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Biden names members of coronavirus group, seeks to advance transition

President-elect Joe Biden discusses Covid-19 advisory board
President-elect Joe Biden is poised to unleash a series of executive actions on his first day in the Oval Office

President-elect Joe Biden prepared Sunday to start building his administration, even as Republican leaders and scores of party lawmakers refrained from acknowledging his victory out of apparent deference to President Trump, who continued to refuse to concede.

With Biden out of the public eye as he received congratulations from leaders around the world, his team turned its attention to a transition that will swing into action Monday, with the launch of a coronavirus task force and swift moves to begin assembling his team.

But more than 24 hours after his election had been declared, the vast majority of Republicans declined to offer the customary statements of goodwill for the victor that have been standard after US presidential contests, as Trump defied the results and vowed to forge ahead with long-shot lawsuits to try to overturn them.

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While some prominent Republican figures, including its only living former president, George W. Bush, called Biden to wish him well, most elected officials stayed silent in the face of Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen from him.

Biden did not respond to Trump’s attacks on the result, but he also was not waiting for a concession. On Sunday, he unveiled his official transition website as he prepared a series of executive actions for his first day in the oval office — including rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, moving aggressively to confront the coronavirus pandemic, and restoring labor organizing rights for government workers — aimed at unwinding Trump’s domestic agenda and repairing the United States' image in the world.

On Monday, Biden announced the members of his coronavirus task force, a group made up entirely of doctors and health experts, signaling his intent to seek a science-based approach to bring the raging pandemic under control.

Joe Biden attended a coronavirus briefing at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del. on Oct. 28. Participants in the briefing include former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, Director for Science in the Public Interest Dr. David Kessler, New York University professor Dr. Celine Grounder, and Yale University professor of medicine Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.
Joe Biden attended a coronavirus briefing at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del. on Oct. 28. Participants in the briefing include former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, Director for Science in the Public Interest Dr. David Kessler, New York University professor Dr. Celine Grounder, and Yale University professor of medicine Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.Drew Angerer/Getty Images/file

Biden’s task force will have three co-chairs: Vivek H. Murthy, surgeon general during the Obama administration; David Kessler, Food and Drug Administration commissioner under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine. Murthy and Kessler have briefed Biden for months on the pandemic.

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The 13-member task force also includes former Trump administration officials, including Rick Bright, former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, who, after being demoted, spoke out against the administration’s approach to the pandemic. Luciana Borio, director for medical and biodefense preparedness on Trump’s National Security Council until 2019, is also on the panel.

The group includes several other prominent doctors:

▪ Zeke Emanuel, chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

▪ Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School who is a prolific author.

▪ Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

▪ Eric Goosby, global AIDS coordinator under President Barack Obama and professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine.

▪ Celine R. Gounder, clinical assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine.

▪ Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy focused on health issues.

▪ Loyce Pace, president and executive director of the Global Health Council, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to global health issues.

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▪ Robert Rodriguez, professor of emergency medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine.

Rebecca Katz, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center, and Beth Cameron, director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council during the Obama administration, are serving as advisers to the transition task force.

Task force members will work with state and local officials to craft public health and economic policies to address the virus and racial and ethnic disparities, while also working to reopen schools and businesses, the transition team said in a news release.

Transition team officials said that also this week Biden will launch his agency review teams, the group of transition staffers that have access to key agencies in the current administration to ease the transfer of power. The teams will collect and review information such as budgetary and staffing decisions, pending regulations, and other work in progress from current staff at the departments to help Biden’s team prepare to transition. White House officials would not comment on whether they would cooperate with Biden’s team on the review.

"People want the country to move forward,'' said Kate Bedingfield, Biden deputy campaign manager, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and see Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris ''have the opportunity to do the work, to get the virus under control and to get our economy back together.''

But Republicans' silence suggested that even in defeat, Trump maintained a powerful grip on his party and its elected leaders, who have spent four years tightly embracing him or quietly working to avoid offending him or his loyal base. For many prominent Republicans, the president’s reluctance to accept the election results created a dilemma, making even the most cursory expression of support for Biden seem like a conspicuous break with Trump.

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Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri was the most senior Republican to suggest that Trump had most likely lost and cast doubt on his allegations of a stolen election, but he stopped short of referring to Biden as the president-elect in an exceedingly careful television interview.

“It’s time for the president’s lawyers to present the facts, and it’s time for those facts to speak for themselves,” Blunt, chair of the rules committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “It seems unlikely that any changes could be big enough to make a difference, but this is a close election, and we need to acknowledge that.”

“I look forward,” Blunt added, “to the president dealing with this however he needs to deal with it.”

At the White House, there was little indication that Trump was dealing with it at all. As he played a second consecutive day of golf at his private club outside Washington, the president recirculated a groundless claim by Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House, who told Fox News, “I think that it is a corrupt, stolen election.”

Privately, the president’s advisers, several of whom have quietly been candid with Trump that the chances of success in any challenge to the election outcome were not high, had concluded they had little option other than to allow the president to keep fighting until he was ready to bow to the reality of his loss.

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On Friday, a large group of them met with the president in the oval office to discuss the way forward, giving him a brutally honest assessment of his likelihood of prevailing. After another meeting at Trump’s campaign headquarters Saturday, where political aides again laid out the small chances of changing the outcome of the race, Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, asked the group to go to the White House to outline it for Trump, according to people briefed on the meeting.

Campaign officials continued to discuss their legal strategy for challenging the election results Sunday and named Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, who lost his bid for a Senate seat Tuesday, to lead their recount effort in the state.

In his first full day as president-elect, Biden kept a low profile, emerging publicly only to attend mass, as he does most Sundays. Afterward, he visited the cemetery where his son Beau; his first wife, Neilia; and their daughter, Naomi, are buried. In a sign of one specific stylistic change coming to the White House, he also stayed quiet in another way: aside from circulating a video posted by his presidential transition, he had not sent a single tweet by Sunday evening.

Leaders around the world sent their congratulations to Biden, underscoring the international community’s acceptance of the results, even by those who had cultivated close personal ties with Trump, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Boris Johnson of Britain. A few refrained, including the leaders of Russia and China, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

There were signs that Trump would come under increasing pressure to accept the election results. The Nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition, a nonprofit that assists in transfers of power between administrations, called on his team to “immediately begin the postelection transition process.”

“While there will be legal disputes requiring adjudication, the outcome is sufficiently clear that the transition process must now begin,” members of the group’s advisory board — including Mike Leavitt, the former Republican governor of Utah, and Josh Bolten, the White House Chief of Staff under Bush — wrote in a letter reported earlier by Politico.

“This was a hard-fought campaign, but history is replete with examples of presidents who emerged from such campaigns to graciously assist their successors,” they wrote.

Bush extended his congratulations to Biden in a statement issued after the two men spoke Sunday.

“Though we have political differences, I know Joe Biden to be a good man, who has won his opportunity to lead and unify our country,” Bush said in a statement.

The silence from most other leading Republicans cut both ways for the president. While it allowed Trump to continue the fiction that he had not lost, it also left him to battle against the election results without the full, vocal support of his party behind him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declined to say anything since Friday, before the election results were known, when he released a generic statement encouraging officials to “count all the votes.” No member of his leadership team has either, apart from Blunt’s carefully worded statements Sunday.

In an interview later Sunday, Blunt said a public vetting of the Trump campaign’s claims of fraud could help reassure voters on both sides of the election’s legitimacy. “I think it is best for both the president and Biden to have as much information out as is possible,” he said.

At the same time, just two Republican senators — Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — and a handful of House members had acknowledged Biden’s win by Sunday evening, while others were trying to cast doubt on the results.

“Every legal challenge should be heard,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader. “Then and only then will America decide who won the race.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Romney provided a contrast to many of his Republican colleagues. He said that he believed it was “appropriate” for Trump to pursue recounts and legal challenges in certain battleground states, but cautioned against widespread condemnations of the American system of elections.

“It’s important for the cause of democracy and freedom that we don’t allege fraud and theft and so forth, unless there’s very clear evidence of that,” Romney said. “To date, that evidence has not been produced.”

Romney noted that he had a legal team ready to challenge the results of the 2012 election when he was the Republican nominee, but decided not to go forward once he saw such efforts would be futile.

“At some point, truth, freedom and democracy have to ascend,” he said, “And you step aside.”

Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.