Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR Health

News Brief: President-Elect Biden, COVID-19 Cases' Devastating Trend

NOEL KING, HOST:

Joe Biden is now the president-elect. So when will President Trump concede?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, if that is a key question on the minds of Biden and his team, you would never know that from all that happened over the weekend. Joe Biden spoke in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday night. He did not mention President Trump at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: Folks, the people of this nation have spoken.

(CHEERING)

BIDEN: They've delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory, a victory for we the people. We've won with the most votes ever cast on a presidential ticket in the history of the nation.

GREENE: Now, President Trump, for his part, did not speak in public, though he did tweet. We should say there is no evidence of any widespread fraud, but Trump is still questioning the legitimacy of the election. So how long is that going to go on?

KING: Here with some insight into the days ahead are NPR's Mara Liasson and Scott Detrow - good morning to you both.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Scott, let me start with you. Joe Biden's team has already gotten to work. What are they up to?

DETROW: Yeah, Biden's going to roll out a coronavirus task force today. It's going to be led by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former FDA commissioner David Kessler, as well as Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith from the Yale School of Medicine. And Biden has said the broad goal here is to take all the plans he's been talking about and turn them into orders and steps for governing. He wants to create a much more centralized, federally coordinated approach to all of this, from testing to eventual vaccine distribution and beyond coronavirus. According to the new transition website and social media accounts the transition has rolled out, they are going to focus on the broad challenges that Biden talked so much about in the closing days of this race - the pandemic, of course, the economy, racial justice and climate change.

And beyond that, there's Cabinet appointments and thousands of other federal appointments to think about. And, you know, the story of this week is that all of this will be a lot harder if Republicans do still control the Senate. And that's something that deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield addressed on "Meet The Press" yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

KATE BEDINGFIELD: Well, Joe Biden believes his job is to work with everybody. So that is - you know, if - that is the message from the American people. That's how Joe Biden views governing.

DETROW: So we have this strange disparity here where Biden has focused so much in his victory speech and elsewhere on reaching across the aisle, saying he knows that Americans want people to work together. And yet because President Trump will not concede reality that he lost, you have Republican leaders all throughout Congress not saying out loud that Joe Biden is the president-elect.

KING: So Mara, if President Trump stays refusing to concede, what does that actually mean for Joe Biden's transition?

LIASSON: It could mean delay. The General Services Administration administrator, Emily Murphy, is refusing to sign a letter that would allow Biden's transition team to formally begin its work. That would mean it would get access to millions of dollars and government office space and government officials. The transition costs about $10 million, so that could delay the transition. But her refusal is in keeping with Trump's not acknowledging Biden's victory, and he has never agreed to peacefully transfer power. So she's holding this up because if she did sign the letter, it would be a formal acknowledgment that Biden has won. So there might be some delays in the transition.

KING: Aren't Republicans sort of acknowledging Biden's victory, especially leading Republicans?

LIASSON: Well, as usual, there's a lot of silence. Top Republicans, including a lot of Republicans who served with Biden in the Senate for many, many years, have refused to congratulate him or acknowledge that he's won. That's not very auspicious beginning for reaching across the aisle and working together. Other Republicans are echoing Trump's charge that there are still serious legal challenges to come; Lindsey Graham has told Trump not to concede. But some party elders are congratulating Biden. Former President George W. Bush reached out. Mitt Romney did. He was on NBC on Sunday, and here's what Romney had to say about the president's legal challenges.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

MITT ROMNEY: I think it's fine to pursue every legal avenue that one has. But I think one has to be careful in the choice of words. I think - I think when you say that the election was corrupt or stolen or rigged that that's, unfortunately, rhetoric that gets picked up by authoritarians around the world.

LIASSON: Romney knows a little bit about conceding. He had to concede himself in 2012. He also has been a harsh critic of the president's. You know, the full Senate is actually going to meet today at 3 p.m. There'll be a lot of reporters up on Capitol Hill, and we'll see if Republican senators sprint for the elevators or if they have something to say about this election.

KING: (Laughter) All right. Let me ask you about the Senate because this is where it gets even more interesting. Georgia is going to have two runoffs for Senate seats probably in January, right?

LIASSON: Right. January 5, there are two runoffs. That's because there was a special election for an open seat - the last two years of a seat. Johnny Isakson retired because of health reasons. In Georgia, you have to get over 50% to win. Neither of these Senate races produced a 50% winner, so you're going to have these two runoffs. Democrats need to win both of them to get a majority in the Senate.

So everywhere else in the country, with the exception of Maine, wherever there was a Senate race, it went in the same direction as the presidential race. We don't know who's won the presidential race in Georgia yet. Biden's ahead narrowly in the count. Democrats have never won or rarely won a statewide runoff in Georgia, but you can expect a lot of money and a lot of attention focused on Georgia between now and January 5.

KING: And in the meantime, there, again, is another delay. Scott, what does the delay in the Senate - the delay as we wait for the the runoffs in Georgia - what does that mean for Joe Biden and his ability to get things done?

DETROW: Well, the outcome of these races will have an enormous impact on what Biden can do as president. He had spent months promising this Franklin Roosevelt-style transformative policy agenda. And a lot of that hinged on a big Senate majority that looks like it just won't materialize. If the Democrats do win both, they have the slimmest of slim margins of control in the Senate. But that would still give Biden so much more of an ability to pass proposals. If Republicans maintain control, Democrats worry every single Cabinet appointment will be negotiated and slowed down. And as we've seen over the past five years, there would be real questions of whether Mitch McConnell would hold votes on Biden's Supreme Court appointments if there were to be an opening. Biden has executive orders and rulemaking that he can work with, but we know a conservative judiciary would be skeptical if Biden followed the Obama administration lead and tried to, you know, say, tackle climate change solely through executive orders and EPA rules.

KING: Yeah, a lot of potential for dysfunction. Let me ask you quickly - candidates always talk about their first 100 days. Scott, what has Biden said he'd do in his first 100 days?

DETROW: You know, he said so many different things that he would do in the first 100 days. Right off the bat, he says he will immediately rejoin the Paris climate accords, which the U.S. didn't actually formally leave until the day after Election Day. He's going to rescind a lot of Trump administration executive orders, particularly when it comes to immigration policy. He said at that final debate that he would, in the first 100 days, then propose big new immigration bills, including a path to citizenship. And, of course, the Supreme Court could force Biden's hand and upend the Affordable Care Act. If that is the case, I would imagine a new law would become even more of a top priority for a Biden administration than it already will be.

KING: NPR's Scott Detrow and Mara Liasson. Thank you both so much.

DETROW: Sure thing.

LIASSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right. So over the weekend, the U.S. clocked about 126,000 coronavirus cases each day.

GREENE: And that is the highest yet since the beginning of the pandemic. There have been, overall, about 10 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States. And the spread of the virus right now is dangerously high. President-elect Joe Biden addressed this head-on in his victory speech on Saturday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Folks, our work begins with getting COVID under control. We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality or relish life's most precious moments - hugging our grandchildren, our children, our birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us - until we get it under control.

KING: NPR's Allison Aubrey is with us, as she often is on Mondays lately. Good morning, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning. It's good to be here.

KING: So it's not confined to one spot, seems like the easiest way to put it.

AUBREY: No.

KING: The coronavirus cases are rising in most of the country.

AUBREY: That's right.

KING: Big picture - can I ask you, how bad is this?

AUBREY: You know, the U.S. is averaging more than 100,000 new cases per day. This is more than a 50% increase compared to just late October - so a few weeks ago. About 1,000 people a day are dying from COVID in the U.S. in recent days. Hospitalizations are on the rise, and there's pressure on hospital systems around the country. Here's former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. He was on CBS yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF CBS BROADCAST)

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: We're going to have a record number of hospitalizations this week. Now 56,000 people are hospitalized; 11,000 are in the ICU. These are very big numbers nationally, and it's accelerating very quickly.

AUBREY: And we have not yet hit the peak yet.

KING: President-elect Biden is obviously taking this very seriously. We heard that tape there a minute ago. What has he said so far in terms of a concrete plan to deal with coronavirus?

AUBREY: Sure. In his speech on Saturday, he said that he'll name a group of scientists and experts to a COVID task force so that his administration will be ready to take action on Day 1, as he says. We should have that announcement later today.

KING: And what does action look like? In January, what should we expect from a Biden administration?

AUBREY: You know, for starters, mask mandates nationwide - Biden's plan is to work with governors and mayors to do this. Biden has said he will direct scientists at the CDC to set evidence-based guidance to help limit outbreaks so that leaders in every state, every community are operating under the same standards in just a much more unified way. He's also calling for significant investments in vaccine distribution. This is something many governors have been asking for. And he's calling for a major ramp-up in testing.

Just before the election, I spoke to Dr. Vivek Murthy. He's a former U.S. surgeon general who, as we just heard, is now expected to help lead Biden's task force. He says testing is a key priority.

VIVEK MURTHY: He wants to expand our testing capacity to ensure that people have access to reliable and affordable testing when they need it and not just diagnostic testing, but also screening testing so that we can better open up schools and workplaces and other settings which have remained shut down.

AUBREY: And, you know, Noel, with testing comes tracing. The Biden team envisions the creation of a public health workforce, some 100,000 people or so to carry out contact tracing and other services to really get the U.S. where it needs to be with test, trace and isolate to help slow the spread.

KING: That's a big job. NPR's Allison Aubrey.

Thanks, Allison.

AUBREY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.