'More people may die'
President-elect Joe Biden is still more than two months from moving into the Oval Office. Until then, he said Monday, President Donald Trump should step up to help get a stalled coronavirus relief package through Congress.
"The idea the president is still playing golf and not doing anything about it is beyond my comprehension," Biden said at a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware. "You’d at least think he'd want to go off on a positive note."
Biden assailed Trump and his administration for refusing to coordinate with the Biden transition team, including on the coronavirus pandemic and the eventual vaccines, distribution plans for which will have to be carried out through the months beyond Inauguration Day. "If we have to wait until Jan. 20 to start that planning, it puts us behind," Biden told reporters. "More people may die if we don’t coordinate."
The president-elect also said that he would "set an example" for Americans who may be wary of getting inoculated, adding that if the promising vaccine candidates continue to prove safe and effective, "I would take the vaccine." He blamed Trump for sowing mistrust in COVID-19 vaccine development by casting it in self-serving political terms.
Before taking questions, Biden outlined his plans to alleviate inequality and boost the U.S. economy, but he said any structural reforms depended first on reining in the pandemic and delivering more immediate relief. "Once we shut down the virus and deliver economic relief to workers and businesses, then we can start to build back better than before," he said.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris also held virtual meetings Monday with business and labor leaders, including AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Biden said that when he told the CEOs that unions are going to have increased power in his administration, the CEOs just nodded.
CNBC reported that the attendance of high-profile CEOs was noteworthy because it represented a public endorsement of Biden’s legitimacy as president-elect.
Vaccine news, two views
Biden and Trump had distinctive reactions to Monday's news of early data that shows a second experimental COVID-19 vaccine — this one from Moderna Inc. — holds extraordinary promise, with an effectiveness rate of 94.5% and handling requirements less daunting than those for the Pfizer vaccine candidate, preliminary results for which were announced last week. Final trials for both potential vaccines continue.
Biden hailed the scientists. "Once again, I congratulate the brilliant women and men who produced this breakthrough and have brought us one step closer to beating this virus. I am also thankful for the frontline workers who are still confronting the virus around the clock," Biden tweeted.
Trump congratulated himself. "For those great ‘historians’, please remember that these great discoveries, which will end the China Plague, all took place on my watch!" the president tweeted.
Janison: Return of the no-drama presidency
Especially at 77, Biden is not the man to begin airy experiments in governance, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Just returning the executive branch to what is considered "normal," and canceling the bizarre sideshows, could be the next president's most basic mandate.
Mobilizing a national effort against COVID-19 offers the incoming administration its biggest opening challenge. This echoes in some ways the massive financial crisis that President-elect Barack Obama inherited when he won in 2008. With the current White House passive on the health and economic crisis, Biden can look good just by supporting conventional policies from medical experts. That's probably not asking for too much.
Still unsettled is the matter of how much clout congressional Republicans will have to oppose or alter Biden's initiatives. With two Senate runoffs scheduled for Jan. 5 in Georgia, the GOP is likely to hold that chamber's majority and thus keep the power to obstruct or at least edit efforts in the Democratic House. So while Biden won convincingly, he's unlikely to enjoy a free legislative hand on pandemic aid programs, taxes, regulations or immigration. But he does not need the Senate or the House to end the current operational chaos in the White House.
For what it's worth, professionalism by government bureaucrats promises to be back in fashion, and silly suppressions — such as censorship in government documents of scientific findings about the environment — ended.
Will he tire of losing?
As Trump's challenges to vote counts in swing states go mostly nowhere, Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, said he has been getting pressure from Trump-allied Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, to question the validity of legally cast absentee ballots.
Biden campaign lawyer Marc Elias said, "This is both outrageous and should be investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee." Graham offered a more benign explanation of his conversation with Raffensperger.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Raffensperger expressed exasperation over a string of baseless allegations coming from Trump and his allies about the integrity of the Georgia results. He called Rep. Doug Collins, a fellow Georgia Republican, a "liar" and a "charlatan" for pressing fraud claims for Trump. Raffensperger said a hand recount underway will affirm the initial results that show Biden won the state. The hand tally of turned up more than 2,500 votes in one county that weren’t previously counted, but election officials said that isn’t expected to alter the overall outcome.
Elsewhere, a Texas-based conservative group on Monday moved to dismiss voter fraud lawsuits it had filed in four states — Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — days after the group’s leader made unsubstantiated allegations questioning the integrity of the election. An effort to stop the certification of Detroit-area votes from the Nov. 3 election was rejected Monday in a 3-0 ruling by the Michigan appeals court.
Three attorneys representing the Trump campaign in its federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania filed to withdraw from the case. Filling in will be Marc Scaringi — who has a sideline as host of a right-wing radio show, just like Rudy Giuliani, who now captains Trump's election-challenge team.
Unlike Giuliani, Scaringi seems to be a late convert to the election-was-rigged cause. On his radio show on Nov. 7, Scaringi said "there really are no bombshells that are about to drop that will derail a Biden presidency including these lawsuits" and "the litigation will not work," according to a recording dug up by the liberal group Media Matters for America. Trump's suits "don't seem to have much evidence," Scaringi told his listeners.
Looks like Biden, says NatSec boss
The voices saying it looks like Trump will be leaving — no matter how many times Trump tweets "I WON THE ELECTION!" — are coming from inside the White House. National security adviser Robert O'Brien said Monday he is preparing for "a very professional transition" to a Biden administration, though the handoff moves haven't started yet.
"Look, if the Biden-Harris ticket is determined to be the winner — and obviously things look that way now — we'll have a very professional transition from the National Security Council," O'Brien said in remarks at a global security forum.
O'Brien, Trump's fourth national security adviser, thus joined the third — John Bolton — and the second — H.R. McMaster — in calling Biden the victor. The first, Michael Flynn, remains on Trump's side. Flynn may need a pardon from the departing president if Attorney General William Barr comes up short on trying to toss the case special counsel Robert Mueller brought against Flynn for lying to the FBI, which resulted in a guilty plea.
Trump lashed out on Twitter after Ohio's Republican governor, Mike DeWine, said the president should let the transition process begin. "Who will be running for Governor of the Great State of Ohio? Will be hotly contested!" Trump tweeted. DeWine, planning to seek reelection in 2022, said Sunday on CNN: "It's clear that, certainly, based on what we know now, that Joe Biden is the president-elect. And that transition, for the country's sake, it's important for a normal transition to start through."
Republicans' fears of crossing Trump seem to be ebbing. More GOP senators are accepting of Biden as the likely winner. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said Trump can and should continue his legal challenges but has "every confidence on Jan. 20 we’re going to inaugurate a president. And it will probably be Joe Biden."
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida referred to Biden as the president-elect unprompted, calling it "the highest likelihood at this point." Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said, when asked about Trump’s lawsuits fizzling in court: "Right now, it looks like it will be President Biden. We understand that."
Obama's measure of Trump's manhood
Former President Obama, in an interview posted Monday by The Atlantic, expressed continuing astonishment that Trump is held up by his supporters as an exemplar of American masculinity.
"I think about the classic male hero in American culture when you and I were growing up: the John Waynes, the Gary Coopers, the Jimmy Stewarts, the Clint Eastwoods, for that matter," Obama told interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg.
"There was a code … the code of masculinity that I grew up with that harkens back to the ’30s and ’40s and before that. Here’s a notion that a man is true to his word, that he takes responsibility, that he doesn’t complain, that he isn’t a bully — in fact, he defends the vulnerable against bullies.
"And so even if you are someone who is annoyed by wokeness and political correctness and wants men to be men again and is tired about everyone complaining about the patriarchy, I thought that the model wouldn’t be Richie Rich — the complaining, lying, doesn’t-take-responsibility-for-anything type of figure."
Michelle Obama rips Melania Trump
Michelle Obama said Monday that Jill Biden deserves but isn't getting the same courtesies as Melania Trump was shown during a transition four years ago.
In a lengthy Instagram post, the former first lady said neither Donald nor Melania Trump is behaving "maturely." Michelle Obama wrote about how she welcomed the couple to the White House after the 2016 election despite the fact that Donald Trump had "spread racist lies about my husband that had put my family in danger."
Even if she couldn't forgive that, Michelle Obama wrote, "I knew that, for the sake of our country, I had to find the strength and maturity to put my anger aside" and treat the Trumps as George W. and Laura Bush had treated the Obamas with "a respectful, seamless transition of power — one of the hallmarks of American democracy."
In a direct admonition of the current first lady's behavior in not reaching out to Jill Biden after the election, as is tradition, Michelle Obama recalled how she hosted Melania Trump and "talked with her about my experience, answering every question she had — from the heightened scrutiny that comes with being first lady to what it’s like to raise kids in the White House."
GOP pushback at Afghan pullout plan
Trump is expected to order the U.S. military to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia by the time he leaves office in January, The New York Times reported.
The plan, at least as it concerned Afghanistan, drew sharp criticism from top Republicans in Congress.
"A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that "a premature U.S. withdrawal would not only jeopardize the Afghan government’s ability to negotiate, but would endanger U.S. counterterrorism interests."
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Trump's top advisers last week talked him out of ordering a strike against Iran's main nuclear site, The New York Times reported. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley warned that a strike, whether by missile or cyberattack, could easily escalate into a broader conflict.
- Emily Murphy, the Trump-appointed General Services Administration official blocking Biden's team from accessing customary transition-time resources, appears to be looking for a new job, ABC News reported. That would put her afoul of White House personnel director John McEntee's threat to fire anyone in the administration exploring new career opportunities.
- Biden's transition team includes at least 40 current and former registered lobbyists, according to The Wall Street Journal.
- A third Republican senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, is opposing Trump's nomination of Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve Board. One more GOP defection could scuttle the pick. Alexander said Shelton didn't show commitment to independence from political pressures. A vote was due this week.
- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, already the target of a foiled alleged kidnap plot, blasted Trump's coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas as "incredibly reckless" for urging residents there to "rise up" against new restrictions resulting from a recent surge in infections. Atlas said — after his tweet caused an uproar — that it wasn't a call for violence. Biden's reaction to Atlas' original tweet: "What the hell's the matter with these guys? What is the matter with them?"
- House Democrats urged the Trump administration to refrain from a last-minute deluge of new rules and regulations that could saddle the incoming Biden administration and Congress with months of work to unravel, Politico reported.