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Biden Urges Action On COVID-19 Relief Now With Hopes For More In New Year

President-elect Joe Biden speaks about jobs Friday in Wilmington, Del.
Andrew Harnik
President-elect Joe Biden speaks about jobs Friday in Wilmington, Del.

President-elect Joe Biden urged members of Congress to press ahead with their coronavirus relief bill negotiations in a statement that warned of "dire, dire dire" consequences if they fail.

"If we don't act now, the future will be very bleak," Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Del., where he and aides are preparing to assume power next month.

After months of inaction, House and Senate leaders said this week they feel like they're inching closer on a roughly $900 billion relief package that Congress might enact relatively soon and send to the White House for President Trump's signature.

Biden said Friday he's sympathetic to criticisms from the left wing of the Democratic Party that the current relief bill isn't generous enough, but he said Washington must do something now, even if it's this, and then do more when the new Congress is seated and he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are in place at the White House.

Biden coyly avoided answering questions about the role he has played in the negotiations of the current deal, and he did not give details about what interaction — if any — he has had with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Although much has been made within Washington circles about the implications of Biden's and McConnell's longtime relationship, the men must act within the political boundaries set by their colleagues and the times. Biden declined to say how closely he or his team has been working with the majority leader so far.

"It would be kinda stupid to tell you what I did, wouldn't it, because then I couldn't do it again," Biden said Friday.

The president-elect said that his own position is that Congress should be more generous — he agrees, for example, that this relief bill should provide for as much as $1,200 in direct payments to Americans, as a previous one did — but Biden also said he intends to try to do more.

"I've made it real clear. It's just a down payment. This is not the end deal," Biden said.

Restoring credibility

Biden warned in clear language that the United States is moving into a "very dark winter" as the raging coronavirus disaster only intensifies with new spiking cases and deaths.

He also suggested that plans aren't yet complete for how, in practical terms, authorities are going to distribute the now-pending vaccines to the hundreds of millions of Americans who need them.

The outgoing Trump administration has plans for procuring the medicine and shipping it around the country, but Biden said his team hasn't received anything about how to deploy it to individuals.

"There's no detailed plan — that we've seen, anyhow, to get the vaccine out of the container and into a syringe and into somebody's arm," he said.

The vaccination program needed to help end the coronavirus disaster is a global health challenge of unprecedented magnitude; not only must more people be inoculated at once than in recent history, the early examples of the medicine must be handled carefully and preserved at super-cold temperatures.

Biden also acknowledged the widespread skepticism held by Americans, for various reasons, about the forthcoming vaccines. He vowed that he'd be open to being injected publicly, in the way some former presidents have, to show people the medicine is safe.

Biden didn't mention Trump but did allude to what he called "eroded trust" over this era, including the president's comments about the pandemic going away or the prospect for treating patients with disinfectants.

"It's going to take some effort to rebuild confidence in science because it's been so diminished by this administration," Biden said.

Unusual inauguration

Biden responded to questions about Inauguration Day with questions of his own — he and members of Congress and other officials are still working out how to arrange his swearing-in.

The president-elect said this year's virtual party conventions might serve as a template, and the inauguration would likely include some contributions from the many states and U.S. territories. But Biden said his goal above all is to keep mindful about the pandemic.

"It's highly unlikely there'll be a million people on the [National] Mall going all the way down to the [Lincoln] Memorial," he said.

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Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.