WILMINGTON, Delaware – President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday named several senior staffers for his White House, while his top coronavirus advisers warned that President Donald Trump’s stalling of the official transition could compromise the country’s pandemic response.
Democrat Biden has been preparing to take over the presidency on Jan. 20, meeting with advisers and mapping out his plans to combat the disease, despite Republican Trump’s increasingly dubious effort to reverse the outcome of the Nov. 3 election.
Campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon, the first woman to lead a winning Democratic presidential bid, will serve as deputy chief of staff in the Biden administration, his transition office said in a statement.
Longtime advisers Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti will join as senior adviser to the president and counselor to the president, respectively. Dana Remus, the campaign’s top lawyer, will be counsel to the president.
Another close adviser, Ron Klain, was already named chief of staff.
U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond, who was a national co-chair of Biden’s campaign and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, will vacate a House seat in Louisiana to join as a senior adviser and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. The five-term lawmaker has experience bridging gaps between the parties, which could help Biden advance his priorities in Congress.
Biden’s administration will face an intensifying COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 247,000 people in the United States and shows no sign of slowing.
Trump’s refusal to concede has put the normal transition to an incoming administration in limbo, with federal funding and office space still on hold until the administration recognizes Biden as the election winner.
In a call with reporters on Tuesday, former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who co-chairs Biden’s COVID-19 task force, said blocking Biden transition advisers from meeting with government experts could harm their ability to confront the pandemic next year.
Several doctors and nurses associations published a letter on Tuesday urging the Trump administration to share critical COVID-19 data, such as equipment inventories, medical supplies and hospital bed capacity, with Biden’s team.
Biden has also not been able to receive the classified intelligence briefings normally afforded a president-elect. He met instead with his own panel of national security experts, including several under consideration for top foreign policy posts, such as former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, former deputy national security adviser Avril Haines and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.
“You know that I’ve been unable to get the briefings that ordinarily would have come by now,” Biden said during a brief glimpse of the meeting offered to a small pool of reporters. “And so I just want to get your input on what you see ahead.”
Biden said he had spoken to 13 foreign heads of state thus far, telling them: “America’s back. And it’s no longer America alone.” He spoke on Tuesday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a Trump ally, as well as the leaders of India, South Africa and Chile.
Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence he is the victim of widespread voter fraud, and his campaign has filed a flurry of lawsuits in battleground states. Election officials in both parties have said they see no evidence of serious irregularities.
Biden won the national popular vote by more than 5.6 million votes, or 3.6 percentage points, with some ballots still being counted. In the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the winner, Biden has secured 306 votes to Trump’s 232.
At a federal court hearing in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann appeared skeptical of Trump’s request to block officials from certifying Biden’s win in the state.
“At bottom, you are asking this court to invalidate 6.8 million votes, thereby disenfranchising every single voter in the Commonwealth,” Brann said. “Can you tell me how this result can possibly be justified?”
A loss in the Pennsylvania case would deal a sharp blow to Trump’s fading chances of reversing the election outcome. To remain in office, Trump would need to overturn results in at least three of the closely contested states in unprecedented fashion, and has no apparent legal means to do so.
Pennsylvania’s highest state court rejected an appeal from Trump’s campaign in a separate lawsuit, ruling the elections board in Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, acted reasonably in keeping Trump campaign observers behind barricades and 15 feet (4.5 meters) away from counting tables.
Trump supporters are also clinging to hope that recounts could reverse state results, even though experts have said Biden’s margins appear insurmountable.
Georgia is undertaking a manual recount on its own, but in Wisconsin the Trump campaign would have to pay for a recount in advance. The Wisconsin Elections Commission estimated on Monday that such a recount would cost $7.9 million. Trump has until Wednesday to decide.
Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, accused Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of appearing to suggest he find a way of discounting legally cast ballots, an allegation the South Carolina lawmaker called “ridiculous.”
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