposed to be having this press conference right now,” Biden said.