Utah Gov. Gary Herbert meets with President-elect Joe Biden on COVID response

President-elect Joe Biden meets virtually with the National Governors Associations executive committee, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

As elected officials and public health leaders around the country grapple with rising coronavirus cases, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert joined a video call Thursday with President-elect Joe Biden to discuss the nation’s pandemic response.

The governor said in a news release afterward that there was a “good discussion” on the call with Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and members of the executive committee of the National Governors Association.

“We had a good discussion about how states and the federal government can work together in the nationwide fight against COVID-19,” he said. “I wished the president-elect every success and am grateful for his efforts to engage the nation’s governors in these important discussions.”

Herbert, who is currently the longest-serving governor in the country, did not run for reelection this year and will be leaving office in January, to be replaced by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.

Cox, the governor-elect, was one of the early well-wishers to President-elect Biden, promising to work cooperatively with him for the benefit of Utahns.

Ahead of the meeting Thursday, Herbert said during his monthly news conference with PBS Utah that he was “curious to hear” what the president-elect had to say.

While the Utah governor praised his “good friend [Vice President] Mike Pence” and said it had been a privilege to work with President Donald Trump’s administration, Herbert noted that he had also worked with the newly elected president when Biden served as vice president.

“He’s very aware of Utah,” Herbert said of Biden. “He’s told me on numerous occasions with admiration of the great success we’ve had here in Utah economically and socially. He knows Utah is a great example [for] the rest of the country.”

Herbert said he believes Biden’s primary concern in addressing the coronavirus is bringing people together “in a united effort that’s supportive of each other.” At the same time, the governor said he thought the president-elect would forge a path “allowing for various differences of opinions but following the science and the medical advice we have to guide us.”

The governor said he expected to see the Biden administration roll out additional resources to help with economic recovery for businesses and individuals who have been struggling as the pandemic wears.

But Herbert said the main thing he’d like to see from the Biden administration as it prepares to take over the nation’s COVID-19 response is a focus on local control.

“I hope that he will still continue to let states conduct their own declarations and make their own recommendations to the public and our own mandates rather than a national mandate,” he said. “I don’t think he’s going to go that direction. I hope not.”

During a news conference in Wilmington, Del., on Thursday, Harris and Biden gave a few additional details about what was discussed during the incoming administration’s meeting with the governors. The call included a conversation about how to make COVID tests and ultimately a vaccine free for everyone, as well as how “to get this pandemic under control,” Harris said.

Biden said he felt there was “strong consensus” during the bipartisan meeting on several fronts.

“What this meeting along with others we’ve had reinforces, in my view, is the unity the country is looking for,” Biden said. “They’re looking for us to come together and deal with problems, most of which have no ideological basis for disagreement. That’s what we have to do.

He said he also spoke with the governors about implementation of a national mask mandate, as he noted several states — including Utah — have imposed.

“It is not a political statement,” Biden noted. “It’s a patriotic duty.”

During her remarks, Harris recognized the role governors have played in the crisis as they have “been called on to make very difficult decisions about the health and safety of the people they represent, about opening schools and about opening our economy responsibly.”

“I have served in both state and local government, so I understand the critical role our governors play,” she said. “And they will have partners in the White House starting on Jan. 20. Because, as Gov. Herbert said in our meeting: ‘When the states are successful, the country is successful.’

The administration’s message to governors and other state and local leaders, Harris said, is that she and Biden will work to ensure they have the support they need to “save lives and help get our economy back on track.”