WASHINGTON — A new Long Island congressman is boycotting a Tuesday night reception with President Biden to protest the White House’s lingering COVID-19 protocols.
Republican Rep. Nick LaLota said requirements to test negative 24 hours prior to visiting the White House and also show proof of vaccination — or submit to masking — are “excessive and unnecessary.”
“Out of protest, I will not be attending President Biden’s gathering of Freshman House Members at the White House this week. Even though four months ago the President told ’60 Minutes’ that the pandemic is over, the White House is today enforcing arbitrary, outdated and unscientific pandemic protocols upon members of Congress who accepted the President’s invitation to meet him at the White House,” LaLota said in a statement.
“The President’s requirements include Members being tested for COVID 24 hours prior to visiting the White House coupled with each member either attesting to being vaccinated or being subject to mandatory masking and social distancing.”
LaLota, a retired naval officer who succeeded former Rep. Lee Zeldin in the 1st Congressional District covering Suffolk County, said “arbitrary and unscientific” pandemic protocols should be “far behind us.”
“I am forgoing a historic trip to the White House to raise awareness of this punitive policy in hopes that President Biden will reverse it and other arbitrary, outdated, and unscientific restrictions across the federal system,” he said.
Biden is hosting the reception for new members of Congress in the East Room. It’s unclear if any other new members of Congress are boycotting the Biden reception over the COVID protocols.
But upstate Rep. Elise Stefanik, the Republican Conference chair, applauded LaLota’s decision.
“For too long, the Biden Administration has worked to force their COVID-19 vaccine mandates on Americans and extend their authoritarian protocols,” Stefanik told The Post. “It is past time for them to recognize the pandemic is over and end these requirements at the White House, instead of continuing to virtue signal to appeal to the Far Left.”
“We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over,” the president pronounced on the venerable CBS news show on Sept. 18, 2022.
But White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the lingering access rules Tuesday, telling The Post in response to LaLota’s protest that “we pay very close attention to science” and what administration “experts” advise.
“We have protections in place to protect staff and the president of the United States. COVID isn’t over. We’ve been very clear about that,” Jean-Pierre said at her regular briefing.
“Hundreds of Americans are dying every day and cases are increasing right now, today. And that’s why we take common sense measures like COVID testing ahead of large indoor gatherings at the White House. And so this is an important issue that’s been important when we’re talking about COVID and dealing with COVID and coming up with comprehensive ways to make sure that people get vaccinated. That’s something the president dealt with from day one of his administration.”
The Post pressed Jean-Pierre for a justification for the lingering vaccine attestation rule considering the fact that highly transmissible — and less dangerous — variants of the Omicron COVID-19 strain more easily elude vaccines.
“We listen to the experts and we look at the data and we pay very close attention to science and I just don’t have anything to say beyond that,” Jean-Pierre said. “That is something that our experts — we take their advice when it comes to things like that.”
The White House has kept the rules in place despite other federal entities rescinding similar policies last year.
More than seven months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June ended rules requiring travelers entering the US to show a negative coronavirus test, though foreign citizens still must show proof of vaccination to enter the US and people recently traveling to China must show negative results since Jan. 5.
In August, the CDC rolled back recommendations for social distancing and quarantine after exposure to COVID-19.
In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams scrapped masking requirements and some testing requirements. But staffers in medical facilities such as nursing homes and hospitals and some employees in city agencies are still mandated to be vaccinated.
The worst of the COVID outbreak that ravaged New York and the rest of the country beginning in 2020 is over, public health experts say. The pandemic was brought under control in part due to public health measures including vaccinations, better medical treatment and antiviral medications, safer sanitary practices as well as natural immunity for those previously infected.
But the most recent Kraken Omicron strain of COVID-19 is very contagious, with many people previously hit with the bug getting reinfected. COVID-related deaths in New York, for example, spiked 30 percent last month compared to November.
The White House coronavirus protocols, and the zeal with which they are enforced, have fluctuated over time.
Journalists who attend briefings and large events with Biden are supposed to have submitted a vaccine attestation form, but there’s little effort to ensure that they actually do so and in practice it’s an often-overlooked honor system and people can attend events without the submission.
Generally among the press corps, only reporters in the daily pool have to be screened for the virus with a rapid test at a CVS-contracted site off Lafayette Square near the White House, meaning that journalists who aren’t tested can come into contact with Biden and even ask him questions without their viral status being known.
On presidential trips and sometimes in time-sensitive situations, reporters are allowed to self-test and email a photo of their negative rapid-test results.
The system is more strict in some situations, such as the more than dozen White House Christmas parties in December, where guests posed for pictures with Biden, who at 80 is at higher risk for exposure. For those celebrations, the White House set up a large rapid-test center at a nearby office building.
The Biden administration imposed the vaccine attestation policy on people who enter the White House grounds on Aug. 8, 2021, before more transmissible variants of the virus eluded the most common vaccines.