The days before Thanksgiving are like free throws at the craps table for President Biden and his administration. If they win, great — and if they lose, or do something ridiculously hypocritical, almost nobody is paying attention.
By Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, many of the regular White House correspondents have already left for the long weekend. Many of the big-time cable anchors are off as well, or working from their home studios.
As for many newspapers, mostly canned pieces about Black Friday are being offered for print.
Thus, Biden’s quiet Tuesday extension of the student loan payment holiday should come as no surprise.
This is different than student loan forgiveness, about which there are serious constitutional questions. The president simply extended the repayment holiday for another six months, using Trump-era pandemic policies as the pretext.
Of course, he didn’t hold a ceremony or something public to make the announcement. Instead, the administration put out a press release after Biden already had left for vacation.
Remember the pandemic? Remember when the president said, more than a month before the midterm elections, that the COVID crisis was finished? “The pandemic is over,” he told “60 Minutes” in mid-September. “We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lotta work on it. … But the pandemic is over.”
Those pandemic powers are tough to give up.
If the pandemic really is over, then proxy voting in the House should end, meaning that members would have to show up to vote. (Imagine that, having to go to work.)
Student loans are complicated because Biden wants to use COVID powers not only to pause payments but to forgive hundreds of billions in student loan debt. Can’t do that if the pandemic isn’t still an issue.
Border policies would have to change — complicated stuff for the administration, because using pandemic powers for student loans would not help its arguments about ending Title 42 restrictions at the border.
And the absence of a health emergency changes insurance regulations, too. How do you tell people they now will have to pay for COVID care?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the retiring head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at least has remained consistent right until the end. He never said the pandemic had ended — and he didn’t Tuesday during his final White House briefing. But he did leave behind a few loose ends: namely, where and how COVID developed.
You almost felt bad for Dr. Fauci on Tuesday. Biden sent him to the podium with only White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre as protection. She ended up shouting down two reporters who tried to ask Fauci about COVID’s origins. “I’m done. I’m not getting into a back-and-forth with you. It’s not your turn.”
Maybe those rather inconvenient questions are why President Biden left on Thanksgiving vacation before his chief medical adviser faced the media. For a long time, Biden attached himself to Fauci like super glue: Fauci was science, and science was Fauci. Whatever Fauci said, we followed — but that ended a while ago.
If we can’t trust them to say where and how it started, how can we trust them to say when it’s over?
Leland Vittert is a veteran journalist who joined NewsNation as an anchor/correspondent in 2021 and hosts “On Balance with Leland Vittert” weekday evenings. He has covered national and international affairs for 20 years, including the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and Libya in 2011 and war in eastern Ukraine in 2014.