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Trump won’t concede, Biden gets working

WILMINGTON, Delaware: US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris receive a briefing from the transition COVID-19 advisory board yesterday. -AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump was still refusing to concede his election loss yesterday, but Democrat Joe Biden plowed ahead anyway with the first meeting of a parallel coronavirus taskforce, initiating an awkward and potentially volatile transition period. Traditionally, Trump would by now not only have accepted the results of Tuesday’s election but started assisting the incoming administration before the Jan 20 handover. Construction has already begun along Pennsylvania Avenue for the ceremonies.

However, the next weeks threaten to push the United States into unprecedented new tension after the already bitter election. Trump is loudly claiming the election was stolen, despite all-but completed vote counts across the 50 states showing Biden with an insurmountable lead. No proof has been provided for allegations of significant irregularities that Trump’s team insists occurred.

Biden, whose winning bid was in part based on his promise of steady leadership in the coronavirus crisis, was meeting for the first time with his pandemic taskforce in his hometown of Wilmington. Tellingly, this coincided with the White House’s own coronavirus task force meeting planned for later in the day. Biden was also expected to deliver his first public remarks since a victory speech delivered Saturday after the preliminary results showed him with a convincing majority over Trump.

“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said in a statement announcing his task force of respected scientists. The announcement of his new group came as US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech announced that a jointly developed vaccine had so far proven 90 percent effective in preventing infections in trials.

Biden welcomed this, while cautioning it would be “many more months” before mass vaccination was possible and urging Americans to wear masks – something he says he wants to mandate nationally once in office. Trump, whose handling of the pandemic has been erratic – and often running contrary to scientific advice – also welcomed the news, which gave an immediate boost to stock prices on Wall Street.

Beyond COVID, the Biden team said the president-elect and his vice president-elect Kamala Harris “will hold briefings with transition advisors” in the afternoon. However, with Trump digging in his feet, it is far from clear how much the incoming administration will be able to do as the clock ticks down to inauguration day.

Trump, backed for now by a significant number of senior Republicans, is insisting on multiple court challenges to vote counts and allegations of fraud. While no credible proof had been put forward of any incident that could have changed the result, the legal wrangles could take days if not weeks to sort out. In the meantime, Biden’s team is reportedly being denied the usual taxpayer-funded transition package that would help it get ready. This includes office space in Washington and millions of dollars in funding.

The Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration, a bureaucracy running government buildings, had yet to sign off on the assistance. The GSA’s freeze on cooperation rippled through to the Department of Defense, which said it was holding off from contact with Biden’s team. “DOD has had no contact with transition teams from either campaign and will not until notified by the GSA Administrator,” a Pentagon official said. – AFP

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