'Hang on': Biden Thanksgiving address calls for hope amid steep rise in Covid-19 cases

Lauren Egan and Geoff Bennett and Nicole Via y Rada and Dareh Gregorian

President-elect Joe Biden said Wednesday that the country is facing a "long hard winter" because of the coronavirus but vowed that "life is going to return to normal."

"There's real hope, tangible hope, so hang on," Biden said in a pre-Thanksgiving address from Wilmington, Delaware, noting that Covid-19 vaccines will start being deployed in December.

"Then we'll need to put in place the distribution plan to get the entire country immunized as soon as possible — which we will do. But it's going to take time," Biden cautioned. Until then, "we need to steel our spines and redouble our efforts" to combat the virus with social distancing, good hygiene and masks, he said.

"None of the steps we are asking people to take are political statements," he added, repeatedly calling for unity. "We're at war with a virus. Not one another," Biden said.

"I'm hoping the news of the vaccine will serve as an incentive to every American to take these simple steps to get control of the virus," he said. "Don't let yourself surrender to the fatigue, which I understand it is real fatigue. I know we can beat this virus. America is not going to lose this war. We'll get our lives back. Life is going to return to normal. I promise you this will happen. This will not last forever."

Biden said he has a long tradition of traveling for a large family gathering for Thanksgiving, but he said he's not doing so this year and will celebrate the holiday with his wife and their daughter and son-in-law in Wilmington.

He said that with the coronavirus death toll's hitting 260,000 in the U.S., he knew the holiday would be hard for many families.

"For those who've lost a loved one, I know that this time of year can be particularly difficult. Believe me, I know," said Biden, whose first wife and daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972.

"I remember the first Thanksgiving and the empty chair, the silence. It takes your breath away. It's really hard to care. It's hard to give thanks. It's hard to even think of looking forward. It's so hard to hope. I understand. I'll be thinking and praying for each and every one of you," he said.

On Thursday morning, the president-elect released a video on social media of him and his wife, Jill, speaking about the holiday. Biden emphasized that staying home is a personal sacrifice but also a "shared sacrifice for the whole country."

As for things to be thankful for, Biden pointed Wednesday to the record voter turnout in the election.

"Let's be thankful for democracy itself," he said. "In the middle of a pandemic, more people voted this year than have ever voted in the history of the United States of America. Over 150 million people cast a ballot. It's simply extraordinary.

"Our democracy was tested this year. and what we learned is this — the people of this nation are up to the task. In America, we have full and fair and free elections, and then we honor the results. The people of this nation and the laws of the land won't stand for anything else," he added.

As Biden started to speak in Delaware, President Donald Trump was addressing a gathering of Republican state legislators at a hotel in Pennsylvania by phone, continuing to claim that the election was rigged against him.

"We have to turn the election over, because there's no doubt we have all the evidence, we have all the affidavits, we have everything," Trump said during a 10-minute-long rant while providing no evidence of his various allegations. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani attended the makeshift hearing about voter complaints and also spoke.

Coronavirus cases continue to increase around the country, raising alarm among some health officials that holiday travel and indoor gatherings could lead to more outbreaks. The country is also facing a surge in food insecurity due to the impact of the virus, with food banks around the country reporting long lines ahead of the holiday.

The speech followed Trump's traditional turkey pardoning Tuesday, when he touted a record stock market but made no mention of the record number of Covid-19 cases.

In other transition news:

  • Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, went to DC Central Kitchen in Washington to thank workers who have been feeding the hungry. They said they plan to spend Thanksgiving with each other. Asked whether she has spoken to Vice President Mike Pence, Harris said, "Not yet."

  • Outgoing Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates are under consideration to be attorney general in the Biden administration, two sources familiar with the matter said.

  • Biden will receive his first presidential daily briefing Monday, his transition advisers told reporters.

  • Biden senior adviser Kate Bedingfield said Wednesday that "we don't feel it's necessary" for Biden to speak directly with Trump. "Certainly, should President Trump want to speak with President-elect Biden, then that's something we would work out in the future. But in terms of whether it's mission critical to being able to move the transition forward efficiently? No," Bedingfield said.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that he has been in contact with Ron Klain, Biden's incoming White House chief of staff, now that the transition process is formally underway. "Nothing substantive in the sense of plans, but just touching base with me," Fauci said.

  • Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said on "CBS This Morning" that his team has "not yet been in contact" with the Biden team but that he expected those contacts to start soon. Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, "has said that we are ready to discuss and of course share all information that we have, and we will be happy to do it," Slaoui said.

  • Biden said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with NBC News' Lester Holt that the Trump administration has already begun to reach out to his transition team, and he described the effort as "sincere," a day after a federal agency released a letter to formally begin the transition of power.

  • Biden introduced key nominees for his Cabinet and his national security team Tuesday, including Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of homeland security, Avril Haines as director of national intelligence, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser and John Kerry as special envoy for climate.