WILMINGTON, Del. – President-elect Joe Biden on Monday warned of dire consequences if President Donald Trump and his administration continue to refuse to coordinate with his transition team on the coronavirus pandemic and block briefings on national security, policy issues and vaccine plans.
The remarks marked Biden's toughest comments to date on Trump's failure to acknowledge his election loss and cooperate with the incoming administration for a peaceful transfer of power.
“More people may die if we don't coordinate,” Biden told reporters during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden and his aides – and a small but growing group of Republicans – have emphasized the importance of being briefed on White House efforts to control the pandemic and distribute prospective vaccines. The Trump administration is working on its own distribution plan, while Biden's chief of staff indicated his transition team will proceed with their own planning separately because of the obstruction.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said it's “absolutely crucial that the apparent president-elect and his team have full access to the planning that has gone on” for vaccine distribution.
“It is no easy matter” to distribute a vaccine, Collins said, so “it's absolutely imperative for public health, that all of the planning that's gone on for which the current administration deserves credit, be shared with the new administration.”
Collins' remarks were echoed Monday by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Last week, a larger group of Republicans in Congress called on the Trump administration to allow Biden to begin receiving national security briefings.
The outgoing president has refused to bend to pressure from Democrats or Republicans as he continues to dispute his loss to Biden, who has surpassed the 270 electoral vote threshold to become president and is leading Trump by more than 5.5 million votes nationally.
Cooperation between the outgoing and incoming administrations, traditionally a key component to the peaceful transfer of power in the United States, takes on heightened significance this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, which is escalating dramatically heading into the holiday season.
Biden called the vaccine distribution a “huge, huge undertaking,” and said that if his team has to wait until he takes office to dig into the government's distribution plan, they'll be “behind, over a month, month and a half.”
Before taking questions, Biden outlined his plans to alleviate inequality and boost the U.S. economy but said that 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.
The U.S. economy has recovered from the pandemic-induced shutdowns this spring more quickly than most economists expected. But much of the rebound was fueled by $2 trillion in stimulus money that has largely run its course. And there are signs that the ongoing increases in confirmed virus cases are making Americans more cautious about traveling and shopping.
But on whether Biden should receive coronavirus briefings, many of Trump's allies on Capitol Hill remained dug in.
“We've been working for the past year to make sure the vaccine will be delivered, and it will be starting to be delivered probably in December, so he won't even be president of the United States when the vaccine starts,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in pushing back against Biden's comments.
“He can be privy, but he won't have anything to do with it,” Cornyn said. “I mean, I hope by the time he's inaugurated that we're going to be well underway.”
Testing available to House members
After months without internal testing protocols, members of the U.S. House and their staff will now have regular access to coronavirus testing at the Capitol physician's office when they return to Washington from their home states.
In a letter to members of Congress on Sunday, Attending Physician Brian Monahan wrote that his office is offering the testing “to be consistent with the spirit” of an order from Washington, D.C., that all travelers must obtain a coronavirus test prior to visiting the city and get a second test three to five days after arrival.
The tests, which have a six- to 12-hour turnaround, represent the first regular testing program in the Capitol since the beginning of the pandemic.