Republicans Seize on Shuttered Schools as a Political Rallying Cry

Like their counterparts in the Senate, House Republicans have tried to capitalize on the issue. As an array of House panels worked this week to solidify the details of Mr. Biden’s pandemic aid package, Republicans used an Education and Labor Committee meeting to force a series of votes that would have established requirements for reopening once vaccines are available. Democrats defeated them all, but Republicans got them on the record doing so.

Mr. Biden had promised to get schools open in his first 100 days, but has been scaling back that ambitious plan almost ever since, narrowing it to cover kindergarten through eighth grade, and then to most schools, while expanding the definition of what constitutes “open.” The administration has emphasized that safety has to be paramount in deciding when students can return to the classroom.

“The president will not rest until every school is open five days a week. That is our goal,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary. Ms. Psaki said the administration was “leaning into science.”

“We are letting the science and medical experts lead,” she added.

Given the administration’s focus on experts, Republicans such as Mr. McConnell eagerly jumped on comments by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, that schools could safely reopen even if teachers were not yet vaccinated.

The White House quickly walked back that comment, but the guidelines issued on Friday said that teachers need not be vaccinated before schools reopen, instead recommending an approach that includes testing of staff members and students, and other mitigation measures.

Mr. Blunt’s plan, offered during a wide-ranging budget debate, would have denied schools added pandemic financial assistance if they refused to reopen once teachers were vaccinated. But Democrats objected.

“Vaccines are just one piece of safely transitioning back,” said Ms. Murray, the leading Democratic opponent.