President-elect Joe Biden met today with governors from both parties and criticised President Donald Trump's unprecedented attempt to block the peaceful transition of power, saying it was hindering the flow of information about programmes to develop a vitally important coronavirus vaccine.
"Unfortunately, my administration hasn't been able to get everything we need," Biden said during a video conference with the National Governors Association's leadership team, which consists of five Republicans and four Democrats.
His remarks highlighted the stakes of the Trump administration's refusal to begin a formal transfer of power to Biden's team. Besides being a pillar of American democracy, it is especially important this year since Biden will be inheriting responsibility for managing the worst public health crisis in a century. The President-elect also has been denied access to other critical information, including security briefings.
Participating from a theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, with Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, Biden specifically cited Operation Warp Speed, the federal government's partnership with private pharmaceutical companies to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.
"We haven't been able to get into Operation Warp Speed, but we will take what we learned today and build it into our plan," Biden said in remarks after the meeting, which included Republicans Larry Hogan of Maryland, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Kay Ivey of Alabama, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Gary Herbert of Utah.
Afterward, Biden spoke about distribution of a vaccine once one is ready, saying, "There has to be a prioritisation."
"That's why I'd like to know exactly what this administration has in mind in terms of their Operation Warp Speed and how they plan it," he said of the Trump White House. "And that's what we talked about with the governors today. They all mentioned the need to focus on the communities that have been left behind."
Even as he warned of the gravity of the situation, however, Biden reiterated his previous pledges not to institute a nationwide shutdown to curb the virus' spread, and repeated that more states instituting mask-wearing mandates could save tens of thousands of lives.
An hourlong briefing by the White House coronavirus task force that also took place today made no mention of the incoming administration or Trump's refusal to coordinate with Biden on plans to distribute upcoming vaccines.
But it did reinforce Biden's tough-love message to the American people, including warnings that a "dark winter" is coming as virus cases spike across the country. Task force coordinator Dr Deborah Birx sounded the alarm over the rate of new infections — sharper than the surge this summer or even the initial outbreak last spring.
While there have been improvements in treatment protocols and new therapeutics, tens of thousands of people — or more — will die before vaccines are widely available, she said.
After the virtual meeting with the governors, Biden took questions from reporters and revealed he'd decided on a treasury secretary nomination for his new administration. He refused to provide more details, except to say it was a choice that would satisfy Democrats from across the political spectrum — presumably including outspoken progressives who worried Biden might go for a safer, more moderate selection.
Among the Democrats on the videoconference was Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, which is among the states Trump has targeted for unfounded claims of voter fraud. Biden nonetheless vowed to rise above politics in a unified front against the virus.
"There's a real desire for real partnership between the states and the federal government," Biden said.
He said he'd forgo a national shutdown "because every region, every area, every community can be different".
Instead, Biden noted that 10 governors have imposed statewide mask mandates to combat the virus, calling wearing face coverings a "patriotic duty." He's previously vowed to ask all governors to impose such rules and go around holdouts to local and county officials to cover as much of the US as possible.
Ivey told videoconference participants that both parties in Congress need to come together to provide more coronavirus response funding, according to a readout provided by her office. It made no mention of the Alabama governor recognising Biden as President-elect.
Hutchison of Arkansas, by contrast, said over the weekend that Biden would be the next president. He's also called on the Trump administration to give Biden access to the intelligence briefings he needs to be fully prepared to lead the country on January 20, Inauguration Day.
Hogan told AP recently that Trump's wild and unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud were "dangerous" and "embarrassing".
"As I said on the day that the president-elect was declared the winner, his election has provided a mandate for cooperation," the Maryland governor said after the virtual meeting with Biden. "We look forward to working closely with the Biden-Harris administration as we continue to face this unprecedented global pandemic."
Still, some in his party considering the election settled didn't stop Trump from coming out with a new round of false claims of voter fraud in key states.
With Trump dug in and Republicans on Capitol Hill largely unwilling to challenge him, Biden has been forced to turn to a diverse collection of outside allies to ratchet up the pressure on the president to concede.
The CEOs of America's largest companies have released a statement recognising Biden and Harris as the clear winners. The heads of the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association issued a joint statement on Tuesday urging the Trump administration to share "all critical information related to Covid-19" with Biden. Not doing so, they warned, would jeopardise American lives.
Trump, meanwhile, has been getting nowhere in the courts, and his scattershot effort to overturn Biden's victory is shifting toward obscure election boards that certify the vote. The battle is centered in the states that sealed Biden's win. Two Republican election officials in Michigan's largest county initially refused to certify results despite no evidence of fraud.
The officials then backtracked and voted to certify before flipping again and saying they "remain opposed to certification."
Biden said that Trump's refusal to accept the election results has left Americans "witnessing incredible irresponsibility" and that the President's actions in Michigan were particularly troubling.
"What the President's doing now is going to be another incident where he will go down in history as being one of the most irresponsible presidents."
- Associated Press