WASHINGTON – White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended President Joe Biden’s comments comparing some Republican governors’ decision to lift mask mandates to “Neanderthal thinking,” calling it a “reflection of his frustration” about Americans refusing to follow public health guidance.
Asked whether it was productive to compare governors to Neanderthals while trying to convince state officials to get on board with the White House public health message, Psaki clarified the president was likening the decision to Neanderthal “behavior.”
“The behavior of a Neanderthal, just to be very clear, the behavior of,” she said, adding that it was a “reflection of his frustration and exasperation” over some people flouting COVID-19 guidance to help curb the spread of the virus.
“He believes that with more than half a million Americans’ lives lost, with families that continue to suffer, that it’s imperative that people listen across the country, whether they live in a red state or blue state, to the guidance of public health experts,” she said.
Psaki also emphasized the president only had asked Americans to wear a mask for the first 100 days of his term, noting that there were still around 60 days left in that request. Thursday marked the 44th day of Biden’s presidency.
Biden sparked GOP outrage after he called it a “big mistake” for states like Texas and Mississippi to lift pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates, describing it result of “Neanderthal thinking.”
“We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms,” he told reporters Wednesday during a meeting with bipartisan lawmakers on how to fight cancer. “The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced earlier this week he’s moving to “open Texas 100%” and would issue an executive order to take effect March 10 rescinding most of his earlier orders, including restrictions on business occupancy and the July 2 statewide mask order. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also announced he would terminate mask requirements across the state.
Following Biden’s comments, Tate shot back in a tweet that residents of his state would make their own decision on how to protect themselves.
“Mississippians don’t need handlers. As numbers drop, they can assess their choices and listen to experts. I guess I just think we should trust Americans, not insult them,” he tweeted.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told Fox Business that being referred to as a Neanderthal was actually a compliment because “they are resilient, they’re resourceful. They tend to their own.”
Blackburn said the president needs to “rethink what he is saying about the states that are starting to move away from these mask mandates.”
Contributing: Maureen Groppe