President-elect Joe Biden held an emotionally charged virtual roundtable with front-line health care workers Wednesday in which he took aim at the White House for delaying the presidential transition process and expressed hope that Republicans would take bolder action against Covid-19 after President Donald Trump leaves office.
Biden’s biggest message during the nearly hourlong virtual discussion, however, was his expression of support for the nation’s first responders, who have been forced into more than nine months of unrelenting action in responding to the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s not enough to praise you. We have to protect you, we have to pay you,” Biden told the group, which featured a firefighter, an intensive care unit nurse and a school nurse.
During one particularly emotional exchange, Mary Turner, an overnight intensive care nurse from Minnesota, tearfully explained to Biden that she and her colleagues had frequently been the last people to be with dying Covid-19 patients, who took their last breaths without their families at their bedsides — and shared that she has not yet been tested for the coronavirus despite working on the front lines since February.
“You’re kidding me,” Biden replied in disbelief.
Later, Biden took aim at Trump’s General Services Administration for holding up the ascertainment process — a previously uncontroversial process that allows the presidential transition to move forward. He said the delay was seriously hindering his eventual administration's ability to hit the ground running in fighting the pandemic.
“One of the problems that we're having now is the failure of the administration to recognize — the law says that the General Services Administration has a person who recognizes who the winner is,” Biden said, adding, “which, unless it's made available soon, we're gonna be behind by weeks or months being able to put together the whole initiative."
Biden, who participated in the virtual event from Wilmington, Delaware, also expressed hope that after Trump is out of office, Republicans will be bolder in taking action to help control the coronavirus and cooperate with his administration in providing more money for people suffering because of the pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis.
“The Congress has already passed that money, it's sitting there. It's available right now," Biden said. "But we're unwilling, some of our friends on the Senate side are unwilling to spend the money."
“It's not a responsible position," he added. "And I'm hoping that the reason why my friends on the other side have not stepped up to do something is because of their fear of retribution from the president, and hopefully when he's gone, they'll be more willing to do what they know, should be done.”
The event was Biden's only one slated for the day and came as he grapples with how to get up to speed on the Trump administration's response to the surge in cases and how to handle it once he becomes president in January.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was scheduled Wednesday to meet with transition team advisers.
In other transition news:
Biden may be eyeing a historic first: a Black woman as White House press secretary, although officials stress no final decisions have been made. Karine Jean-Pierre, a senior adviser to Biden and chief of staff to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris during the campaign, has emerged as a leading candidate, multiple officials close to the process told NBC News. Campaign senior adviser Symone Sanders has also been discussed as a possible press secretary and has been vocal about her desire to serve in the role, although she has more recently focused on Harris’ transition.
The transition team announced Wednesday people who will guide nominees through the Senate confirmation process. The team is being led by Jen Psaki, who held top communications roles in the Obama White House and the Department of State. Other members of the team include Senate aides and former 2020 campaign staffers for Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
The president-elect is facing a dilemma on how his team will work out of the White House's tight quarters during a pandemic.
Biden's team is brainstorming ways to apply his coronavirus-conscious campaign practices to the presidency.
The transition team is expected to make additional staffing announcements by the end of the week for lower-profile White House jobs such as scheduling and advance.
The Trump campaign petitioned for a partial recount in Wisconsin, where Trump lost to Biden, the apparent winner of the state, by more than 20,000 votes. The campaign is paying $3 million for recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties as part of the long-shot bid.
"We've not found widespread voter fraud," Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, said in an interview on Peacock's "The Mehdi Hasan Show."
As Trump continues to challenge the election results in Pennsylvania, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., told reporters on Wednesday, "I don't think they have a strong case."
Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters on Tuesday that he called Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to discuss Graham's concerns about mail-in ballots. Ducey said in a press conference on Wednesday that he has "not seen" evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities in the state's election. "We can trust our elections here in Arizona."
On Thursday, Biden and Harris are scheduled to have a virtual meeting with the National Governors Association’s executive committee.
Trump, meanwhile, has no public events on his daily schedule, which has been the case for most days since the election on Nov. 3.
Trump has spent his time tweeting, which is how on Tuesday night he fired Christopher Krebs, who as the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency led the government’s election cybersecurity efforts and debunked conspiracy theories promoted by the president himself.