Biden ignores Trump to build team; eyes on pandemic as hospitalizations soar

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill attend a Veterans Day observance in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 11, 2020. Photo Courtesy: Reuters

WASHINGTON/WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters): President-elect Joe Biden will press on with building his governing team on Thursday, ignoring President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept defeat.

New records for coronavirus infections and hospitalizations ensured that the transition will be dominated by the response to the pandemic, which has accelerated since the November 3 election. Trump remains in office until Biden’s inauguration on January 20.

On Wednesday, Biden, who has shrugged off Trump’s challenge to his victory, named long-time adviser Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff, his first major appointment.

Attention is now expected to shift to Biden’s picks for cabinet posts, though aides have so far given few clues about when announcements will be made.

On foreign policy, Anthony Blinken, a diplomat and longtime confidant, is seen as a possible choice for Secretary of State or National Security Adviser.

Whoever is chosen for Treasury Secretary will have to cope with a recession and joblessness, as well as serving as the fulcrum to address wealth inequality, climate change and other issues.

Klain, who served as President Barack Obama’s “Ebola Czar” in 2014 during an outbreak of that virus in West Africa, is expected to take a leading role in the Biden administration’s response to the nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases.

The United States set records on Wednesday with more than 142,000 new coronavirus infections and nearly 65,000 hospitalizations, according to a Reuters tally. The death toll rose by 1,464, approaching the levels reached during a catastrophic first wave early this year.

In Klain, Biden brings in a trusted and experienced operative who also served as Vice President Al Gore’s top aide during Bill Clinton’s administration.

“He was always highly informed and his advice was always grounded in exceptional command of the policy process, the merits of the arguments, and the political and justice context,” Gore told Reuters.

As Biden’s chief of staff during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, Klain helped oversee the implementation of the $787 billion Recovery Act that boosted the then-cratering economy.

Meanwhile Trump has focused on efforts to overturn the election’s results in closely contested states, despite presenting no evidence of irregularities that could affect the outcome, and a skeptical reception from judges.

Since the election was called for Biden by major news organizations on Saturday, Trump has maintained a minimal public schedule, preferring instead to air his grievances on Twitter, and has not addressed the climbing virus caseload nationwide.