Biden bucks Trump's pandemic approach that favored friendlier states and brings Republican governors into the fold

  • Former President Donald Trump drew a line between red and blue states in his approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • President Joe Biden — with his promise of unity — is taking a new approach that includes working with governors who opposed his election.
  • A spokesman for North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said a state health official had met twice with Biden's transition team to discuss "what was going well and what could be improved in terms of vaccine planning and operations."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Former President Donald Trump drew a line between red and blue states in his approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a divisive tactic that favored states that voted for him and angered Democratic governors who frequently blasted his failure to enact a federal plan to control the virus.

Now enter Joe Biden with his promise for unity and a national approach to curbing the pandemic. 

Unlike his predecessor, the new president is seeking to bring Republican and Democrat-led states into the fold as he moves to try to reorganize the haphazard approach from the Trump administration to expand vaccination reach and eventually control the deadly pandemic.

That means reaching out to GOP governors, including those who strongly opposed his election. While Biden and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum probably won't see eye-to-eye on most policy issues, a spokesperson told Insider their teams are talking. 

Staffers in the Wyoming Republican governor's offices also told Insider that Biden reached out to their administration even before his inauguration. Biden's team has also talked with officials in Missouri, according to The Kansas City Star, as the new administration seeks a united effort that includes a plan to safely reopen schools and prop up the struggling economy.

Meanwhile, staffers in Democratic-led states say they're ecstatic to see Biden put in place a nationwide plan after months of disarray on the federal level under Trump.

"I have never been so happy to sit down and read a 200-page government report about how to comprehensively approach one of the most serious crises the nation has faced this century," Anne Caprara, chief of staff to Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker told Insider. "Everything about the Biden administration's approach to fighting the pandemic has brought me hope after a long and terrible year." 

'Eager to engage'

National Governors Association spokesman James Nash said the organization is in regular contact with the Biden administration, including holding calls with governors of both parties and officials such as National Economic Council Director Brian Deese. 

The NGA, which is made up of the heads of all 50 states and US territories, is also in touch with the administration about the distribution of the vaccines just as it had been with federal agencies during the Trump era. 

"The main difference is that the Biden administration is new, so newly appointed officials are eager to engage with governors on the leading issues in the states and territories, including vaccine distribution and economic recovery," Nash told Insider.

Biden's plan includes executive orders put in place during his first two days of office last week that aim to increase mask-wearing, speed up vaccine distribution and tighten international travel restrictions. Biden also has a plan to try to safely reopen most K-8 schools, with a proposed relief package of $130 billion. 

"We're entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus," Biden said in his inaugural address. "We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation."

Even before taking office — and while dealing with a Trump administration that was blocking transition efforts — Biden had already started laying the groundwork for his outreach to both blue and red states.

On a November 19 call with governors, including several Republicans, Biden said his COVID-19 team would follow up and coordinate "on the issues coming out of the call."

That was an early effort to try to maintain communication with governors who at many points last year seemed to be going it alone in their states' responses to the pandemic. 

At that point, Biden still lacked critical information held by the Trump administration, including data on the spread of the virus or on the vaccine program.

Burgum, a Republican businessman who was elected to lead North Dakota in 2016, has grappled with more than 1,400 deaths — and counting — since the pandemic began. He resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate at first but changed direction in mid-November when it became clear the state's hospital network could not handle the steady influx of coronavirus patients.

Burgum's mask mandate expired on Jan. 18, and the governor last week said he believes "personal responsibility" will guide the state in its pandemic response.

Despite a big difference in opinion and approach, Burgum participated via videoconference in a December 16 meeting set up by the National Governors Association between governors and Biden.

And Molly Howell, the North Dakota Department of Health's immunization program manager, met with Biden's transition team twice to discuss "what was going well and what could be improved in terms of vaccine planning and operations," according to Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki.

The office of Wyoming Republican Gov. Mark Gordon, whose state has lost about 600 people to COVID-19, has also held talks with both the Biden transition team and his administration about plans to get the pandemic under control.

Wyoming experienced a big spike in cases from September until November, although the numbers have since gone down.

The Kansas City Star on Monday reported that Biden's team has contacted senior health officials in the state to get an overview of their COVID-19 needs. The state is led by Republican Gov. Mike Parson, a Trump loyalist who defended the former president even after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has dismissed Biden's plan to work with states on the pandemic response.oe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Some GOP resistance

Other governors remain resistant to Biden's approach.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — an ardent Trump supporter —  said last week he doesn't want Biden's help when it comes to vaccine distribution, including the Democratic president's plan to launch 100 federally-funded vaccine clinics during his first month in office. He preferred Trump's approach of letting states deal with their distribution, a system generally favored by Republicans.

DeSantis called Biden's approach a "big mistake," according to the Miami Herald.

"I saw some of this stuff Biden's putting out, that he's going to create these FEMA camps, I can tell you, that's not necessary in Florida," DeSantis said. "All we need is more vaccine. Just get us more vaccine." 

Biden's team isn't about to take that kind of criticism without a fight.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki in her daily briefing on Monday pushed back at DeSantis' claims that Florida isn't getting enough vaccines, saying the state has only administered 50% of what it has received from the federal government. 

She also said the Biden administration will focus on the vaccine program in a bipartisan fashion.

"Part of the challenge…is not just having the supply — that's pivotal — but also having vaccinators and having vaccine distribution places, and doing it in a way that's reaching people where they are and meeting local communities," Psaki said. "And the President is going to be focused on that in a bipartisan manner, regardless of what any elected official may have to say."

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