President Biden on Thursday confused his administration’s effort to restore a mass transit mask mandate with an expiring policy used to turn away most illegal immigrants when a reporter asked about the Title 42 border measure.
Biden’s press team once again had to issue a written statement afterwards that claimed the president misspoke and meant to comment only about masks.
“I want to clarify that, in comments at the conclusion of my remarks this morning, I was referring to the CDC’s mask mandate and there is no Department of Justice action on Title 42,” read the statement, attributed to Biden.
Moments earlier, Biden was asked by a reporter at the White House if he was “considering delaying” the end of Title 42, which allows authorities to rapidly deport people suspected of illegally entering the country, but he responded as if he was asked about masking on planes, trains and buses.
“No … First of all, there’s gonna be an appeal by the Justice Department,” Biden said.
“Because as a matter of principle, we want to be able to be in a position where if, in fact, it is strongly concluded by the scientists that we need Title 42, that we’d be able to do that. But there has been no decision on extending Title 42.”
Title 42 and the mask mandate both are premised on the CDC finding that the COVID-19 pandemic allows the government special powers. Biden’s critics say he is improperly seeking to restore the mask rule citing public health while not attempting to extend the anti-illegal immigration policy.
It’s not the first time Biden’s press team was left scrambling to mop up after the 79-year-old commander in chief.
Biden infamously said at a January press conference that Russia might face fewer penalties for a “minor incursion” into Ukraine — horrifying Kyiv officials who said Biden may have given Russian President Vladimir Putin a “green light” to invade by showing weakness.
The White House quickly tried to walk back that remark, with press secretary Jen Psaki releasing a statement that said Biden was “clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response.”
Last month, Biden blundered repeatedly during a trip to Europe focused on rallying NATO allies against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which started Feb. 24.
Biden told a crowd of Army paratroopers that they would witness the bravery of Ukrainian civilians defending their country “when you’re there” — forcing a White House aide to release a statement saying that “the president has been clear we are not sending US troops to Ukraine and there is no change in that position.”
Asked about the remark, Biden added further confusion by saying he was referring to training Ukrainian troops in Poland — despite his administration insisting there was no such training program. At the time, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield insisted Biden had not accidentally revealed a previously secret US training effort.
Earlier in the trip, Biden said during a press conference in Belgium that the US would respond “in kind” if Russia used chemical weapons in Ukraine — prompting national security adviser Jake Sullivan to tell reporters aboard Air Force One that “the United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstance.”
Before returning to DC, Biden told a crowd in Poland that Putin “cannot remain in power” — yet again forcing a White House cleanup operation.
An unnamed subordinate claimed Biden “was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia” and White House chief of staff Ron Klain retweeted a post saying Biden had a “lapse in discipline.” But Biden later contradicted his staff, saying “I’m not walking anything back,” and adding that “I was talking to the Russian people” and that “it’s more an aspiration than anything. He shouldn’t be in power.”
The COVID-19 policy mixup follows pressure on Biden from Republicans and some Democrats to extend Title 42, which is scheduled to end on May 23 after the CDC found that the pandemic no longer justified rapid deportations.
Meanwhile, the Biden Justice Department is appealing — at the CDC’s urging — a Florida federal judge’s Monday ruling that struck down the transit mask rule.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted this month: “The Biden administration says that COVID remains serious enough to require passengers on airplanes to wear face masks. At the same time Biden says that COVID it is not serious enough to maintain the title 42 expulsions of illegal immigrants crossing the border. Pure hypocrisy.”
More than 20 states with Republican attorneys general are suing to require the Biden administration to keep Title 42 in effect and say the authority is needed to prevent a massive migrant surge after the number of arrests at the US-Mexico border hit a four-decade high last year.
“Biden thinks there’s a COVID emergency on airplanes so toddlers must wear masks,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) tweeted earlier this month. “But he thinks there’s no emergency at the southern border, so he’s ready to lift the few remaining restrictions. This is putting Americans last.”
The DOJ said Wednesday that it would appeal the ruling by US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle after the CDC said in a statement that “an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health.”
Last week, prior to Mizelle’s ruling, the CDC announced the transportation mask mandate would be extended until May 3 in order to assess the effect of the BA.2 Omicron subvariant of COVID-19.