Biden Urged to Fire Covid Response Chief Jeff Zients Over ‘Damning’ Failures

Lambert here: Why stop at Zients? Klain, Fauci, and Walensky should all go. Psaki, too, while we’re at it. Not that any of this will happen, if only because Biden is intensely loyal to staff.

By Jake Johnson, a staff writer for Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams.

President Joe Biden is coming under growing pressure to fire White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients—a former private equity executive with no public health background—as the administration continues to face criticism over its slow-moving and inadequate efforts to combat Covid-19.

Watchdog groups have long warned that Zients is not qualified to take on the massive task of leading the federal government’s pandemic response given both his lack of scientific and medical experience as well as his record in the private sector, where his firm invested in a company accused of exploitative surprise billing.

Early critics of Biden’s decision to appoint Zients to the key post believe their fears have been realized during the Omicron surge, which has laid bare the administration’s failure to prepare for a highly contagious variant that experts warned was all but inevitable.

Writing for The American Prospect, Daniel Boguslaw of the Revolving Door Project (RDP) noted Thursday that “amid an entirely predictable viral mutation and a winter surge, Zients has failed to provide the materials necessary to improve the U.S. response, or the guidance necessary to keep the pandemic under control.”

“He’s proven himself not up to the task,” he added, “and Biden should relieve him of his duties.”

Boguslaw, a researcher at RDP—which criticized Biden’s selection of Zients in December 2020—argued specifically that the pandemic response czar “has for the most part abdicated” his responsibility to utilize the Defense Production Act to ensure the widespread availability of high-quality masks and coronavirus tests, authority that Biden delegated to Zients.

“He could have spent the year mobilizing against a shared enemy in the virus, stockpiling enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and pharmaceutical products to protect the public,” Boguslaw wrote.

But as RDP’s Timi Iwayemi observed in an op-ed for Common Dreams last month, “Zients has prioritized cooperation with corporations rather than exercising a democratic government’s rights to protect the people.”

“Globally,” Iwayemi added, “Zients has emphasized vaccine charity over equity, all but ensuring that there will never be enough jabs in arms worldwide to prevent ever more mutations of the fast-changing virus.”

Boguslaw echoed that critique, arguing that “most damning among Zients’ failures is his refusal to allocate resources to aid vaccination efforts abroad.”

“As Vice News reported this week, Tito’s Vodka has donated more toward efforts to mass-produce an open-source, global vaccine than the White House,” Boguslaw wrote. “Global vaccine distribution is not only a humanitarian requirement, but also a critical step to preventing the development of new variants. But doing so would have required angering powerful forces in corporate America.”

Calls for Zients’ ouster come amid intensifying outrage at the Biden administration’s overall pandemic response—anger that has hardly been limited to Zients.

In recent weeks, as Common Dreams has reported, nurses, union leaders, and public health experts have expressed dismay over confusing and potentially dangerous recommendations emerging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which last month loosened its isolation guidelines following a lobbying push from corporate America.

The administration has also allowed emergency workplace standards to lapse, leaving healthcare workers and others with weaker on-the-job protections as daily coronavirus cases remain at record levels. New figures from Johns Hopkins University show that the seven-day average for newly reported cases in the U.S. topped 800,000 for the first time on Saturday.

In response to surging infections, the Biden administration recently launched a program under which U.S. households will be able to order free rapid coronavirus tests. On Thursday, amid pressure from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other progressive lawmakers, Biden said the administration will also soon announce a plan to distribute free high-quality masks to people who request them.

While welcoming such steps, experts and observers have lamented the administration’s sluggishness in reacting to new pandemic developments, which has left people across the U.S. to fend for themselves while the White House plays catch-up. In October, the Biden administration reportedly rejected a plan to distribute free rapid Covid-19 tests for the holidays, hindering the nation’s response to the winter surge in the months that followed.

As recently as early December, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki mocked the idea of mailing coronavirus tests to households.

People who order tests under the new government program will likely have to wait roughly two weeks for them to arrive. And Biden didn’t offer a timeline for the free mask program, which he announced weeks after experts began warning that widely used cloth masks are not sufficient to ward off Omicron.

In a mid-December interview, Vice President Kamala Harris attempted to defend the administration’s belated actions by claiming the White House “didn’t see Delta coming” and “didn’t see Omicron coming.”

But former federal vaccine scientist Rick Bright disputed Harris’ narrative, writing on Twitter that he personally warned the Biden transition team in December 2020 that “variants were coming and we needed plans and action immediately.”

“They all knew,” he added.

Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist who also advised the Biden transition, attested that “we absolutely saw variants coming.”

Looking ahead, Gounder told the Washington Post on Thursday that “there will be another [variant]—and we might as well learn our lesson and prepare for the next one appropriately.”

“Every time, we’re sort of like, ‘Well, why bother because this is the last surge,'” she said. “And I think that’s completely the wrong way to think about it.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Guest Post, Pandemic, Politics on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Larry

    This looks like a complete lack of leadership at the top, which means the lieutenants can run wild making all kinds of stupid decisions. Biden’s mental capacity and stamina are likely serious problems, one wonders if he’s capable of developing any kind of plan or strategy. And it unfortunately brings us back to the chaos of Trump, who only cared to see his own reflection and poll numbers and didn’t care to do anything. How else to explain bringing the My Pillow lunatic onto the national stage? Lobbyists no doubt take full advantage of this chaos and give us half-baked efforts at protecting the public while locking in maximum profit for firms.

    1. Darius

      Biden is wretched mediocrity compounded by cognitive impairment. Don’t forget he ran for president twice before and never even made it to Iowa. This time, staff people were leading him around by the nose. Obama was scraping the bottom of the barrel when he turned to Biden in a last desperate bid to stop Bernie.

      1. Mark Sites

        Obama picked Biden to sooth Wall Street in standard Democrat’s standard post primary “tact to the right”. While Wall Street had long owned Biden, they did not yet own Obama. Biden also had his Scranton schtick appeal for the lunch bucket types, something totally absent in Obama for the general.

  2. Basil Pesto

    And Biden didn’t offer a timeline for the free mask program, which he announced weeks after experts began warning that widely used cloth masks are not sufficient to ward off Omicron.

    It was true of delta as well, and likey would have resulted in better outcomes with all previous variants. In fact this plan was necessary at least 12 months ago as *some* experts attested, but it seems to me that many of these more voluble ‘experts’ now coming out of the woodwork said nada until this past month because they were all aboard the vaccine-only train, and they are trying to pretend that this imperative is some Omicron-induced novelty. Shameless and gutless.


    Biden said the administration will also soon announce a plan to distribute free high-quality masks to people who request them.


    I haven’t seen that last part reported before, just ridiculous if true. Just effing send them to everyone. Include something like this infographic as a fridge magnet. Just do it for Christ’s sake. What is wrong with these people? A switched-on border collie could brainstorm better ideas than these non-entities.

    1. bradford

      Not that I disagree with you, but perhaps someone in the administration thought about the prospect of watching members of the 20% burning their “government masks” on the nightly news. And potential bad press trumps more deaths, which, after all, is just a statistic.

      1. marym

        There may be some mask-burning performances. That’s the world we live in now. They should provide masks anyway since it’s the right thing to do. However, if they think anti-maskers doing something reprehensible, wasteful, anti-working class, anti-public health, and environmentally polluting would result in a bad look for Biden, that would also be a pathetic admission of political incompetence in the very thing they supposedly think is key to their political success: messaging.

        Probably another important factor in their reluctance to provide masks or tests is the fear of a slippery slope to people thinking the government should maybe provide other stuff too – like health care!

      2. david anthony

        The Chief of Staff said in an interview there was no reason to give out masks if half the people weren’t going to wear them. That means the other half can go screw themselves and that half is the Dem base.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      They are desperate to spread covid on purpose to every citizen on purpose. On purpose. That is what is “wrong” with them. Giving the appearance of not brainstorming as well as a switched-on border collie is simply their cover for spreading covid on purpose.

      1. david anthony

        It’s very clear with what they are doing to schools this is a push for herd immunity. Which isn’t possible.

    3. GM

      I haven’t seen that last part reported before, just ridiculous if true. Just effing send them to everyone

      The more ridiculous part is that there should have been proper gas masks for the whole population in secure locations in the case of a biological/chemical attack.

      I don’t know if there were such stockpiles during the Cold War, but clearly in 2020 they did not even have enough N95s for hospitals, forget about the general population.

      Which tells you how well all those trillions for “national security” were spent post-9/11.

      A failed state with nukes…

      And that observation is one that you can be sure I am not the only one in the world to have made…

  3. Tom Stone

    My bet is that the Biden Admin will continue to follow the Zients out of loyalty and a reluctance to admit mistakes.
    The change their approach enough to promise ice cream and bunnies by Easter,but that’s the best one can hope for.

    1. Samuel Conner

      > continue to follow

      being the party of betrayal, I’m not sure that ‘loyalty’ is in view. However, there is a campaign ‘promise’ that ‘nothing would fundamentally change’ and, so far, JB is making good progress toward ‘mission accomplished’ on that ‘promise.’ Presumably he will ‘stay the course.’

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      Biden has been emasculated by both President Manchin and Sinema. With Biden’s tough guy theatrics, firing someone under pressure from the plebes will be seen by Biden as acknowledging his weakness.

    3. curlydan

      Considering that both sources quoted here asking for Zients’s ouster are the American Prospect and Common Dreams, I’d say you’re right that Zients is staying put for a while. Those platforms aren’t exactly common reading material among the DC elite.

      Maybe have NYT or the Washington Post ask for his head, then maybe something will get in motion. It’s kind of damning that no one higher up will ask Zients to resign, but doing so might compromise some good employment opportunities down the line. You don’t want to have that “disgruntled” person label attached to you–“wouldn’t be prudent” as GHWB used to say.

  4. Jeff

    This is the same non-logic occurring in California where employers are required to provide n95 masks to all employees. Even though those masks are not available. And many of the masks for sale on amazon of this design are fake.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Don’t worry the government has 750 million of them. If people had them instead of sitting in a warehouse, they may not be able to see your American smile.

  5. Mikel

    “Every time, we’re sort of like, ‘Well, why bother because this is the last surge,’” she said. “And I think that’s completely the wrong way to think about it.”

    The administration spends more time on narrative spin that the nitty gritty of oublic health.
    Now the narrative being pushed is that this is the “last surge” based on a metric that is not being observed & quantified on a mass basis – except in people selected for a study or two.

  6. lance ringquist

    Zients was there to keep the response pure, that is no american production, only production from sources that exploited humanity and mother earth, to make sure that profits were as efficient and high as they can be.

    so if there was nothing to source because the pandemic has ravaged the world, then we get nothing.

    and the efficient wall street will still reap the high profit from dying american deplorable, a 2-fer.

  7. marku52

    I’ve never been accused of being overly optimistic, but never in my worst nightmare did I imagine such an incompetent response. All Sleepy Joe had to do was hire someone competent and go take a nap. Apparently that exceeded his competence.

  8. XXYY

    That will mean a billion tests in total to meet future demand.

    Note that is a total of three tests for each person in the US. Biden talks about this number as if it will solve the testing problem for all time. It’s probably enough for a couple of weeks.

  9. drumlin woodchuckles

    If your secret goal is really to spread covid everywhere, variant by variant by variant, then a Zients-figure is your kinda guy. That would explain the elevation of Zients to that post to begin with.

  10. VietnamVet

    Jeff Zients, Biden’s COVID czar is the perfect example of the fox guarding the chicken coop.

Comments are closed.