President Donald Trump finally confirmed Thursday that he will vacate the White House in January after weeks of plunging America into a dark period of uncertainty—where the fate of democracy sometimes seemed to be hanging by a thread—but he largely ignored the mounting challenges his successor is facing as he exits.
“It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede,” Trump told reporters Thursday evening in the Diplomatic Reception Room where he repeated his baseless claims of “massive fraud” and said that if the Electoral College declares Biden the winner they will have “made a mistake.”
Trump’s gaggle with reporters after a call with US service members fell far short of a concession. He continued to spew falsehoods about election fraud that simply does not exist, refused to say whether he would attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, and cast dangerous aspersions on the election system in Georgia — a state where he lost but plans to campaign next month for two Republican senators facing a runoffs that will determine control of the US Senate.
Most notably, he continued to push his false narrative that the US is rounding the corner on the pandemic but acknowledged that he will be gone next year, lecturing reporters not to “let Joe Biden take credit” for the development on coronavirus vaccines “because the vaccines were me and I pushed people harder than they’ve ever been pushed before.”
The remarks at once reflected the President’s breathtaking narcissism and his inability to confront the anxiety and financial pain that so many Americans are facing this holiday week, as lines at food banks stretched for blocks and hospitals were once again facing down capacity limits.
But his comments were welcome if only as an admission that Trump, who has essentially abdicated his leadership on the pandemic, would actually leave the White House grounds in January, allowing a new administration to try and wrest the nation from its deepening state of crisis that the President has largely refused to see or acknowledge.
The President-elect tried to buck up weary Americans with a hopeful Thanksgiving message this week, promising that this “grim season of division” would soon give way to a year of light and unity. But aside from encouraging news about the effectiveness of vaccines in development, the news in these tumultuous few weeks since the election has largely pointed to the myriad challenges that Biden is facing — from the millions of Americans about to tumble off a financial cliff when unemployment benefits expire, to the complexity he faces in developing a distribution plan for the coronavirus vaccine and then convincing skeptical Americans to get it.
The images of Americans flooding to food pantries in every city in America this week — more than 50 million Americans could face food insecurity by the end of the year, according to Feeding America — was a chilling reminder of the cost of Washington’s division and intransigence, as members of the House and Senate were on vacation this week with no sign of another emergency pandemic stimulus package in sight.
Though more than 20 million Americans were still receiving some form of unemployment benefits in early November and another 778,000 filed first-time jobless claims last week, according to a new Labor Department report, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have proved incapable of even meeting to negotiate another relief package.
They have remained divided along those partisan lines even though emergency pandemic benefits approved by Congress in March are slated to expire on December 26 for some 7.3 million gig workers, independent contractors, self-employed and other Americans who did not qualify for regular unemployment benefits in their states, according to an analysis by The Century Foundation. Another 4.5 million Americans, who were allotted an extra 13 weeks of unemployment beyond the 26 weeks typically offered by most states, are facing the same December cutoff.
The Walt Disney Company just announced it will lay off 32,000 employees next year. And much of the relief for small businesses has already run out, and other protections that struggling Americans have depended on like a moratorium on evictions and deferred payments on mortgages and student loans are also expiring.
The inability of leaders to work together in Washington is being sharply felt by small business owners and workers who are once again seeing their livelihoods jeopardized as cities and jurisdictions around the country place new limitations on businesses to try to get a handle on the skyrocketing number of Covid-19 cases.
As Los Angeles County shut down outdoor dining again this week — with the region facing an expected shortage of ICU beds within two to four weeks — restaurateur Tom Sopit said the move would “devastate and decimate” his industry once again.
“We can’t keep taking on these blows, especially with no federal relief or aid from anyone else,” Sopit told CNN’s Kate Bolduan. “This just can’t keep going on without help.”
“Some of my employees are still behind on rent, some of them are living paycheck to paycheck and again there’s no federal relief — the Senate is on vacation,” Sopit, the owner of Employees Only, said on “Erin Burnett OutFront” Wednesday. “Every time they close us down, they need to make sure there’s relief to help aid us through this time.”
Though Biden ran for president on a platform that he could work with leaders from both sides to forge compromise, there is no indication yet of whether he can move Congress toward action at a time when many Republicans, who fear Trump, have still not even acknowledged his election victory.
Biden urged members of Congress to “come together” and pass a Covid relief package like the Heroes Act, the package topping $2 trillion that passed in March.
But even when Trump’s White House was engaged — which is no longer the case — Republicans balked at the size of the package that Democrats were proposing (as well as the dollar figures Trump said he would agree to). Though Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled this week that he’d be open to “a targeted bill” somewhere in the range of a half a trillion, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far been unwilling to budge in her resistance to a smaller, more piecemeal package.
It is not just the lack of economic relief that could produce a shaky start for Biden as some economist warn of a double-dip recession. He and his team are trying to prepare for the complicated task of distributing the vaccine and convincing Americans to take it at a time when the funding details of how that would take place are still unclear.
In October, health departments and officials who will be managing the distribution of the vaccine told Pelosi, McConnell and other top Congressional leaders in a letter that they will need $8.4 billion to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine in the next emergency supplemental funding package for the pandemic. Many strapped states have devised their vaccine distribution plans largely without knowing how they will cover the daunting costs.
The $8.4 billion figure would cover worker recruitment and training, data modernization, cold supply chain management to safely transport certain vaccines at low temperatures and money to combat misinformation about vaccines, among other costs.
Experts hope that the announcements from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna that their vaccines are more than 90% effective will help address vaccine skepticism. But a Gallup poll released Tuesday showed that more than 40% of Americans still say they would not agree to get an FDA-approved vaccine to prevent coronavirus if it was available at no cost.
That was an improvement from October when only half of Americans said they would seek a vaccine, but it pointed to the strong vaccine skepticism in America that Biden will have to overcome. Vaccine distrust is even deeper in Black and Latino communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the virus — pointing to the need for Congress to make funds available for a vaccine education campaign.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, addressed the need to address the skepticism in the Black community in an interview with theGrio this week.
Fauci noted that “historically, particularly the African-American community and to some extent the LatinX community has been treated in a way that’s been shameful historically going back decades,” Fauci told Byron Allen, the CEO of Entertainment Studios, who conducted the interview.
“That’s not easy to forget,” he said. “So we have got to reach out to the community and explain to them that we’ve done everything we possibly can to make this a transparent and independent process.”
He noted the importance not just of the message, but in finding the right people to convey it and build trust.
“You don’t want only a White guy in a suit like me going into the community and say, ‘Trust me, I’m from the federal government,’” he said. “So you do really want people who are committed, who are really respected in the community.”
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