Washington's latest political war? It's over 'Neanderthal thinking'

Even the Neanderthal Museum has joined the political fray.

A new Washington debate has evolved over President Joe Biden accusing Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Mississippi GOP Gov. Tate Reeves of “Neanderthal thinking” for their decisions to repeal mask mandates.

“And the last thing, the last thing, the last thing we need is the Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it,” Biden said Wednesday. “It still matters.”

PHOTO: FILE - A replica of a Neanderthal man is displayed at the Neanderthal museum in Mettmann, western Germany, Oct. 1996.

Since then, Republicans, pushing back, have rushed to the defense of Neanderthals, an ancient species of cave-dwellers who lived across Europe and Asia before going extinct 40,000 years ago.

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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a tweet Thursday that Biden’s comments were an insult to the populations in Asia, Europe and America who “inherit about 2% of their genes” from the ancient species and recommended that the president apologize and take “unconscious bias training” for his comments.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., even praised the extinct species in an interview with Fox News, calling them “resilient.”

“Because Neanderthals are hunter-gatherers, they’re protectors of their family, they are resilient, they’re resourceful, they tend to their own,” Blackburn said. “So, I think Joe Biden needs to rethink what he is saying about the states that are choosing to move away from these mask mandates.”

And the Neanderthal Museum weighed in from Mettmann, Germany, with a tweet, telling Biden, “#neanderthals were smarter than you think!”

The museum said the president should come visit.

At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki sought to clarify her boss’ comments after being pressed by ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce. Psaki parsed the president’s remarks, claiming he did not call the governors Neanderthals, but only likened their “behavior” to that of Neanderthals.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks during a bipartisan meeting on cancer legislation in the Oval Office at the White House, March 3, 2021.

“What everybody saw yesterday was a reflection of his frustration and exasperation, which I think many American people have, that for almost a year now, people across the country have sacrificed, at many times they haven’t had information they need from the federal government,” Psaki said.

Abbott, the Texas governor, shot back in an interview on CNBC Thursday, criticizing Biden’s immigration policy as the real “Neanderthal thinking.”

“The Biden administration has been releasing immigrants in south Texas, that have been exposing Texans to COVID. Some of those people have been put on buses, taking that COVID to other states in the United States. The Biden administration must stop importing COVID into our country,” Abbott said. “That is a Neanderthal approach to dealing with the COVID situation.”

PHOTO: Texas Governor Greg Abbott delivers an announcement in Lubbock, Texas, March 2, 2021.

Psaki responded that was untrue, arguing migrants are tested for COVID-19 before being released to families or sponsors.

Reeves, whose decision to end Mississippi’s mask-wearing mandate prompted Biden’s comments, appeared on Fox News Thursday and likened the comment to the now ubiquitous conservative rallying cry of “deplorables” after Hillary Clinton lobbed the insult about Donald Trump supporters during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Today I feel the same way as I did the day that Hillary Clinton called all of us in middle America ‘deplorables,’” Reeves said. “When President Biden said we were all Neanderthals, it struck me as someone who needs to get outside of Washington, D.C, and actually travel to middle America. The fact of the matter is we are just simply doing the things to give our people the power back to do what they think is best for themselves and their family.”

Neanderthals were unavailable for comment.

ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.

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