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President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday promised that his administration would oversee the injection of 100 million Covid-19 vaccine shots within his first 100 days as president and vowed to reopen a “majority” of schools across the nation in the same time frame.
Biden, who spoke from Wilmington, Delaware, at an event in which he also announced the top members of his health care team, promised that educators, along with health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, would be among the targets for the first round of Covid-19 vaccinations.
In addition, Biden reiterated that he would call on Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his administration, adding that he would sign an executive order on his first day in office to mandate mask use where he could “under the law,” such as in federal buildings and during interstate travel on planes trains and buses.
"Masking, vaccinations, opening schools,” Biden said. “These are the three key goals of my first 100 days.”
Biden's announcement came at the same time President Donald Trump used a vaccine summit event at the White House to air grievances about the 2020 election. No Biden official was invited to participate in the vaccine summit, a transition official told NBC News.
In his remarks, Biden called on Congress to help fund those efforts, saying that without the necessary federal funding, the efforts would “slow and stall.”
Calling Covid-19 a “mass casualty,” Biden also warned Americans that “things may well get worse before they get better,” cautioning that “It will take longer than we would like to distribute” a vaccine to everyone in the country.
“My first 100 days wont end the Covid virus, I can’t promise that,” Biden said. But, he added, "in 100 days, we can change course of disease and change life in America for the better.”
Biden said it was a “national priority to get our kids back to school,” but repeatedly promised his team would “follow the science.”
Biden used the event to formally introduce his nominees and appointees for his health team, including his choice of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to head the Department of Health and Human Services and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, a leading expert on virus testing, prevention and treatment, to serve as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Biden also formally introduced Dr. Vivek Murthy as his pick for surgeon general and said the top federal infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, would take on the additional role of chief medical adviser. Former National Economic Council director Jeff Zients was named coordinator of the Covid-19 response.
Biden lauded his steam as a group of "world class experts" who would "spare not a single effort to get this pandemic under control."
As Biden was introducing his team, Trump made remarks at an Operation Warp Speed vaccine summit.
Asked why he hadn't invited any Biden transition officials, Trump said, “We’re going to have to see who the next administration is, because we won in those swing states and there was terrible things that went on.” The president added that “whichever the next administration is will really benefit from what we’ve been able to do with this.”
Trump called for state legislatures or Supreme Court justices with “courage” to step up, and said if they do, “I know who the next administration will be.”
Despite the exploding number of coronavirus cases across the country, the president defended the White House continuing to hold indoor Christmas parties — “they’re Christmas parties,” Trump said and suggested the high infection rate across the country could be a good thing.
“I think that the vaccine was our goal, that was No. 1 because that was the way, it was the way it ends. Plus you do have an immunity, you develop an immunity over a period of time. And I hear we're close to 15 percent, I'm hearing that and that is terrific. That's a very powerful vaccine in itself,” Trump said, referring to a so-called “herd immunity” approach to the virus.
Scientists, however, have called that approach a "dangerous fallacy unsupported by the scientific evidence."
Trump's comments also came as the White House coronavirus task force warned state that vaccine implementation will not reduce viral spread or deaths "until the late spring," when the 100 million Americans with comorbidities can be fully immunized.
In other transition news:
Biden and Harris will participate in a virtual meeting later in the day with civil rights leaders in Wilmington that will be closed to the press. The NAACP and other civil rights groups have been advocating for greater access and representation.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who co-chairs Biden's inaugural committee, said Tuesday that most of the events Jan. 20 will take place virtually because of the pandemic. “We will be setting an example with this inauguration," the South Carolina Democrat said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” "It is going to be, I may call it, hybrid. He will take the oath in the traditional way, but all of the inaugural festivities are going to be 80 percent virtual.”
Christopher Krebs, who was recently fired by Trump as the head of the federal government's election cybersecurity efforts, filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday against the Trump campaign and one of its lawyers, Joseph diGenova, who said in an interview last week that Krebs should be shot for contradicting the president's unfounded and false election fraud claims. The complaint, obtained by NBC News, was filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Maryland and says "fears were shared" by Krebs' wife and several of his five young children, "including his ten-year-old, who piercingly asked: 'Daddy’s going to get executed?' No parent should ever have to hear those words." Krebs told the 'TODAY' show last week that he was considering legal action
The president-elect is expected to announce this week that he’s chosen to nominate retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as his defense secretary, according to three people familiar with the decision. If he’s confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first African American to lead the Defense Department. Biden is expected to announce additional members of his Cabinet before Christmas.
States that haven't yet certified their votes for president or that face legal challenges are rushing to resolve any remaining disputes by Tuesday, known as safe harbor day, another step toward locking in Biden's Electoral College victory over Trump.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Tuesday that he's suing Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the Supreme Court alleging the states “exploited the Covid-19 pandemic to justify ignoring federal and state election laws and unlawfully enacting last-minute changes, thus skewing the results of the 2020 general election.”
A senior Trump administration official said on a call with reporters Monday that the purpose of the vaccine summit Tuesday is to educate Americans about the vaccine development process, to instill confidence in the public so that they know the vaccine is safe and to "congratulate the members of Operation Warp Speed, the members of the administration, the members of the scientific community, the members of the public sector, the U.S. military all coming together in, really, the most spectacular mobilization since World War II to get a vaccine to market much, much faster than has ever been done before."