President Biden is taking ownership of the pandemic as the recovery gains steam, setting benchmarks for the public to judge him on after weeks of complaining that former President Donald Trump left him nothing on the virus front.
Mr. Biden is ordering all states to make all adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccines by May 1, framing it as a prelude to Independence Day soirees that will provide a sense of normalcy. It is a notable shift, in that he's moving beyond gripes about his predecessor and placing bets — if modest ones — on what's possible.
"It's always good politics to lay down deadlines that you are bound to meet," said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. "It's even better when you set those deadlines so far in advance that you can claim credit for their early achievement."
Others say Mr. Biden is coasting on a head-start from Mr. Trump's "Operation Warp Speed" and needs to set loftier goals if he wants credit for the recovery.
Paul Mango, who played a key role in vaccine development during the Trump administration, said Mr. Biden's May 1 command isn't groundbreaking.
"We were fully anticipating opening up to 'anyone' at that point such that everyone who wanted one could be vaccinated by end of second quarter," Mr. Mango told The Washington Times. "Separately, the market will likely beat Biden to this date. I think we'll see states opening up vaccines to anyone by mid-April."
He said Mr. Trump's team conceived the vaccine-producing pact between Johnson & Johnson and Merck before Mr. Biden sealed the deal, and highlighted the previous administration's support for the Novavax vaccine that is reporting solid trial data.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wants the Biden administration to lean into gains and reopen schools and businesses faster while tightening up the border to avoid setbacks. A Washington Times survey found families coming across the border are testing positive for the coronavirus at between 3 times and 10 times the rate of the U.S. population.
"President Biden's plan is to rely on the work that has already been done by Operation Warp Speed. That's why only 9% of his 'relief' bill went to defeating the virus," tweeted Mr. McCarthy, California Republican.
As it stands, more than 100 million shots have been administered into U.S. arms, meaning Mr. Biden easily leaped over his goal for the first 100 days of his presidency. The U.S. was administering roughly 1 million per day when Mr. Trump gave way to Mr. Biden, who didn't mention his predecessor by name during a prime-time address last week to mark the pandemic's first year.
Asked about the snub, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said vaccine development "was a herculean, incredible effort by science and by medical experts. And certainly, we have applauded that in the past, and we are happy to applaud that again."
"But I would say there is a clear difference and there are clear steps that have been taken since the president took office that have put us in a trajectory that we were not on when he was inaugurated, and leadership starts at the top," Ms. Psaki said. "It includes mask-wearing. It includes acknowledging there's a pandemic. It includes getting a vaccine in public."
Mr. Trump reminded the public he kicked off the vaccine push in a recent statement that resembled one of his old tweets. But he might have helped his cause by getting vaccinated instead of doing it off-camera in January.
Some current officials would like to see Mr. Trump use his power of persuasion to get conservatives vaccinated, as polls suggest rural residents and GOP men are among the most resistant.
"He has such an incredible influence over the people of the Republican Party. It would be a game-changer if he did," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told "Fox News Sunday."
The U.S. is administering 2.3 million shots per day, on average, of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the two-dose versions from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
The combination of vaccinations and natural immunity means the U.S. should continue to improve through April, even as Italy locks down again and Eastern Europe sees surges, according to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former chief of the Food and Drug Commission.
Typically, Americans have seen trends worsen in Europe only to face the same problems a few weeks later.
"I think the tables have turned and we're ahead of Europe," Dr. Gottlieb told CBS' "Face the Nation."
The White House on Friday said Mr. Biden is amending a public-health declaration to expand the range of professionals eligible to deliver the vaccine, including dentists, EMTs, midwives, optometrists, paramedics, physician assistants, podiatrists, respiratory therapists and veterinarian.
Dr. Fauci said Sunday that he is "optimistic" the vaccine effort will allow the U.S. to return to some sense of normalcy by summer, so long as Americans aren't too lax about public-health measures in the meantime.
The doctor said he's not sure what Mr. Biden's plan for July 4 gatherings will look like, exactly, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release guidelines that "will be much more liberal than they are right now about what you can do."
The Trump team that kicked off the vaccine effort says they would not have restricted Americans to backyard barbecues in July.
"We wanted them to be back to normal going to Major League Baseball games, which they will likely do regardless of what Biden says," Mr. Mango said.