What to Know in Washington: Trump Focuses on Virus Treatment

The Trump administration has assured states they’ll have enough hospital beds and equipment to handle the alarming nationwide surge in coronavirus cases, but it isn’t advocating for additional measures to slow the virus’s spread and continues to shut out Joe Biden’s advisers.

Several American governors have imposed new restrictions on businesses and social life, and New York City announced yesterday it would close schools. In a call with governors two days earlier, Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the federal pandemic response, said the nation has thousands of hospital beds in reserve and ample supplies of protective gear, with vaccines around the corner.

“I want to assure you at the outset that America has never been more prepared to fight this virus,” Pence told the governors, according to a summary provided by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) office.

“The cavalry is on the way,” he added, in reference to a pair of vaccines nearing Food and Drug Administration approval.

The optimism belies the grave situation confronting the country. The U.S. recorded more than 148,000 new infections on Tuesday alone. And the nation’s death toll from Covid-19 has surpassed 250,000 since February, Johns Hopkins University reported yesterday.

Deborah Birx, the State Department immunologist who coordinates Pence’s task force, told governors that cases rose 50% week-over-week and that more than half of U.S. counties are now categorized as “red” with rampant spread.

The administration’s response, though, has minimized or even discouraged efforts to curb the spread of the virus — masks, social distancing, restricting Americans’ movements and activities — while focusing heavily on treatment. Trump’s team has at the same time prevented Biden’s advisers from coordinating with federal health officials while the president continues to insist, falsely, that he won re-election.

Biden says the dispute risks lives. He held a video conference with front-line health workers yesterday and warned that Trump’s delay in conceding defeat could impede the pandemic response. Read more from Josh Wingrove, Dina Bass and Jennifer Jacobs.

Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Polaris/Bloomberg
Trump touted the progress of vaccine development at the White House on Nov. 13.

The Presidential Transition

Biden Calls for GSA to Allow Transition to Begin: Biden said yesterday the General Services Administration’s delay in allowing the official presidential transition to begin could set back the effort to distribute a coronavirus vaccine by weeks or months. “We’ve been unable to get access to the kinds of things we need to know about — the depth of the stockpiles, we know there’s not much at all,” Biden said in a virtual meeting with front-line workers, adding that his team doesn’t know the administration’s plan for distributing a vaccine. “And there’s a whole lot of things that we just don’t have available to us, which unless it’s made available soon, we’re going to be behind by weeks or months,” he said.

The head of the General Services Administration, who was appointed by Trump, has so far declined to “ascertain” that Biden is the apparent winner of the Nov. 3 presidential vote. Such a move would give Biden’s team access to government data, experts and officials as part of the transition process. Read more from Jordan Fabian.

Wisconsin Officials Order Vote Recount: The Wisconsin Elections Commission approved an order for a partial recount of the presidential vote that was requested by Trump’s campaign in his long-shot bid to overturn the result in a key swing state that helped give Biden his victory earlier this month. The campaign filed petitions yesterday morning for recounts in two heavily Democratic counties: Milwaukee and Dane, which includes the city of Madison. The two counties also account for a majority of Wisconsin’s Black population. Read more from Amanda Albright and Stephen Joyce.

Trump Team Sues Nevada Electors: The Trump campaign filed a lawsuit targeting Nevada’s six presidential electors, who are planning to cast their votes for Biden, including one woman who claims she’s a homeless military veteran. The lawsuit seeks to invalidate the state’s vote tally in the election, claiming “substantial irregularities, improprieties and fraud” and naming the Biden-pledged electors individually as defendants. Trump’s campaign has so far failed to offer any evidence of widespread voter fraud. Bob Van Voris and Patricia Hurtado have more.

Trump Team Files Revised Suit in Pennsylvania: Trump’s campaign filed new claims in his effort to block certification of Pennsylvania’s election results while also urging a federal judge not to dismiss its existing lawsuits. In an 86-page amended complaint filed yesterday, Trump’s team said the commonwealth violated its federal rights to due process and undermined other legal protections. But it remains to be seen whether the new filing will persuade the judge not to toss out the lawsuit, as Pennsylvania officials have requested, David Glovin reports.

Biden Urged to Make Haaland First Native American in Cabinet: A campaign to pressure Biden to put Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) in charge of the Interior Department — and make her the first American Indian cabinet secretary in U.S. history — is gaining ground in Washington. The effort, which involves lawmakers, tribal leaders and some environmentalists, also is making headway with Biden transition officials, according to three people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named discussing deliberations over personnel. Haaland, who was just elected to her second term in the House, is a top contender for the post of Interior Department secretary along with retiring Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the people said. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

White House to Focus on Racial Injustice in Environment Policy: Biden has signaled he wants to power up a small White House office, transforming the Council on Environmental Quality into a muscular policy shop to help move his environmental justice agenda. Under Trump, CEQ was focused largely on speeding up environmental permitting under the Nixon-era National Environmental Policy Act, revising the statute’s decades-old rules in order to boost infrastructure and energy projects. But Biden said, under his watch, the council—which sits within the Executive Office of the President—will become a kind of central clearinghouse for environmental justice policy, pulling together agencies across the federal government with a special focus on low-income communities of color. Read more from Stephen Lee and Dean Scott.

Ferguson, Possible Biden Treasury Pick, Faults Wealth Gap: Roger Ferguson, the chief executive of TIAA and a possible Treasury secretary in the Biden administration, said the U.S economy could be six percent bigger than it is today if policy makers narrowed the country’s wealth gap. The racial and economic divide “makes our economy smaller,” he said yesterday during a web event hosted by Youth INC, a non-profit based in New York. “Racism isn’t an African-American problem, it’s not a Black problem — it’s everyone’s problems.” Read more from Saleha Mohsin.

Happening on the Hill

Shelton Nomination in Limbo With Recess: Trump’s nomination of Judy Shelton to join the Federal Reserve board was left in limbo with little chance of revival as the Senate prepared to leave Washington for the Thanksgiving recess. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), confronted by the absence of two key GOP members, has scheduled no more votes for the week. Prospects for getting Trump’s controversial nominee confirmed when the Senate returns Nov. 30 are slim. That’s the same day that Arizona is supposed to certify election results that would have Democrat Mark Kelly replacing Sen. Martha McSally (R). Read more from Laura Litvan and Steven Dennis.

Ban on Dangerous School Restraint Sought: Democrats are making a renewed push to ban schools from using harmful physical restraint and seclusion — practices most often used for students with disabilities. Recent media reports have found widespread misuse of student restraint and failures to report incidents to the Education Department, leading to new calls for federal intervention. House and Senate lawmakers introduced legislation today to prohibit schools that receive federal funds from isolating students who act out and to restrict their use of physical restraints. Read more from Andrew Kreighbaum.

Garbarino Wins House Race in New York: Republican state assemblyman Andrew Garbarino won the House race in New York’s 2nd Congressional District keeping the Long Island seat in GOP control. Garbarino beat Democrat and military veteran Jackie Gordon, who conceded the race, according to a statement posted on Twitter. Garbarino will succeed Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who is retiring, Catherine Dodge reports.

Delgado Wins Second Term in House: Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) won a second term in the House, defeating Republican Kyle Van De Water, the Associated Press projected. Delgado was seen as vulnerable given Trump won New York’s 19th Congressional District in 2016 and Republicans held the seat for eight years before Delgado was elected, Maria Monteros reports.

Waters Wants ‘Stringent’ PNC BBVA Review: PNC Financial Services Group’s agreement to buy Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA’s banking operations in the U.S. is facing calls from a key Democratic lawmaker for a “stringent” antitrust review at the Department of Justice, as well as scrutiny by other watchdogs. “The DOJ and relevant regulators must fully scrutinize this proposal and assess the merger’s potential impact on the banks’ customers, workers at the banks and communities served by the banks, especially communities of color that have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, said in a statement yesterday. Read more from David Scheer.

What Else to Know Today

Vaccine Cold Storage Ready for Rollout: Freezers required to store coronavirus vaccines are now in place at health systems that are preparing to administer the initial doses once the two leading candidates for shots receive a green light from regulators, federal health officials said. The federal government will have 40 million doses—enough to vaccinate 20 million—ready for distribution by the end of December should shots developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech receive emergency-use authorizations, according to Moncef Slaoui, lead science adviser of the government’s “Operation Warp Speed” efforts. Riley Griffin and Jeannie Baumann have more.

Jobless Picture Worsens Amid Latest Surge: Fewer Americans said they were working as the latest wave of the coronavirus infections intensifies across the U.S., according to data released by the Census Bureau. Back-to-back Household Pulse Surveys conducted from mid-October to early November showed the figure of employed Americans declined by around 4.5 million. It’s a possible sign the labor-market rebound may be losing steam amid coronavirus’ resurgence. Among the jobless, about 4.21 million said they were ill with Covid-19 symptoms, or caring for someone with symptoms, Read more from Henry Ren.

‘Shy Trump Voters’ Re-Emerged: Trump’s unexpectedly strong election showing against Biden is reviving the notion of the so-called shy Trump voter among pollsters, who had consistently yet inaccurately predicted a far weaker performance by the president before the Nov. 3 contest. The outcome of the race marked the second time in four years that pollsters understated Trump’s support in the months leading up to the election. Now, polling firms are faced with another possible culprit: a legion of voters who either refused to say they were voting for Trump or declined to participate in polls at all. Gregory Korte has more.

O’Brien Takes China Message on Vietnam: U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien is traveling to Vietnam and the Philippines this week as the Trump administration continues its efforts to counter China and deepen ties with the Southeast Asian nations, according to two U.S. officials. O’Brien will meet with Vietnamese security officials in Hanoi this Saturday, and will give remarks at Vietnam National University on Sunday. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs.

  • The ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence partnership called on China to “live up to” its duty to the people of Hong Kong after Beijing moved to demand loyalty from the city’s lawmakers, prompting its opposition to resign en masse. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.K., the countries that make up the alliance, reiterated “serious concern” over China’s new rule in a joint statement on Hong Kong. Read more from Karen Leigh and Chelsea Mes.
  • Meanwhile, China’s Xi Jinping is set to address Asia-Pacific leaders in Kuala Lumpur, just days after the region inaugurated the world’s largest free-trade deal and as he waits for clues on how Biden will approach China. Xi was scheduled to speak virtually today as part of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summits hosted by Malaysia. Read more here.

Judges Eye Reviving Trump Water Jurisdiction Rule: Federal judges are weighing whether to revive the Trump administration’s contentious water jurisdiction rule in Colorado. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on Wednesday heard competing arguments from state and federal government lawyers on whether a lower court had overstepped when it blocked implementation of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule within the state’s borders, Ellen M. Gilmer reports.

FCC to Vote Replacing Huawei Gear: The Federal Communications Commission is planning a Dec. 10 vote to implement a federal law that would help U.S. telecommunications providers to replace network equipment made by Huawei Technologies and other foreign suppliers viewed as posing a national security threat, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. The new rules would establish criteria for a list of the equipment and services that pose “an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States,” Pai said. Read more from Jon Reid.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com