First Anthony Fauci went on walkabout. Then an Axios-Ipsos poll showed most Americans deciding that the pandemic is over, at least as far as their tolerance for extraordinary interventions, thanks in large part to the rollback of mask mandates.
In another sign that the White House wants to get in front of voter exhaustion, Joe Biden has exchanged his political adviser as COVID czar with an actual health professional. And it’s not Anthony Fauci, either:
Jeffrey D. Zients, an entrepreneur and management consultant who steered President Biden’s coronavirus response through successive pandemic waves and the largest vaccination campaign in American history, plans to leave the White House in April to return to private life, President Biden said in a statement.
Mr. Biden called Mr. Zients “a man of service” and praised his work to “build the infrastructure we needed to deliver vaccines, tests, treatment and masks to hundreds of millions of Americans.”
Mr. Zients will be replaced as the White House Covid coordinator by Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and a practicing internist who has urged an aggressive approach to the pandemic in frequent television appearances.
Dr. Jha, who is also a health policy researcher with expertise in pandemic preparedness and response, will coordinate the government’s Covid response from inside the White House, officials said. But the selection of a veteran public health expert signaled that Mr. Biden believes the country has moved into a new phase of the fight against the virus.
Zients was an odd choice from the start. By appointing Zients to that position and Xavier Becerra to run Health and Human Services, Biden picked two men without any medical background to run his administration’s policies for the worst pandemic in a century. Under their management, COVID-19 policies became even more politicized than before, especially when it came to schools and interventions. That politicization infected even the supposedly hard-science bastion of the CDC, which calculated its guidelines on political lobbying from teachers unions until this day.
Appointing Ashish Jha is at least a signal that the White House has belatedly figured out that their credibility has evaporated on the pandemic as a result. In fact, Biden explicitly cast it as a change of pace in the way his administration will approach COVID-19:
“As we enter a new moment in the pandemic — executing on my National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan and managing the ongoing risks from COVID — Dr. Jha is the perfect person for the job,” he said.
The 90-page National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan spells out initiatives and investments to continue to drive down serious illness and deaths from the virus, while preparing for potential new variants and providing employers and schools the resources to remain open.
“This plan lays out the roadmap to help us fight COVID-19 in the future as we move America from crisis to a time when COVID-19 does not disrupt our daily lives and is something we prevent, protect against, and treat,” the White House said. “We are not going to just ‘live with COVID.’ Because of our work, we are no longer going to let COVID-19 dictate how we live.”
Isn’t that convenient? It’s also perhaps a sign that Biden administration officials have finally read that memo from their pollster Impact Research. Biden ignored their advice, which was to use the State of the Union to declare COVID victory and depart the field:
Here is the literal memo to the Dems from Biden’s polling firm. Declare a win over Covid and move on. I suspect CDC will get the memo. Will @GavinNewsom and @lapublichealth? We shall see. SOTU is Tuesday. pic.twitter.com/1Enk5SIITk
— Julie Hamill (@hamill_law) February 25, 2022
They’re trying that strategy now, clearly. “We are no longer going to let COVID-19 dictate how we live” is a pretty dramatic shift for this administration away from mask mandates and OSHA inspections to enforce vaccination mandates.
That requires a whole new team of salesmen, and Jha is probably as good a figure as they can choose for that assignment, too. He’s been relatively sane about pandemic measures as well as reasonably consistent on the science. Biden had better choices available, perhaps, but they still need someone who will carry Biden’s water when needed — although not to the extent Fauci does, or did. If they want Jha to be effective, he’ll have to stand apart and base his declarations on firm science rather than whatever way the political winds blow. No more “noble lies,” in other words.
By the way, it still looks like Fauci’s been benched. It’s been at least three weeks since he’s made an appearance on national television, at least according to the media page at NIAID. Looks like Jha’s promotion to the majors means Fauci has either retired or been reassigned to the bus leagues.