(CNN) — US President Donald Trump’s refusal to coordinate with President-elect Joe Biden on the critical COVID-19 vaccine is revealing a staggering possibility: that an outgoing commander-in-chief is actively working to sabotage his successor.
Trump’s denial of his electoral defeat, his lies about non-existent massive and coordinated electoral fraud, and his strangulation of the rituals of transferring power between administrations are not just aberrations that damage democracy.
Given the current national emergency, they threaten to provoke practical consequences that could harm Biden’s incoming White House not just in a political sense. There is growing concern that Trump’s obstruction will slow and complicate the delivery of a vaccine that offers the tantalizing prospect of a return to normal life amid startling news of trials showing that the doses are effective in stopping more than 90%. of coronavirus infections.
Operation for the vaccine
The distribution operation will be a massively complex and historic public vaccination effort targeting hundreds of millions of Americans, many millions of whom have resisted following basic safety protocols, such as wearing masks, because Trump has encouraged them not to. The inoculation campaign will require a high level of public trust and will involve sharp ethical debates among officials about who should get the vaccine first. The whole program could be damaged if it becomes politicized. But unless something changes, Biden’s team may be faced with the task of tackling those problems as soon as they arrive, in a frenzy to catch up.
It is not only in the vaccine that Trump threatens the success of the next administration. Attacks by the president and his advisers on governors that fill the leadership vacuum as the pandemic hits all 50 states mean that the situation Biden will inherit will be worse than necessary.
The victims of this neglect will be thousands of Americans whom health experts expect to die or become ill in the absence of a coordinated national response to the winter surge in infections and workers caught in the new restrictions imposed on businesses by local leaders trying to put the virus under control, as well as the millions of schoolchildren who are already being left behind while classrooms remain closed.
Biden: “More people can die if we don’t coordinate”
“More people can die if we don’t coordinate,” Biden warned bluntly on Monday, intensifying his pressure for Trump to acknowledge his defeat in the election and his imminent departure from office.
Unlike Trump, who wallows in personal grievance and anger over what he sees as a humiliating defeat, Biden has a sense of urgency and new proposals, and is calling for a coordinated national effort to mitigate the heartbreaking impact of the surge. of infections nationwide.
But while he has the moral reputation of an electoral victory, he does not have the power to implement his plans until his inauguration day, January 20.
CNN reported Monday that Trump has no intention of abandoning his false attacks on the election to start a transition process or accept that Biden is the next legitimate president.
Instead, his legal challenges, which have made little headway in court, appear expressly aimed at pushing conspiracy theories among his supporters and preserving his grip on the Republican Party and ultimately calling Biden’s term illegitimate. The fact that many Republican leaders in Washington, who remain hostages to Trump’s political base, do not unequivocally refer to Biden as president-elect or berate Trump for his undemocratic conduct only further undermines the next administration.
The tension during the transition is a change from recent years
Two weeks after the election, it remains surreal and extraordinary that the president refuses to accept Biden’s victory, which equaled the 306 Electoral College votes he himself obtained in 2016. That he would act in such a way in the midst of a grave The national crisis, with 246,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 and millions out of work, is an even more revealing glimpse into the mind of a president who has consistently prioritized his own goals and gratification over a traditional view of the national interest.
It is not unusual for there to be animosity between outgoing and incoming administrations, especially when a president has been ousted from office. The transition from President Herbert Hoover to President-elect Franklin Roosevelt in 1932-33, amid another crisis, the Great Depression, was notoriously thorny.
Many White House teams have used their regulatory power to thwart the policy-making goals of opposing party administrations. Trump is already taking another step. Military commanders await orders in the coming days from the commander-in-chief to begin significant withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan to be completed on January 15, CNN’s Barbara Starr reported Monday. If there are consequences to such a move, such as a collapse of the Afghan government under a resurgence of the Taliban, it will be up to Biden to deal with the consequences.
There are also expectations that the president will take foreign policy measures, including tightening tariffs on China or strengthening sanctions on Iran, which will further cut the space for negotiations in the next White House.
The New York Times reported Monday that the president sought options to attack Iran after his “maximum pressure” policy failed to curb his nuclear program. Such an action would make it almost impossible for Biden to revive the Obama administration’s agreement with Tehran and the international powers. But the report says advisers had deterred Trump from unleashing attacks that could spark a broader conflict and undermine one of his inherited achievements he prides himself on most: preventing further wars in the Middle East.
And in another apparent attempt to complicate the next administration in its quest to lessen America’s dependence on fossil fuels, the White House on Monday called for tenders for oil and gas drilling at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Another deviation from the rules
In recent years, the presidents of both parties have prioritized a peaceful and effective transfer of power over personal political resentment, recognizing their duty to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of the American people.
The warm welcome letters left on the Oval Office desk, for example, from President George HW Bush to Bill Clinton, have become the norm. George W. Bush’s team showed deference to the incoming president, Barack Obama, during the 2008 financial crisis.
The 44th president then ordered his team to make life as easy as possible for the incoming Trump White House, a fact Michelle Obama recalled in a sour Instagram post on Monday: “I felt hurt and disappointed, but the votes had been counted and Donald Trump had won… My husband and I instructed our staff to do what George and Laura Bush had done for us: carry out a smooth and respectful transition of power, one of the hallmarks of the American democracy. ‘
Thus, the current president’s behavior, apparently motivated by fury over his defeat and a conspiratorial belief that the investigation of the suspects and his team’s multiple ties to the Russians was part of a plot to make his presidency illegitimate, it is a clear departure from recent norms.
Trump wants credit for the vaccine
Ironically, Trump’s state of mind, characterized by wild tweets divorced from any factual anchor, is detracting from his own administration’s undeniable achievement in guiding the rapid development of vaccines. The first data released on Monday found that the Moderna vaccine currently being tested is 94.5% effective against the coronavirus. This followed the news that Pfizer’s vaccine was more than 90% effective. The news brought the prospect of a return to normal life and economic activity in 2021.
One of Trump’s few recent references to the worsening pandemic was a tweet on Monday demanding that historians acknowledge his role in vaccine advancements.
The president ordered government agencies not to offer traditional cooperation with the incoming administration or to allow the release of millions of dollars in funds, agency office space and briefings of government officials.
Biden initially reacted circumspectly to the move, seemingly eager not to antagonize Trump further as the president accepts his frustrated hopes of winning a second term. But increasingly, the president-elect is warning of the damage caused by the impasse and is highlighting the vaccine in particular.
“The sooner we have access to the administration’s distribution plan, the sooner this transition will go smoothly,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware, on Monday.
When will the vaccine be distributed?
While the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has said the vaccine could begin to be administered to high-priority patients, such as healthcare workers and the elderly, in December, it is likely to be at less until April that it is available to most Americans. Fauci compared this task to passing a witness in a relay race on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, and said it would be helpful if the transition could begin immediately.
Dr. Luciana Borio, a member of Biden’s covid-19 advisory board, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday night that administration obstruction regarding the vaccine could have a serious impact on its eventual distribution. .
“It is very important to know what the deadlines are for the manufacture of vaccines,” Borio said. “This is not going to be easy, it is a complex task.”
But Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown told CNN’s Jake Tapper that during a call between state leaders and the White House coronavirus task force on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence made no mention of the transfer of responsibility for vaccine distribution.
“The vice president clearly articulated a strategy to distribute the vaccines across the country,” Brown said. “But the conversation was extremely disingenuous when we will have the entry of a new administration in a matter of weeks. There was no conversation about what the handover was going to be and how they were going to ensure that the Biden-Harris administration would be fully prepared and willing to accept the handover. “
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