Biden to name coronavirus task force and move on cabinet picks

Transition team to step up activity with tackling Covid-19 pandemic seen as a priority

President-elect Joe Biden will name a coronavirus task force as early as Monday following his victory in the US presidential election.

Although Mr Biden will not assume the presidency until January 20th, a transition team has been established and is to step up activity in the coming weeks, though a decision on cabinet members is not expected until after Thanksgiving in late November.

However, in a sign of the priority being given by the president-elect to tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, he will unveil a new task force on Monday. It will be co-chaired by former surgeon general during the Obama administration Vivek Murthy and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler.

It comes as more than 126,000 new Covid-19 cases were announced in the United States – the highest daily record so far.


Election count

Meanwhile, counting continued in a handful of states over the weekend as some races were yet to be called. Though Nevada was called for Mr Biden on Saturday, after he had won Pennsylvania with its 20 electoral college votes, a final result in Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina were still awaited on Sunday night, though the latter is expected to be called for Donald Trump.

In Arizona, Mr Trump narrowed the gap with Mr Biden to 18,500 votes on Sunday with more ballots expected to be declared in the greater Phoenix area.

But Mr Biden increased his lead in Georgia, which is awaiting votes from military and overseas voters as well as provisional ballots. Nonetheless, a recount will take place in the state, the secretary of state has said, given the extremely tight margin in the result.

Mr Trump, who played golf in Virginia on Saturday and Sunday, has not yet conceded the race, and has launched a number of legal challenges in different states as he seeks to claim victory. While some reports on Sunday suggested that his wife Melania was encouraging him to concede, the first lady appeared to endorse her husband’s suggestion that “illegal” votes were behind Mr Biden’s victory.

“The American people deserve fair elections. Every legal – not illegal – vote should be counted,” she tweeted. “We must protect our democracy with complete transparency.”

Democratic congressman Jim Clyburn urged members of Mr Trump’s party to “step up and help us preserve the integrity of this democracy”.

The Trump campaign continued to send emails to supporters on Sunday encouraging them to donate money for Mr Trump’s various legal efforts.

Former president George W Bush, who himself won a disputed election against Democrat Al Gore in 2000, said in a statement that the voters “have spoken”, though he said that Mr Trump had the right to pursue recounts in close battleground states.

He said he had spoken to Mr Biden and congratulated him. “I offered him the same thing I offered Presidents Trump and Obama: my prayers for his success, and my pledge to help in any way,” he said.

Transition planning

Mr Biden's transition team is being led by Ted Kaufman, who replaced Mr Biden in the Senate in 2009 when he became vice-president and subsequently became one of this closest advisers. He also helped co-write a new law on the transition process which was passed during the Obama presidency.

Transition planning is legally required in the United States, and funding and access to federal agencies is made available to winning presidential candidates.

Given his long history in Washington, Mr Biden has a wide pool of informal advisers and allies who have been working closely with the former vice-president during his presidential campaign, some of whom are likely to be jockeying for positions in the new administration.

Mr Biden has indicated that he wants to appoint a diverse cabinet, representative of America’s population.

Among those who could be in line for secretary of state are Anthony Blinken, Jake Sullivan and Nicholas Burns. Former US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice could also be in the frame, though she may find it difficult to pass a Senate confirmation process, given that Republicans are likely to hold a majority in the chamber from January.

Left-wing politics

Senator Elizabeth Warren has made it known that she is interested in a post. There were rumours that she could be appointed as treasury secretary – a move that would indicate Mr Biden's embrace of a more left-wing politics.

Former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is said to be in consideration for a position, as well as New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut or even Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Irish-American congressman Brendan Boyle, an early supporter of the president-elect, was also mentioned in US media as possibly being in line for a role in the administration.

Though several current members of Congress may be under consideration, Mr Biden will take into account the electoral implications of any appointments as well as their likelihood of passing a Republican-led Senate confirmation hearing. Similarly, sitting members will be cautious about accepting a position that could be more junior than their current roles.

Other figures such as Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms or potentially former secretary of state John Kerry could be in line for roles. Both were early supporters of Mr Biden's candidacy.

In keeping with his pledge to heal America’s political divides, Mr Biden may also appoint some Republican figures to his administration.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent