Even with President Donald Trump still refusing to concede the election, President-elect Joe Biden will launch an aggressive plan on Monday to control the pandemic that is escalating at an alarming rate and will define his administration as soon as he takes office.
Biden’s announcement of a coronavirus task force is an acknowledgment of record new infection numbers in recent days that mean that the Covid-19 crisis will be far worse by the time he reaches the Oval Office in January. The initiative is a forceful statement of intent and makes clear that Biden will use an active transition period to mobilize against the staggering health and economic challenges he will face. And it indicates that he is already moving ahead with the business of assuming power after celebrating the achievement of his three-decades long quest for the presidency on Saturday.
His steps to set the tone of his administration come despite the unprecedented spectacle of a President who has lost the election declining to accept reality. Sources tell CNN that Trump campaign aides are considering their own aggressive strategy – not to finally tackle the virus that has killed more than 237,000 Americans – but for the President to possibly hold rallies to bolster his false claims that his second term has been stolen.
Trump shows no sign of responding to the worsening Covid-19 situation, which brought more than 100,000 new infections for five days in a row while Americans were fixated on the prolonged vote count from the election. Saturday, the day the election was called for Biden, saw the highest daily infection total so far with 126,742 new cases.
An announcement by Pfizer Monday that it believed its vaccine candidate is 90% effective came as a rare moment of encouragement as the pandemic worsens. But it will do little to mitigate the winter surge in the pandemic in the short term given that it will be well into 2021 before the dose is available to all Americans.
Biden issued a statement welcoming this “excellent news” and congratulated the “brilliant women and men” behind the breakthrough, but he warned there must be no let-up in mask wearing and social distancing. Trump, who had hoped that a pre-election announcement on a vaccine could boost his hopes of a second term, said in a tweet that the Pfizer announcement was “SUCH GREAT NEWS!”
The President remains locked in his manufactured reality in which he won the election, despite Biden passing the 270 electoral votes needed to reach the White House, while flinging false claims that his presidency is being stolen.
But there have been signs of discord in Trump’s inner circle, after CNN reported that Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, and first lady Melania Trump had advised him to accept the loss while his adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric Trump, are pressing him to continue a fight rooted in false claims of fraud. Kushner’s position grew murkier as the day progressed, with sources close to the President later telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that Kushner was among those pushing Trump to hold rallies.
Trump’s intransigence and unsurprising defiance of democracy threaten to add a constitutional crisis and a disrupted transition of power to the country’s problems as the Covid-19 crisis deepens and the economy languishes.
Many GOP leaders have declined to congratulate Biden, or even acknowledge his victory, showing Trump’s still huge sway over their party. And the President’s lying about the result could convince many of the 70 million people who voted for him that the election was indeed corrupt and so complicate Biden’s hopes of uniting the country.
But in a significant intervention Sunday, the only living Republican ex-president, George W. Bush, weighed in after phoning Biden and said in a statement that the election was “fundamentally fair” and the “outcome is clear.”
The President’s obstinacy is approaching a critical moment, however, with his lawyers under pressure to file convincing legal cases and to produce genuine evidence of electoral fraud — even as Biden’s lead across the electoral map leaves only a minuscule chance of changing the result.
Biden to face ‘apex’ of the pandemic
Trump’s overwhelming concern for his own priorities, not surprising for anyone who watched his presidency, is still remarkable given the rapid worsening of the pandemic.
Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University, said on CNN’s “Newsroom” on Sunday that “by the time that the Biden-Harris administration takes over, this virus is going to have already run rampant through the communities across the United States.”
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned Sunday that by the time the President-elect takes the oath of office on January 20, the country will be at the “apex” of the Covid-19 crisis and that the current administration — which has said the virus cannot be controlled — must act fast.
“We’re past the election – I think they need to focus on what we can be doing nationally,” Gottlieb said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
In the run-up to the election, Trump’s White House – where coronavirus policy is run by Dr. Scott Atlas, who has scorned measures like mask wearing – gave up briefing Americans about a virus the President falsely said was going away and has not conducted any public health messaging for months. Vice President Mike Pence, who spent most of the last few weeks on the campaign trail, will return to the White House Situation Room on Monday to lead a meeting of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force.
The inclusion of public health experts on Biden’s coronavirus task force – which is to be chaired by former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy, former FDA commissioner Dr. David Kessler and Yale University’s Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith – underscores how seriously the President-elect plans to take the pandemic that is now certain to dominate at least the first year of his term.
But the announcement will also reflect how, over the next 72 days, the new administration will be powerless to mitigate the course of the pandemic that will in many ways define Biden’s presidency and how Trump’s neglect will exacerbate the staggering challenges that Biden will face once inside the Oval Office.
Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at George Washington University, told CNN that Biden’s plans to take the virus more seriously represent a “good start” and that he welcomed some belated federal leadership on the pandemic after the Trump administration’s mismanagement.
“The ship of state has had no captain,” Reiner said.
Trump in no mood to concede
A day after Biden was projected to win the election, Trump went on as if nothing had happened, playing his second round of golf of the weekend, and continuing to tweet false claims that the election was rigged.
The President has still not made the traditional call to the President-elect. Pence, who has been silent since Saturday, is yet to make contact with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Several of Trump’s most vehement supporters in Washington backed his unsubstantiated claims of fraud on Sunday.
“What we need in the presidential race is to make sure every legal vote is counted, every recount is completed, and every legal challenge should be heard,” said the top Republican in the US House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Newly reelected South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Fox “Sunday Morning Futures” that the President should not concede because the media should not get to call the winner of the race.
“If they did you’d never have a Republican president forever,” Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said.
One of the President’s friends, Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax, said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” that he had spoken to the President this week and that “he is not interested in conceding at this time.”
Trump’s apparent intention to continue insisting he won the election may represent another occasion when he is putting his own needs above a normal definition of the duties of his office. In the likely event his legal strategy fails, it could offer him a face-saving way to insist that he didn’t lose the election. It would also allow him to foment anger among his political base that he could use to remain a kingmaker in Republican politics after he leaves office.
But unless the President and his legal team can come up with evidence of vast fraud, which they have failed to do so far, it may take some combination of family members and senior Republicans to convince him it is over.
After CNN reported that the first lady believed it was time for the President to concede, she tweeted in support of her husband’s position.
“The American people deserve fair elections. Every legal – not illegal – vote should be counted. We must protect our democracy with complete transparency,” she tweeted.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s defeated 2012 presidential nominee and a frequent Trump critic, called on Americans to unite behind Biden, said that he had seen no evidence of widespread fraud and predicted that Trump would eventually accept the inevitable once all legal remedies had been exhausted.
“You’re not going to change the nature of President Trump in these last days, apparently, of his presidency. He is who he is. And he has a relatively relaxed relationship with the truth,” Romney said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Don’t expect him to go quietly in the night. That’s not how he operates.”