Psaki dismisses slow school start impact on Dems with voters

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday dismissed the possibility that tepid Democratic support for reopening schools will hurt the party with voters.

A reporter asked Psaki at a by-phone press conference about a concerted Republican attack on Democrats, including President Biden, who have been shy about advocating for reopening amid nationwide resistance from Democrat-aligned teachers unions.

“Let me first say on the political front that no polling I have seen has shown that is effective, and there was actually a poll out yesterday that showed that President Biden and teachers were the most trusted entities in terms of determining when school should reopen,” Psaki said, apparently referring to a Morning Consult/Politico poll that found a partisan divide on the issue.

In response to a follow-up question, Psaki said that “the president, the vice president and this White House don’t see reopening schools through a political prism. We see it as what’s in the interest of teachers, of students, of families, of parents. And we want to do it safely.”

She added, “Kids are not Democrats or Republicans. And their parents — I think this is an issue that all Americans care deeply about.”

The White House stance on restarting in-person school a year into the COVID-19 pandemic recently evolved as fed-up parents fume over delays due to teachers union resistance, despite a green light from federal health officials.

Biden on Tuesday said Psaki was wrong when she said his school reopening goal was to have half of schools open by late April for as little as one day per week.

“That’s not true. There was a mistake in the communication,” Biden said at a CNN town hall. “I think many of them will be do five days a week, the goal will be five days a week.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. February 17, 2021.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily briefing at the White House on February 17, 2021.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

Biden’s CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said early this month that schools can safely reopen even without teacher vaccination. Psaki initially said Walensky was speaking only in her “personal capacity.” On Sunday, Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said it would be “optimal” but not essential for all teachers to be vaccinated.

The CDC on Friday released guidelines saying even hard-hit areas can restart classes safely if they routinely screen for the virus.

Preliminary research found low rates of virus transmission within schools.

Psaki on Thursday called for passage of Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus plan — being rammed through Congress without Republican support — and said it contains needed funds for schools.

“What is within [Biden’s] power is that we are working with Congress to get additional funding which is essential to many school districts across the country so that they can follow and take these mitigation steps recommended by the CDC, including masking, smaller class sizes, that there are more bus drivers hired, that there are more teachers hired if needed. That’s within the president’s power, something he’s focused on every day and night, so that we can open schools, open them five days a week within 100 days, and that’s where his focus is,” she said.

Republicans are pointing out that billions in funds for schools already are approved and must be distributed. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said this month that December legislation brought to $68 billion the amount already appropriated for K-12 schools, but that just $4 billion had been spent — with 94 percent left to dispense.

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