As predicted this morning, the deepening pandemic will make Trump’s petulance in refusing to cooperate with Biden increasingly costly politically. Normally the incoming administration would complain about lack of coordination on national security, insisting that the president-elect needs to be briefed so that his team isn’t caught unawares by emerging threats after January 20. But this year there’s a less abstract argument for cooperation: COVID is spreading uncontrollably, Biden’s about to inherit the vaccine machinery, and his team needs to be familiar with the logistics of it so that resources are efficiently deployed next year. Moncef Slaoui and Anthony Fauci have each already said publicly that the two administrations should be coordinating. As Trump’s court challenges go up in smoke, the case for resisting reality becomes less defensible and more heinously reckless.
So, rather than browbeat him about being a man-baby who can’t accept defeat, Biden’s going to twist his arm about the risk he’s creating for Americans. That’s smart in that it exacts more of a political cost from the GOP and also handily provides Biden with an excuse next year if his team is sloppy in distributing the vaccine. “Don’t blame me,” he’ll say. “I told you in November that Trump’s ego was going to get innocent people killed.”
Here he is this afternoon:
Q: "What do you see as the biggest threat to your transition right now given President Trump's unprecedented attempt to obstruct and delay a smooth transfer of power?"
President-Elect Biden: "More people may die if we don't coordinate."
— CSPAN (@cspan) November 16, 2020
Reporter Gabriel Debenedetti asked his sources in the Biden campaign if they’re worried about Trump’s stonewalling. Not really, they told him: Trump is doing civic damage to the country but it’s not like they think there’s going to be a coup. They are, however, sincerely worried about being too far behind the curve on COVID and the vaccine to catch up quickly:
Biden has been very public about his preparations on the virus management and vaccine front: He has an advisory committee, he’s constantly briefed on it all, etc. And it’s true that he and those around him know how government works intimately. But if there’s no coordination on something like vaccine distribution, presumably they’re going to have to learn a lot about what the Trump administration, local governments, pharmaceutical companies, etc., are planning in an extremely tight window — ideally, they wouldn’t have to worry about something like this, because they could be looped in. It’s a logistics problem, but it’s especially infuriating because it’s purely based on intransigence. And people are dying!
My guess, which may be wishful thinking, is that the doctors in Trump’s administration will start secretly briefing Team Biden soon if they haven’t already started. These people didn’t work this hard on a vaccine and containment messaging to watch the distribution process fly off the rails next year, delaying the country’s recovery by months and killing thousands needlessly, because they felt duty-bound to indulge Trump in a humiliating tantrum. No doubt Scott Atlas would happily keep Biden in the dark until noon on January 20 but Slaoui, Fauci, Birx, Redfield, maybe even Alex Azar, plus a variety of lower-ranking officials whose names we don’t know aren’t going to bite their tongues when the stakes are this high for fear of the president being angry at them. For all we know, they’re quietly cooperating behind the scenes as I write this and Biden’s public complaints are just a smokescreen to give them cover. He needs them on the job right now, after all. They’re useless to him as sources of information if they’re fired.
Speaking of Atlas, Biden was asked about him today too — specifically, Atlas calling on Michiganders to “rise up” against Gretchen Whitmer’s new social-distancing restrictions on a day when even Sweden is shifting towards more draconian tactics to keep people physically apart. If Team Trump wants to maneuver Biden into a dispute over the urgency of pandemic control at a moment when cases are rising towards 200,000 daily, Sleepy Joe will let himself be maneuvered:
Biden slams Scott Atlas: "What the hell is the matter with these guys?" pic.twitter.com/aHfBPgjHFH
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) November 16, 2020
Michael Gerson calls Trump’s obstruction of the transition “U.S. history’s deadliest-ever sulk.” We’ll see. Once the state election results are certified, the transition might begin with or without Trump’s acquiescence due to court action. Jared or Ivanka should pull the president aside and try explaining to him that if he’s serious about running again in 2024, leaving office now by doing everything in his power to kneecap Biden on vaccine preparation is the single dumbest, most damaging move he could make. When in doubt, talk to him in terms of self-interest. That’s the language he speaks.