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White House's Psaki declines to criticize Cuomo on nursing homes

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has repeatedly

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has repeatedly said President Joe Biden will not weigh-in on Department of Justice investigations, to avoid politicizing the department. Credit: Oliver Contreras/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday declined to wade into the recent controversy surrounding Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and nursing homes during the pandemic, asserting that President Joe Biden will continue to work with a "range of governors" including Cuomo.

Psaki, appearing on ABC’s "This Week," was asked whether Biden continued to regard Cuomo as the "gold standard" for leadership in the pandemic, while Cuomo faces a new federal probe regarding deaths at nursing homes during the onset of the pandemic and backlash over accusations that he bullied Assemb. Ron Kim (D-Flushing) during a phone call.

"We're going to continue to work with a range of governors including of course Gov. Cuomo, because we think that people of New York, people of the states across the country, need assistance not just to get through the pandemic, but to get through this difficult economic time," Psaki said.

Last April, during an appearance on NBC’s "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," Biden praised Cuomo’s work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the "governor in New York's done one hell of a job. I think he's the gold standard."

Psaki noted that Cuomo currently serves as chairman of the National Governors Association, "so he’s played an important role in ensuring that we’re coordinating closely and getting assistance out to the people of his state and states across the country, and we’ll continue to do that."

The Cuomo administration last week confirmed that it is cooperating with a federal probe regarding nursing homes that is being handled by the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn. The U.S. Department of Justice also launched a probe into New York’s COVID-19 related nursing home deaths last summer under the Trump administration.

Cuomo has faced questions over his delay in releasing data on the number of COVID nursing home deaths. State Attorney General Letitia James’ office released a report last month indicating the New York State Department of Health may have undercounted the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent.

Cuomo has defended the reporting delays, saying officials were occupied "managing a pandemic." State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker last Friday defended the administration’s initial March 25 memo instructing nursing homes to admit patients who were treated for COVID-19, saying, "With the facts that we had at that moment in time, it was the correct decision from a public health point of view."

New York’s congressional Republicans — including Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport) — have called on the Department of Justice to open an "obstruction of justice" investigation into Cuomo’s handling of nursing home data. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens) has also called for a "full" investigation into the nursing home issue.

Psaki in the past has repeatedly said Biden will not weigh in on Department of Justice investigations, to avoid politicizing the department. On Sunday, acknowledging the current investigations, she said: "We'll leave that to others … the appropriate law enforcement authorities to determine how that path is going to move as we look forward."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), who serves as vice chairman of the National Governors Association, stopped short of criticizing Cuomo when asked about the nursing home data on CNN's "State of the Union," but said all governors should be transparent about their actions

"I do think it's important, whenever you're looking at the nursing home deaths, that they're properly counted for, that we're transparent with the American people, even though it might make us look bad in terms of what's happening in our state," Hutchinson said.

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