This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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White House press secretary Jen Psaki appeared to go out of her way to avoid answering a question about Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s burgeoning scandal regarding his administration’s reported effort to hide the number of COVID deaths in nursing homes.
“Does President Biden still consider Andrew Cuomo the gold standard when it comes to leadership on the pandemic?” asked ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl, host of Sunday’s “This Week” program.
“Well, Jon, we work with Governor Cuomo, just like we work with governors across the country. He’s also chair of the NGA,” Psaki said, a reference to the National Governor’s Association. “So, he plays an important role in ensuring that we’re coordinating closely and getting assistance out to people of his state and to states across the country. And we’ll continue to do that.”
Clearly, Psaki did not directly answer the question, so Karl pressed.
“All right. But, Jen, my question was, does President Biden still believe that Andrew Cuomo is the gold standard – represents the gold standard on leadership during this pandemic? Just a yes or no. Does he still consider him a gold standard?” Karl asked.
“Well, it doesn’t always have to be a yes or no answer, Jon,” she fired back. “I think the president is focused on his goals, his objectives as president of the United States.”
Psaki continued: “He’s going to continue to work with Governor Cuomo, just like he’ll continue to work with governors across the country. And I’m not here to give new labels or names from the president. I’m here to communicate with you about what our focuses are and what his objectives are as president.”
As a candidate last spring, Biden said of Cuomo, “Your governor of New York has done one hell of a job. I think he’s sort of the gold standard.”
But in late January, Cuomo’s pandemic policies as they specifically applied to nursing homes increasingly came under scrutiny as they were revealed to have very likely caused thousands of unnecessary deaths.
The first blow came from Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James. A report released by her office found that Cuomo’s administration undercounted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by at least 50 percent and maybe more.
Then earlier this month, the New York Post reported that Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, told state Democrats that his administration intentionally hid the number of COVID-related nursing home deaths because they feared a federal investigation would lead to charges.
The Post reported:
The stunning admission of a coverup was made by secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa during a video conference call with state Democratic leaders in which she said the Cuomo administration had rebuffed a legislative request for the tally in August because “right around the same time, [then-President Donald Trump] turns this into a giant political football,” according to an audio recording of the two-hour-plus meeting.
“He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,” DeRosa said. “He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer.”
Besides attacking Democratic governors over their pandemic responses, the former president “directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us,” DeRosa said.
And basically, we froze,” she added. “Because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys, what we start saying, was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation.”
As for Psaki, she continued defending Cuomo.
“He plays an important role in ensuring that we’re coordinating closely and getting assistance out to people of his state and to states across the country,” she told Karl. “And we’ll continue to do that.”
“We’re going to continue to work with a range of governors including, of course, Governor Cuomo because we think the people of New York, the people of states across the country, need assistance not just to get through the pandemic but to get through this difficult economic time, and that’s where our focus remains,” she added.