Briefs: White House pressed to begin transition planning

President-elect Joe Biden gestures to supporters Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Associated Press

There is little precedent in the modern era of a president erecting such hurdles for his successor

The Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. — President Donald Trump is facing pressure to cooperate with President-elect Joe Biden's team to ensure a smooth transfer of power when the new administration takes office in January.

The General Services Administration is tasked with formally recognizing Biden as president-elect, which begins the transition. But the agency's Trump-appointed administrator, Emily Murphy, has not started the process and has given no guidance on when she will do so.

That lack of clarity is fueling questions about whether Trump, who has not publicly recognized Biden's victory and has falsely claimed the election was stolen, will impede Democrats as they try to establish a government. 

There is little precedent in the modern era of a president erecting such hurdles for his successor. The stakes are especially high this year because Biden will take office amid a raging pandemic, which will require a comprehensive government response. 

"America's national security and economic interests depend on the federal government signaling clearly and swiftly that the United States government will respect the will of the American people and engage in a smooth and peaceful transfer of power," Jen Psaki, a Biden transition aide, tweeted Sunday.

Fresh off election victory, Biden turns to virus response

BOSTON — As he begins his transition to the presidency, Joe Biden is pivoting from a bitter campaign battle to another, more pressing fight: reining in the pandemic that has hit the world's most powerful nation harder than any other.

The U.S. is now averaging more than 100,000 new infections a day, frequently breaking records for daily cases. Hospitals in several states are running out of space and staff, and the death toll is soaring. 

Public health officials warn that the nation is entering the worst stretch yet for COVID-19 as winter sets in and the holiday season approaches, increasing the risk of rapid transmission as Americans travel, shop and celebrate with loved ones.

"The next two months are going to be rough, difficult ones," said Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist and department chairman at the Yale School of Public Health. "We could see another 100,000 deaths by January."

So far, the U.S. has recorded more than 9.8 million infections and more than 237,000 deaths from COVID-19.

For Biden, how to help mangled economy is next obstacle

BALTIMORE  — Joe Biden will inherit a mangled U.S. economy — one that never fully healed from the coronavirus and could suffer again as new infections are climbing.

The once robust recovery has shown signs of gasping after federal aid lapsed. Ten million remain jobless and more layoffs are becoming permanent. The Federal Reserve says factory output dropped.

Parents cannot return to work as childcare centers have shuttered. Restaurants and local retailers are draining whatever cash reserves are left--with many owners wondering if the next week might be their last. One in six restaurants was already closed in September, according to an industry survey.

Biden will also be facing an American public with decidedly different views about their own financial well-being, with higher income families weathering the pandemic reasonably well and those earning far less in increasing economic peril.

It will in some ways be a reprise of when Biden became vice president at the depths of the financial crisis in 2008-09, with possibly fewer tools and less political leverage to press an agenda to both corral the virus and stoke economic growth.

Trump's election night party adds to virus scrutiny

WASHINGTON  — It was supposed to be a scene of celebration. 

Instead, the Trump campaign's election night watch party in the White House East Room has become another symbol of President Donald Trump's cavalier attitude toward a virus that is ripping across the nation and infecting more than 100,000 people a day.

Polls suggest that attitude was a serious drag on the president's reelection bid as voters chose to deny Trump a second term in favor of his Democratic rival, now President-Elect Joe Biden. And the party — with few masks and no social distancing — is now under additional scrutiny after the president's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, became the latest top White House official to contract the virus, which has now killed more than 237,000 people in the U.S. alone.

The White House has repeatedly refused to say who else has tested positive, even as the virus continues to spread. The latest White House cluster, coming just a month after Trump's own diagnosis and hospitalization, includes a top Trump campaign official as well as a handful of undisclosed White House staff, officials said.

The White House has been increasingly secretive about outbreaks. Many White House and campaign officials, as well as those who attended the election watch party, were kept in the dark about the diagnoses, unaware until they were disclosed by the press.

Referendum on Trump shatters turnout records

With votes still being counted, turnout in the 2020 presidential election has hit a 50-year high, exceeding the record set by the 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama — an extraordinary engagement in what amounted to a referendum on President Donald Trump's leadership. 

As of Sunday, the tallied votes accounted for 62 percent of the eligible voting-age population in the U.S. That's a 0.4 percentage point increase so far over the rate hit in 2008, when the nation elected its first Black president.

The sheer number of votes also set records, although that's a less remarkable milestone given the country's growing population. So far 148 million votes have been tallied, with Democrat Joe Biden winning more than 75 million — the highest number for a presidential candidate in history. Trump received more than 70 million — the highest total for a losing candidate.

The numbers are certain to rise as election officials continue to count more ballots. But election experts and partisans already are debating the forces behind the swell of civic participation. Some pointed to the numbers as evidence of what happens when states expand the time and the ways voters can cast ballots, as many states did this year. Other noted the extraordinary high passions Trump provoked — both for and against. 

The result: the highest turnout since 1968, according to data from the Associated Press and the United States Elections Project, which tracks turnout. Experts think the 2020 rate could hit heights not seen since the beginning of the 20th century, before all women were allowed to vote. 

A worried Asia wonders: What will Joe Biden do?

TOKYO — As Asia comes to terms with the reality of a Joe Biden administration, relief and hopes of economic and environmental revival jostle with needling anxiety and fears of inattention. 

From security to trade to climate change, a powerful U.S. reach extends to nearly every corner of the Asia-Pacific. In his four years in office, President Donald Trump shook the foundations of U.S. relations here as he courted traditional rivals and attacked allies with both frequency and relish. 

Now, as Biden looks to settle tumultuous domestic issues, there's widespread worry that Asia will end up as an afterthought. Allies will go untended. Rivals — and especially China, that immense U.S. competitor for regional supremacy — will do as they like. 

In the wake of perhaps the most contentious presidency in recent U.S. history, here's a look at how its aftermath — a Biden White House — will play out in one of the world's most important and volatile regions:

Already flooded, South Florida feeling wrath of Eta

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Beaches and coronavirus testing sites were closed, public transportation shut down and some evacuations in place early Monday after Tropical Storm Eta made landfall in the Florida Keys, bringing heavy rains to already flooded city streets after leaving scores of dead and over 100 missing in Mexico and Central America. 

Eta hit land late Sunday on Lower Matecumbe Key, Florida. The system's slow speed and heavy rains posed and enormous threat to South Florida, an area already drenched from more than 14 inches (350 millimeters) of rain last month. Eta could dump an additional 6 to 12 inches (150 to 300 millimeters), forecasters said.

"In some areas, the water isn't pumping out as fast as it's coming in," warned Miami Dade Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he was in frequent contact with county water officials about the struggle to drain the flooded waters, which has stalled vehicles, whitewashed some intersections and even crept into some homes.

On Sunday night, authorities in Lauderhill, Florida, responded to a report of a car that had driven into a canal. Photos taken by fire units on the scene about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Miami showed rescuers searching high waters near a parking lot.

Trebek brought consensus, class to a nation in need of both

LOS ANGELES  — In a politically torn, culturally divided and socially splintered America, there was one thing nearly everyone could agree on: Alex Trebek was awesome.

For 36 years, the "Jeopardy!" host was a figure of consensus in an era that increasingly lacked it, and died at the end of an election week when those divisions were in full force.

At at time when emotions, opinions and personal details feel like they're at the center of every broadcast, post and podcast, the exceedingly Canadian Trebek held them all in check, instead valuing formality and factuality, dignity and decorum. 

He was surprisingly frank with fans about his nearly two-year struggle with pancreatic cancer before his death Sunday at his home in Los Angeles at age 80. But he gave health updates in a series of polite and formal videos that were typically Trebek, speaking calmly, directly and frankly about the disease and his gratitude for the support he was getting.

Six nights a week for 36 years, after the evening news and before the firebrands of primetime cable opinion shows, Trebek brought together liberals and conservatives, city dwellers and rural folk, grandparents and grandchildren for a half-hour of brainy exercise. 

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