WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Jen Psaki claimed Wednesday that President Biden “saved Christmas” by addressing a ports crisis — despite an ongoing COVID-19 testing crisis that’s upending holiday plans.
“As the New York Times said today, Christmas gifts are arriving on time this year. Good news: we’ve saved Christmas!” Psaki stated near the top of her regular press briefing.
But New York Times reporter Michael Shear redirected Psaki to the ongoing testing shortage as the Omicron variant of the virus causes massive lines in major cities, including New York.
“You talk a lot about being prepared. I think you talked about Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts yesterday,” Shear told Psaki. “So I just want to make sure I have this right: You don’t yet have a contract or contract to announce? You can’t say when the website is going to be up, but sometime in a matter of weeks? You can’t say how many tests people are going to be able to order at a time or whether there will be a limit on them? You can’t say when they’re going to receive the test or how quickly they will be shipped?”
In response, Psaki gave no new details on the mass-distribution drive, but said the administration was “working to finalize the emergency contract” to acquire the rapid tests.
“We’re not going to put the website up until we have the first batch of the 500 million, which we expect to get in January because we don’t want to create confusion for the American people,” Psaki said. “This is the biggest purchase that we have done to date. It certainly represents a significant commitment and a recognition by the president that we need to be doing more, but that’s the status of where things are.”
In the meantime, Psaki defended the steps the administration had taken.
“There are 20,000 testing sites that are available. We have quadrupled the size of our testing program in the last four months. That’s not including the announcement yesterday.” she said. “We are also working with FEMA to open up testing sites, one of the first we’ll open up in New York City before the end of the week.”
The White House told reporters Monday that federally run COVID-19 testing sites would open around the country and “several” would open in New York City before Christmas. Earlier Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the first site had gone online in Queens that morning.
One day earlier, Biden himself sent mixed messages when laying out plans to increase COVID-19 testing in response to the resurgent pandemic.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated” the dramatic surge in cases, Biden said — before contradicting himself and claiming he had foreseen the crisis and was working in advance to craft the still-murky plan to mass distribute 500 million rapid tests.
“I knew that was coming. So what I tried to do is meet with the companies and use the Defense Production Act to get a half a billion more tests and figure out how to get them to their homes, get them on the shelves in the store,” Biden stated.
Although the president claimed to know that there would be a testing rush and worked with companies “to get a half a billion more tests” ready to go, the White House actually ridiculed the notion of mass-mailing tests this month.
“Should we just send one to every American?” Psaki asked dismissively at a Dec. 6 press briefing when National Public Radio correspondent and Fox News contributor Mara Liasson asked the press secretary: “Why not just make them free and give them out?”
Also Wednesday morning, Biden gave his own pre-Christmas spin on the supply chain situation, claiming he helped ensure gifts arrived on time.
“The much predicted crisis didn’t occur. Packages are moving. Gifts are being delivered. Shelves are not empty,” Biden said. “Today, retail inventories are up 3 percent from last year, inventories are healthy and on-shelf availability before the pandemic was about 91 percent — today it’s at 90 percent.”
Biden continued: “Delivery times this season for FedEx, UPS and the US Postal Service are faster than before the pandemic, even as Americans have purchased a record amount of goods. That’s in part due to the progress we’ve made at our nation’s ports, which are now moving historic amounts of goods.”
Software company ShipMatrix told the New York Times that UPS and USPS delivered 99 percent of packages on time between Nov. 14 and Dec. 11, and that FedEx was about 97 percent on time.
But Biden’s victory lap on supply chain bottlenecks may be premature.
The Los Angeles Times reported this month that although there’s been a recent decline in ships at anchor off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which jointly process 40 percent of US container imports, the figure would be near record highs if accounting for ships that are idling further offshore pursuant to a Nov. 16 shipping trade group policy change.