WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump faced mounting criticism Sunday for continuing to focus his message on the election and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud while sidestepping a resurgent coronavirus pandemic raging across the country.
Trump struck a defiant tone in a series of weekend tweets, falsely claiming voting was “rigged” for President-elect Joe Biden. His critics said Sunday that by refusing to acknowledge the results of the Nov. 3 election, Trump was delaying the transition and complicating Biden’s ability to hit the ground running in the battle against COVID-19.
In a tweet Sunday, Trump acknowledged for the first time Sunday that Biden ‘won” the presidential election, but he later backtracked and said he was not conceding.
New coronavirus cases have surged in the USA during November, with the country hitting record new infection levels. Almost 170,000 new infections were reported Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University – the eleventh straight day the count surpassed 100,000. Before that, the U.S. had never before reached six figures.
Public health officials said they are eager to begin briefing Biden’s team.
“It’s almost like passing a baton in a race – you don’t want to stop and then give it to somebody,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said of the transition. “You want to just essentially keep going.”
Biden campaign officials are prohibited from interacting with agency leaders, including those at public health agencies, until the Trump administration formally recognizes the outcome of the election – a recognition that has not yet taken place. Fauci said starting those conversations now would have an “obvious” benefit for the next administration.
“Of course it would be better if we could start working with them,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Fauci and Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health, confirmed that Trump has not personally attended a meeting of the White House coronavirus task force in months. But both men dismissed the significance of that absence, noting that Vice President Mike Pence regularly attends the meetings and then briefs Trump on their progress.
“I’m not concerned that the president doesn’t attend,” Giroir told ABC’s “This Week.”
Trump spoke about the virus Friday, touting pending vaccines he said would be widely available to Americans by April. In those remarks, he criticized the company developing one of the vaccines, Pfizer, and also took a swipe at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who announced weeks ago that state officials would review its safety.
The president threatened that the federal government “won’t be delivering it to New York until we have authorization to do so.” Cuomo dismissed the criticism, telling CNN it doesn’t matter because Trump “won’t be here” when the vaccine is widely distributed.
Pfizer announced early results last week indicating their vaccine prevented more than 90% of infections with the virus that causes COVID-19. The company hopes to have enough data this month to submit a request for emergency approval to the Food and Drug Administration.
“This is five times faster than the fastest prior vaccine development in history,” Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden on Friday. “Five times faster.”
Throughout the weekend, though, Trump’s attention shifted back to the election and a series of legal challenges his campaign has filed in Pennsylvania, Michigan and other states. Trump’s motorcade briefly drove around tens of thousands of supporters who turned out in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to show their support for the president. And his tweets throughout the weekend focused almost exclusively on the election.
“He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA,” Trump tweeted Sunday, sidestepping the fact that many global leaders, including those who enjoyed a close relationship with Trump, have congratulated Biden for winning. “I concede NOTHING!”
In a shift in messaging, however, Trump appeared for the first time to acknowledge Biden had won the election, though he repeated his false claims that the race was rigged.
“He won because the Election was Rigged,” Trump tweeted.
Republicans in Washington for the most part signaled that Trump should be allowed to continue pursuing his legal options on the election. The Trump campaign’s lawsuits are asking judges to delay the formal certification of results. Legal experts and some Republicans say Trump’s lawyers have not provided evidence of enough questionable ballots to reverse the outcome in several battleground states that voted for Biden.
Biden advisers, meanwhile, said they are eager to begin talking with career civil servants and public health experts inside the Trump administration who have been working on the coronavirus pandemic for months.
“Those dialogues are critical,” said Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. Surgeon General and co-chair of Biden’s COVID taskforce told Fox News Sunday. “You want to get them started as soon as possible.”
Contributing: John Bacon, Will Cummings