U.S. president-elect Joe Biden will ask Americans to commit to 100 days of wearing masks as one of his first acts in office, stopping just short of the nationwide mandate he’s pushed before to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The move, announced Thursday, marks a notable shift from President Donald Trump, whose own skepticism about mask-wearing has contributed to a politicization of the issue. That’s made many people reluctant to embrace a practice that public-health experts say is one of the easiest ways to manage the pandemic, which has killed more than 275,000 Americans.
Mr. Biden has frequently emphasized mask-wearing as a “patriotic duty” and during the campaign floated the idea of instituting a national mask mandate, which he later acknowledged would be beyond the ability of a president to enforce.
Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Mr. Biden said he would make the request of Americans on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.
“On the first day I’m inaugurated, I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask – not forever, just 100 days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction” in the virus, he said.
The president-elect reiterated his call for lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass a coronavirus aid bill and expressed support for a US$900-billion compromise bill that a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced this week.
“That would be a good start. It’s not enough,” he said, adding, “I’m going to need to ask for more help.”
Mr. Biden has said his transition team is working on its own coronavirus relief package, and his aides have signalled they plan for that to be their first legislative push.
He also said he asked Dr. Anthony Fauci to stay on in his administration, “in the exact same role he’s had for the past several presidents,” as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the top U.S. infectious-diseases expert.
Mr. Biden said he’s asked Dr. Fauci to be a “chief medical adviser” as well as part of his COVID-19 advisory team. Mr. Fauci told NBC’s Today show on Friday, “I said yes right on the spot.”
Regarding a coronavirus vaccine, Mr. Biden offered begrudging credit for the work Trump’s administration has done in expediting the development of a vaccine but said that planning the distribution properly will be “critically important.”
“It’s a really difficult but doable project, but it has to be well planned, " he said.
Part of the challenge the Biden administration will face in distributing the vaccine will be instilling public confidence in it. Mr. Biden said he’d be “happy” to get inoculated in public to assuage any concerns about its efficacy and safety. Three former presidents – Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – have said they’d also get vaccinated publicly to show it’s safe.
“People have lost faith in the ability of the vaccine to work,” Mr. Biden said, adding that “it matters what a president and the vice-president do.”
In the same interview, Mr. Biden also weighed in on reports that Mr. Trump is considering pardons of himself and his allies.
“It concerns me in terms of what kind of precedent it sets and how the rest of the world looks at us as a nation of laws and justice,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Biden committed that his Justice Department will “operate independently” and that whoever he chooses to lead the department will have the “independent capacity to decide who gets investigated.”
“You’re not going to see in our administration that kind of approach to pardons, nor are you going to see in our administration the approach to making policy by tweets,” he said.
In addition to considering pre-emptive pardons, Mr. Trump has spent much of his time postelection trying to raise questions about an election he lost by millions of votes while his lawyers pursue baseless lawsuits alleging voter fraud in multiple states.
Republicans on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, have largely given the President cover, with many defending the lawsuits and few publicly congratulating Mr. Biden on his win.
But Mr. Biden said Thursday that he’s received private calls of congratulations from “more than several sitting Republican senators” and that he has confidence in his ability to cut bipartisan deals with Republicans despite the rancour that’s characterized the past four years on Capitol Hill.
Trump aides have expressed skepticism that the President, who continues to claim victory and spread baseless claims of fraud, would attend Mr. Biden’s inauguration. Mr. Biden said Thursday night that he believes it’s “important” that Mr. Trump attend, largely to demonstrate the country’s commitment to peaceful transfer of power between political rivals.
“It is totally his decision,” Mr. Biden said, adding, “It is of no personal consequence to me, but I think it is to the country.”
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