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As COVID surge gets worse, Trump shows little interest

Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx on the

Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx on the sidelines of a White House coronavirus briefing on Nov. 19. Credit: Pool / EPA / Chris Kleponis

Beast around the corner

Remember when President Donald Trump said no one would be hearing about "COVID, COVID, COVID" after Election Day? He was half right.

Trump himself rarely talks about it, preoccupied as he is with making wild and baseless claims that President-elect Joe Biden stole the election. For the rest of us, the coronavirus has become even harder to ignore. When Trump said in October we were "rounding the corner" on the pandemic, he was once again tragically wrong.

In a pair of sobering Sunday talk show appearances, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the U.S. may see a "surge upon a surge" of the coronavirus in the weeks after Thanksgiving, reports Newsday's Rachelle Blidner. The government's top infectious diseases expert said the rising level of infection in the U.S. would not "all of a sudden turn around." Over the last two weeks, COVID-19 cases increased 12%, deaths 29% and hospitalizations 38%, according to The New York Times.

Other federal officials who have led the coronavirus fight echoed Fauci’s remarks. "It’s going to get worse over the next several weeks, but the actions that we take in the next several days will determine how bad it is," Surgeon General Jerome Adams told "Fox News Sunday."

"To every American, this is the moment to protect yourself and your family," said Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. Fauci said following public-health guidelines could help "blunt these surges" to avoid lockdowns and school closures. That means wearing masks, staying socially distanced and avoiding large groups of people, he said. (That's advice that Trump grew resistant to endorsing.)

The Sunday appearances — especially by Fauci, a frequent target of Trump — suggested a waning White House interest in controlling the coronavirus messaging.

The exception for Trump, in rare changes of subject from election fraud allegations, has been taking victory laps for the vaccines expected to become available to the general public early next year. "I came up with vaccines that people didn't think we'd have for five years," Trump said during an interview Sunday on Fox News. He complained that some people would try to give credit for the vaccines to Biden.

Biden's league of their own

The president-elect plans to name Neera Tanden, who leads a center-left think tank, to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton University labor economist, to be chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, The Wall Street Journal reported.

On Sunday, Biden announced an all-female senior White House communications team. Jen Psaki, an Obama administration veteran, will be the most visible to the public as press secretary. Kate Bedingfield, a longtime Biden aide who served as his campaign's communications director and will hold the same title in his White House.

Among the jobs Biden has yet to fill are attorney general, defense secretary and CIA director. The New York Times reports that the task is complicated, especially for jobs requiring Senate confirmation, by a need to select nominees that could win some Republican support but not spark opposition from progressives.

Separately, the Times reports that ethics scrutiny is expected for some Biden picks' private-sector ties to a consulting firm with undisclosed corporate clients and an investment fund with an interest in government contractors. Those include Psaki; Antony Blinken, Biden's choice for secretary of state; Michèle Flournoy, a prospect for defense; and Avril Haines, Biden’s selection for director of national intelligence.

Janison: Giving 'deep state' a good name

The Oxford dictionary defines "deep state" as "a body of people, typically influential members of government agencies or the military, believed to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy."

The term keeps proving handy for a fabulistic president bent on making up far-fetched excuses for his failures, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. By screaming falsely of voter fraud, Trump tries against reality to spin his election loss as an inside-government plot. To Trump, the pernicious "cabal" of officials always involves public servants who do their jobs. Even Georgia's secretary of state, a Republican more loyal than the president is to his party, is hit with McCarthyite smears from the Trump camp.

Government careerists over the decades helped embroil the U.S. in deadly fiascoes in Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere, and abbreviated civil liberties at home. The danger is that Trump will have discouraged intelligent skepticism of institutions because he cried "wolf" for selfish reasons.

Trump: Where's the Justice?

After giving no interviews in the weeks following Election Day, Trump phoned in to Fox's "Sunday Morning Futures," though his exchange with host Maria Bartiromo was a commiseration in mutually shared conspiracy theories of a "rigged" election, not a grilling.

Trump's disjointed, nearly hourlong diatribe was mostly a recitation of false claims of massive election fraud that have gotten no traction in the courts with judges of either party, including his appointees. But there was something new too: The president suggested the forces aligned against him includes the FBI and Justice Department.

"This is total fraud," Trump said, adding: "And how the FBI and Department of Justice — I don’t know — maybe they’re involved, but how people are getting away with this stuff — it’s unbelievable." He went on: "You would think if you're in the FBI or the Department of Justice, this is the biggest thing you could be looking at. Where are they? I've not seen anything, they just keep moving along and they go on to the next president."

The host of another Fox News show that aired later Sunday dissected and debunked Trump's fraud claims.

For more from the Bartiromo interview, see Newsday's story by Scott Eidler.

Also on Sunday, Wisconsin finished a recount that the Trump campaign paid $3 million to conduct in two Democratic-leaning counties. The result: a net gain of 87 votes for Biden.

Trump's surreality show

Trump has relied on loyalists who tell him what he wants to hear to keep feeding his delusions that the election was stolen from him, according to a riveting Washington Post story based on interviews with 32 senior administration officials, campaign aides and other advisers to the president.

Trump was, in the telling of one close adviser, like "Mad King George, muttering, ‘I won. I won. I won.’ " The aides who indulge him are "happy to scratch his itch," the adviser said. "If he thinks he won, it’s like, ‘Shh … we won’t tell him.’ "

In the days after Election Day, Trump scrambled for an escape hatch from reality, the report said. He largely ignored his campaign staff and the professional lawyers who had guided him through the Russia investigation and the impeachment trial, as well as the army of attorneys who stood ready to file legitimate court challenges.

Instead, he empowered the likes of personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who told him he would have won in a landslide had the election not been rigged and stolen in a diabolical plot. One fixation is a false conspiracy theory that voting machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems and used in Georgia and other states had been programmed to count Trump votes as Biden votes. Other Trump lawyers said Giuliani seemed "deranged."

Trump has turned on Republican officials in swing states such as Georgia who stood by the integrity of the election results and declined to intervene on his behalf. In the interview with Bartiromo, Trump said of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp: "He’s done absolutely nothing. I’m ashamed that I endorsed him."

Call him Slippy Joe

Biden slipped and suffered hairline fractures in his right foot Saturday while playing with Major, one of his two German shepherds, the president-elect's office said. The 78-year-old likely will require a walking boot for several weeks, said his physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor.

The diagnosis after a CT scan during a visit to an orthopedist on Sunday. Here's a video from NBC News of Biden walking gingerly from the orthopedist's office.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond, written by Newsday's Jesse Coburn and David M. Schwartz. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Once Trump gives up on trying to overturn the election result, his Plan B is to announce a run to try to reclaim the White House in 2024. To that end, one option he is considering is a campaign event on Jan. 20, the day Biden is inaugurated, The Daily Beast reports, citing two knowledgeable sources.
  • The Bidens plan to adopt a cat when they move into the White House to join their dogs Major and Champ, reports "CBS Sunday Morning." The last feline at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was a black cat named India, who belonged to George W. Bush's family.
  • Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, part of a Republican group Trump invited last week in an effort to get the legislature to undo Biden's victory in the Keystone State, had to leave the White House meeting early. He got word while in the Oval Office that he had tested positive for COVID-19, The Associated Press reported.
  • Trump's fraud claims have some of his fans in Georgia talking about boycotting the Jan. 5 runoffs in which GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler will try to save their seats. Some on the MAGA fringes think the two senators were complicit in rigging results against Trump, Politico reported. If both lost, Democrats would gain control of the Senate.
  • Independents have become the second-largest group of registered voters in New York State, outnumbering Republicans, reports Newsday's Michael Gormley.
  • A pro-Trump North Carolina businessman has sued to get his money back from a group that promised to expose election fraud, Bloomberg News reported. Fred Eshelman, who gave $2.5 million, said it became obvious that the group, True the Vote, wouldn’t be able to execute the plan he agreed to support to help Trump.

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