Biden Believes in Science — So Long as the Teachers’ Unions Approve

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President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visit Yorktown Elementary School in Yorktown, Va., May 3, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Democrats love to claim that they stand against political interference in “science.”

This is often an oversimplified understanding of how science and technology interact with government. Decisions about public-health policy or energy policy almost invariably entail the sorts of competing priorities that should involve the people’s democratically elected representatives. We do not live in a dictatorship robed in white lab coats. It is also wildly hypocritical. Democrats are not against politics in science — only against politics they do not like. A glance at their treatment of embryology, biological sex, or nuclear power is proof enough of that. The latest example comes from evidence of the Biden administration allowing the Centers for Disease Control’s guidance on school reopening to be influenced by one of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions.

During the 2020 campaign, Biden and his political and media allies leaned hard on the argument that the Trump administration was using undue political influence to disregard science. Biden was the first presidential candidate endorsed by Scientific American in its 175-year history. In Biden’s convention speech, he declared, “Decency, science, democracy. They are all on the ballot.” In October, he tweeted, “I believe in science. Donald Trump doesn’t. It’s that simple, folks.” In January, announcing his science advisers, Biden proclaimed, “We’re going to lead with science and truth” — a line intended and received as an attack on the Trump administration. One of his first executive orders declared it “the policy of my Administration to listen to the science.” His CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, claimed that Trump “muzzled” scientists. Kamala Harris recently tweeted, “I am proud that science is back in the White House.” Biden’s Office of Science and Technology Policy has even instituted an investigation into what it calls its predecessor’s “blatant attempts to distort, to cherry pick and disregard science.”

One of the specific charges against the Trump administration was that White House COVID-19 adviser Dr. Scott Atlas had intervened in shaping the language of CDC reports during the pandemic. Biden ally Representative James Clyburn thundered that this amounted to “political interference in the nation’s public health response to the coronavirus pandemic, overruling and bullying scientists and making harmful decisions that allowed the virus to spread more rapidly.”

The Biden-Harris campaign even stoked irresponsible fears that a COVID vaccine developed by pharmaceutical companies and cleared by the regulatory bureaucracy would be unsafe if it was announced by the Trump White House. As Harris declared in the vice presidential debate, “If Donald Trump tells us to take it, I’m not taking it.”

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Given all of this rhetorical high dudgeon, voters might reasonably expect this administration to be purer than Caesar’s wife on the specific issue of the CDC’s pronouncements on the COVID pandemic. Any voter who believed that should be sadly disappointed.

In February, Dr. Walensky told the press that there were “increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated.” Press Secretary Jen Psaki immediately backtracked, telling reporters that Walensky was speaking in her “personal” capacity and that there was no “official guidance from the CDC yet on the vaccination of teachers and what would be needed to ensure the safe reopening of schools.” This despite extensive evidence, even from CDC studies, that it was safe for schools to fully reopen. The CDC ignored that evidence in releasing its guidelines in March, insisting that schools should generally be closed or partly virtual when community spread is high and the school doesn’t have routine testing — a standard that would be failed in 90 percent of the country at the time, under the agency’s definition of high spread. A group of doctors who conducted a study of school districts in Wood County, Wis., even publicly accused the CDC of misrepresenting their research. The administration also intervened to block the CDC from revising its guidelines on travel to allow for travel by people who have been fully vaccinated.

Now, a Freedom of Information Act request by the conservative watchdog group Americans for Public Trust, reported by the New York Post, reveals the depth of political interference in the school-reopening guidance. The powerful American Federation of Teachers, which spent nearly $20 million to elect Democrats in 2020, was deeply involved in crafting the CDC guidance. One AFT email to officials in the Biden White House said: “We were able to review a copy of the draft guidance document over the weekend and were able to provide some initial feedback to several staff this morning about possible ways to strengthen the document.” This and other AFT emails to the White House were then forwarded to Walensky by the White House, lest she miss the point of who was calling the shots. The AFT also leaned on Walensky directly, and AFT president Randi Weingarten lobbied her by phone. As a result, the Post noted at least two instances of AFT-drafted language being inserted verbatim into the CDC guidelines, in each case to limit in-person instruction.

Many Americans have had their eyes opened during the past year to the lengths to which the teachers’ unions will go in placing the interests of their members ahead of the interests of children. Now, they can see the Biden administration bending the CDC itself to the union’s will. Whatever this is, it is not science.

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