Biden ignores Trump to build team; eyes on pandemic as hospitalizations soar

U.S. President-elect Biden holds news conference in Wilmington, Delaware
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will support the MTA, writes Patrick J. Foye.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By James Oliphant and Simon Lewis, Reuters

President-elect Joe Biden will press on with building his governing team on Thursday, ignoring President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept defeat.

New records for coronavirus infections and hospitalizations ensured that the transition will be dominated by the response to the pandemic, which has accelerated since the Nov. 3 election. Trump remains in office until Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

On Wednesday, Biden, who has shrugged off Trump’s challenge to his victory, named long-time adviser Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff, his first major appointment.

Attention is now expected to shift to Biden’s picks for cabinet posts, though aides have so far given few clues about when announcements will be made.

On foreign policy, Antony Blinken, a diplomat and longtime confidant, is seen as a possible choice for Secretary of State or National Security Adviser.

Whoever is chosen for Treasury Secretary will have to cope with a recession and joblessness, as well as serving as the fulcrum to address wealth inequality, climate change and other issues.

Klain, who served as President Barack Obama’s “Ebola Czar” in 2014 during an outbreak of that virus in West Africa, is expected to take a leading role in the Biden administration’s response to the nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases.

The United States set records on Wednesday with more than 142,000 new coronavirus infections and nearly 65,000 hospitalizations, according to a Reuters tally. The death toll rose by 1,464, approaching the levels reached during a catastrophic first wave early this year.

In Klain, Biden brings in a trusted and experienced operative who also served as Vice President Al Gore’s top aide during Bill Clinton’s administration.

“He was always highly informed and his advice was always grounded in exceptional command of the policy process, the merits of the arguments, and the political and justice context,” Gore told Reuters.

As Biden’s chief of staff during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, Klain helped oversee the implementation of the $787 billion Recovery Act that boosted the then-cratering economy.

Meanwhile Trump has focused on efforts to overturn the election’s results in closely contested states, despite presenting no evidence of irregularities that could affect the outcome, and a skeptical reception from judges.

Since the election was called for Biden by major news organizations on Saturday, Trump has maintained a minimal public schedule, preferring instead to air his grievances on Twitter, and has not addressed the climbing virus caseload nationwide.


Biden has claimed enough of the battleground states to surpass the 270 electoral votes needed in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the presidency. He is also winning the popular vote by more than 5.2 million votes, or 3.4 percentage points, with a few states still counting ballots.

World leaders have recognized Biden’s victory, with Australia, Japan and South Korea joining the list of allies congratulating Biden in phone calls and reaffirming plans to form close ties with the president-elect.

China and Russia, however, have held off.

As Trump, the first U.S. president to lose a re-election bid since 1992, desperately tries to cling to power, Democrats and other critics have accused him of aiming to undermine public trust in the U.S. election system and delegitimize Biden’s victory through unproven, anecdotal claims of voter fraud.

He has also been pondering another run for the presidency in 2024. On Wednesday he endorsed a close ally, Ronna McDaniel, to remain in her job as the chair of the Republican National Committee – an unusual move for an outgoing president.

In the meantime, Trump’s 2020 campaign continued to fight a rearguard action, bringing a new lawsuit in Michigan, where Trump was losing by more than 148,000 votes, or 2.6 percentage points, according to Edison Research.

Judges have tossed out several Trump lawsuits, and legal experts say the litigation has no serious chance of changing the overall outcome.

“They’re looking at throwing up a hundred Hail Marys,” one Republican strategist with ties to the White House said, using a football term referring to a long, desperate pass at the end of a game by a losing team with only a slim chance of success.