• The Star Staff

‘More people may die’ because of Trump’s transition delay, Biden says

By Michael Crowley and Michael D. Shear

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday sharpened his criticism of President Donald Trump’s refusal to cooperate in an orderly transition, warning that “more people may die” from the coronavirus if the president does not agree to coordinate planning for the mass distribution of a vaccine when it becomes available.

It was a marked shift in tone for the president-elect, intended to pressure Trump after Biden and his team had played down the difficulty of setting up a new government without the departing administration’s help. The new criticism came as the White House national security adviser all but conceded that Biden would be inaugurated and acknowledged the importance of a smooth federal handoff.

“The vaccine is important. But it’s of no use until you’re vaccinated,” Biden said, pledging to work with Republicans to defeat the virus and spur an economic revival when he takes office. But he said the logistics of distributing vaccines to hundreds of millions of Americans were a vast challenge. “It’s a huge, huge, huge undertaking,” he said.

“If we have to wait until Jan. 20 to start that planning, it puts us behind,” Biden said. “More people may die if we don’t coordinate.”

Over the weekend, the president again refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory and on Monday morning tweeted, “I won the Election!” Without a concession from Trump, the official transition remains frozen — and could stay that way for months.

Biden made his comments at a news conference after he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris had discussed reviving the economy at a virtual meeting with business and labor leaders, including Mary Barra, the chief executive of General Motors, and Satya Nadella, the head of Microsoft, as well as the AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka, and the United Auto Workers president, Rory Gamble.

“We all agreed that we want to get the economy back on track and get our workers back in the job by getting the virus under control,” Biden said. “We are going into a very dark winter. Things are going to get much tougher before they get easier. And that requires sparing no effort to fight COVID.”

Biden reaffirmed his support for a $3.4 trillion stimulus bill that House Democrats passed this year that Senate Republicans have rejected, although he offered no hint of a compromise that could break Congress’ monthslong deadlock.

But to do that, he said, will require new cooperation from Republicans, even those who have so far refused to publicly acknowledge Biden’s victory. Asked what he would say to members of the president’s party who have backed Trump’s refusal to concede, Biden said he would offer them an open hand.

“My message is: ‘I will work with you. I understand a lot of your reluctance because of the way the president operates,’” Biden said, adding that such conversations may not take place until Trump and his advisers have left office. “That’s a shame, but maybe that’s the only way to get it done.”

Biden praised the Republican governors of North Dakota, Ohio and Utah, who have each taken steps to lock down their states in response to the virus — and drawn attacks from Trump in the process. Monday morning, the president hinted in a tweet that he might support a primary challenge to one of them — Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio.

“Who will be running for Governor of the Great State of Ohio? Will be hotly contested!” Trump wrote.

Biden said during his remarks that he had “enormous respect” for the Republican governors, including DeWine, who have bucked a president of their own party to insist that people wear masks.

“It’s about being patriotic. It’s about saving lives for real. This is not hyperbole,” Biden said, adding, “There is nothing macho about not wearing a mask.”

By contrast, Biden was sharply critical of administration officials including Dr. Scott Atlas, the radiologist who has emerged as the president’s most trusted adviser on combating the virus. Atlas has mocked the idea of wearing masks and recently urged people to “rise up” in protest of tough new restrictions in Michigan and elsewhere that were put in place to slow the spread of the virus.

The president-elect said Atlas’ call for people to resist the restrictions went against the recommendations of health professionals across the country. “What are they doing?” Biden said. “It’s totally irresponsible.”

But on the larger question of Trump’s claims to victory, Biden was almost dismissive.

“I find this more embarrassing for the country than debilitating for my ability to get started,” Biden said. Of Trump’s weekend tweeting, he added: “I interpret that as Trumpism. No change in his modus operandi.”

A spokesman for Trump called Biden’s comments about endangered lives from a delayed transition “irresponsible and not based on fact,” insisting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made its plan for distributing a vaccine publicly available.

The spokesman, Judd Deere, said the administration was prepared “to ship vaccine doses to every ZIP code in America” within 24 hours of approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

Hours before Biden’s remarks, Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, went further than any other senior Trump official in a public forum when he said that Biden appeared to have won the election and pledged a smooth transition from his staff.

“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.

Perhaps wary of the ire of a president who refuses to concede the obvious, however, even O’Brien spoke conditionally, falsely suggesting that the election’s outcome remains uncertain.

“If there is a new administration, they deserve some time to come in and implement their policies,” O’Brien said during a talk recorded last week and streamed on Monday as part of a conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“And if we are in a situation where we are not going into a Trump second term, which I think people where I’m sitting in the White House would like to see, if it’s another outcome, it will be a professional transition — there’s no question about it,” he added.

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