WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden hit the road again, visiting Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing facility near Kalamazoo, Michigan, Friday where he’ll continue to make the case for his nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package as Democrats prepare to push it through Congress.
The trip, Biden’s second visit to a politically crucial Midwest state this week, highlights Pfizer’s central hub where millions of the nation’s first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine rolled off the production line in December. The president also met with workers who produce the vaccine. The trip was originally planned for Thursday but was postponed.
The president, joined by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients, toured the “Freezer Farm,” a warehouse containing 350 ultra-cold freezers each containing 360,000 doses of vaccines, according to Pfizer spokeswoman Amy Rose.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said Friday they were seeking an update to their emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration that would allow their COVID-19 vaccine to be stored at normal freezer temperatures, which could ease shipping restrictions and make the vaccine more widely available. Currently, the vaccine is required to be stored between -112°F to -76°F and is shipped in a special thermal container full of dry ice to keep it at its ultra-cold temperatures.
White House COVID-19 response team officials said Wednesday the U.S. was on track to have enough vaccine supply available for 300 million Americans “by the end of July,” echoing comments made by Biden during a CNN town hall on Tuesday.
The White House also announced Wednesday it is allocating $1.6 billion to expand testing for schools and underserved populations, boost manufacturing of testing supplies and increase funding to track COVID-19 variants cropping up across the country.
Increasing vaccinations is a key part of Biden’s expansive COVID-19 relief package, which includes money to reopen schools and businesses and doling out $1,400 checks to lower income Americans. The president has used his first trips outside of the Washington area and his home state of Delaware to pitch Americans on the recovery package, which has a $1.9 trillion price tag congressional Republicans have balked at.
“Now’s the time we should be spending. Now is the time to go big,” Biden said of his proposal, known as the American Recovery Plan, during Tuesday’s CNN town hall in Milwaukee.
The president and his aides have dismissed Republicans pushback, arguing the administration is delivering on its promise of bipartisan government through the proposal’s broad support among Americans.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll found 68% of Americans support passage of the legislation, including 37% of Republican voters, 68% of independents and 97% of Democrats.
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And it’s no coincidence Biden decided to take his sales pitch to Wisconsin and Michigan, two states that helped him win the White House and will be key for Democrats in the 2022 midterms, according Bob Shrum, a longtime Democratic strategist who now runs the Dornsife Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California.
Shrum pointed to a Morning Consult poll showing Biden’s approval rating of 62% with registered voters.
“That’s very high for a president in this polarized era and I think they want to keep building on that,” he said. “They’re not waiting around. They need to act.”
The Morning Consult poll was mentioned by White House senior adviser Mike Donilon, who argued in a memo obtained by Axios that GOP opposition to Biden’s rescue plan is damaging the party’s credibility.
“Given the character of the Republican party right now and the fact that you have around 20% of Republicans who are seemingly unhappy with where the party is going, you’re not going to do well in the midterms,” Shrum said. “The way for Biden and Democrats to win those folks is to do the right thing now and beat the virus by organizing a national response.”
But Biden’s pitch – made while Congress is out on recess – is running up against the clock. The last round of stimulus relief passed by Congress in January is set to expire March 14. The current bill is making its way through Congress under a special budgetary procedure that enables Democrats to pass it with no Republican support in the Senate. House Democrats said they plan to take up the bill next week.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is continuing to ramp up vaccinations but distribution has been hobbled by logistical hurdles, including supply shortages, appointment cancellations and this week’s severe winter weather that is expected to delay vaccine deliveries in some states, according to White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients.
Zients told state governors Tuesday the government would begin distributing 13.5 million doses of coronavirus vaccine a week, an increase of 57% from when Biden first took office last month.
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He attributed the increase in vaccine doses to states to both planned production increases by vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna as well as to actions taken by the administration, including invoking the Defense Production Act, a wartime authority that can spur commercial production of needed supplies, in this case more vaccines and tests.
The 1,300-acre Michigan facility is the largest manufacturing site in Pfizer’s network as serves as the sole U.S. finishing plant manufacturing the Pfizer vaccine, according to the company.
As of Thursday, nearly 29 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been administered nationwide, according to data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
Contributing: Maureen Groppe and Elizabeth Weisse