Biden introduces health crisis team, sets goals for U.S. to overcome pandemic

By Simon Lewis and Phil Stewart WILMINGTON, Del.

Reuters December 09, 2020 03:10:31 IST
Biden introduces health crisis team, sets goals for U.S. to overcome pandemic

Biden introduces health crisis team sets goals for US to overcome pandemic

By Simon Lewis and Phil Stewart

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) -President-elect Joe Biden introduced the team to lead his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, emphasizing the mass vaccination distribution needed to achieve his goal of 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office.

Biden said he needed Congress to fully fund vaccine distribution to all corners of the United States. Getting children back to school will be a national priority in the first 100 days, Biden told a briefing in Wilmington, Delaware.

"In 100 days we can change the course of the disease and change life in America for the better," said Biden. "Whatever your politics or point of view, mask up for 100 days."

The coronavirus has killed more than 283,000 Americans and caused millions to lose their jobs.

Effective vaccines would help the Biden administration turn its focus to healing the ailing U.S. economy. There was more positive news on Tuesday in the form of U.S. Food and Drug Administration documents showing that the regulator did not raise any new issues about Pfizer Inc's vaccine safety or efficacy.

"My first 100 days won't end the COVID-19 virus. I can't promise that," said Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20. "But we did not get into this mess quickly. We're not going to get out of it quickly. It's going to take some time."

Biden introduced California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Latino former congressman, as his nominee for secretary of health and human services. Becerra has a long record of supporting the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Biden chose Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to run the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was named as Biden's chief medical adviser on the virus and Dr. Vivek Murthy as surgeon general, reprising a role he held in the Obama administration.

'HELP IS ON THE WAY'

Biden picked Jeff Zients, an economic adviser known for his managerial skills, as coronavirus "czar." Zients will oversee the pandemic response, including the distribution of hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine in coordination with several federal agencies, among them the Pentagon.

"Help is on the way," Vice President-elect Kamala Harris added after Biden's new healthcare team members introduced themselves. "And it is long overdue."

Biden will nominate retired Army General Lloyd Austin to be his defense secretary as soon as Tuesday, a person familiar with the decision said.

Biden, a Democrat, defeated Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

Trump, who has made unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, is getting help from Texas to try and overturn the results in a lawsuit at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The lawsuit filed by Republican-governed Texas on Tuesday accused state election officials in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin of failing to protect mail-in voting from fraud amid a surge of mailed ballots during the pandemic. State officials have said they have found no evidence of such fraud that would change the results.

Tuesday is a deadline https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN28I1DN set by U.S. law for election disputes to be resolved and states to certify results. Texas is asking the Supreme Court to delay the Dec. 14 meetings of Electoral College members to formally select the presidential nominee who won the popular vote in their home states.

The Supreme Court is not obligated to hear the case.

The expected choice of Austin as defense secretary raised a complication for Biden as some Democratic lawmakers may be unwilling to support a waiver he needs from Congress because he has been out of the military less than the required seven years. Austin retired in 2016.

Trump's first defense secretary, Jim Matthis, needed a waiver, which is rarely used.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters on Tuesday that a waiver of the requirement "would contravene the basic principle that there should be civilian control over a nonpolitical military."

Austin, 67, a former head of U.S. Central Command who oversaw forces in the Middle East under President Barack Obama, would be the first Black American secretary of defense if the U.S. Senate confirms him.

Separately, Democratic Senator Jon Tester also said he would not back a waiver for Austin: "I didn't for Mattis and I don't think I will for him."

(Reporting by Simon Lewis in Delaware and Phil Stewart in Washington; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Andrea Shalal, John Whitesides, Makini Brice, Doina Chiacu, Jason Lange; writing by Grant McCool;Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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