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Biden plans coronavirus blitz after inauguration

WASHINGTON – In a sharp break with the Trump administration, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. intends to release nearly all available doses of the coronavirus vaccine soon after its inauguration, rather than withholding millions vials to ensure that the second doses are available.

The move is part of an aggressive effort to “ensure that Americans who need it most get it as quickly as possible,” Biden’s transition team said on Friday. The vaccination plan, which will be officially unveiled next week, will also include federally-run vaccination sites in places like high school gyms and sports stadiums, and mobile units to reach high-risk populations. .

The president-elect has vowed to bring “at least 100 million Covid vaccines to the arms of the American people” during his first 100 days in office.

The decision to release the vast majority of vaccine doses has sparked heated debate among public health experts. The two vaccines that have received emergency approval each require two doses, and the Trump administration has so far withheld about half of its supply to ensure that booster doses will be available for those already inoculated.

Officials of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccination program, had noted that doses would stop being sequestered after the first few weeks of deployment. But the Biden administration’s announcement sets the clearest benchmark yet for front-loading plans and then distributes them as they become available. Warp Speed ​​officials criticized the president-elect’s decision on Friday.

The Food and Drug Administration – whose advice Mr Biden has pledged to follow – has spoken strongly against changing the dosing schedule, as some other countries have chosen to do, calling such a move “premature and not firmly anchored in the available evidence. “Some public health experts fear the second doses will be delayed by the decision.

But others called it a smart move and said it was imperative to get as many people vaccinated as possible as quickly as possible – provided the second doses are not delayed. The Biden team said they are confident the supply will be sufficient and that Mr Biden will invoke the Defense Production Act if necessary to boost the supply of second doses.

“The president-elect believes we need to speed up vaccine distribution while continuing to ensure that Americans who need it most get it as quickly as possible,” said TJ Ducklo, spokesperson for the transition team. by Biden.

The announcement of Mr Biden’s intention to release additional doses coincided with a letter from eight Democratic governors – including Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, both of whom clashed with President Trump – imploring the current administration to release all available doses to States as soon as possible.

“Failure to distribute these doses to states that request them is unacceptable and unacceptable,” the governors wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times and sent to Health Secretary Alex M. Azar on Friday. II, and General Gustave F. Perna, responsible for the distribution of vaccines.

“We demand that the federal government immediately begin distributing these doses reserved for the states,” the letter said.

Mr Biden’s promise of 100 million gunshots is ambitious, and the Trump administration’s difficult deployment – which Mr Biden called a ‘parody’ on Friday – has not made its task any easier . As of Thursday, the Trump administration had shipped more than 21 million doses of the vaccine, with millions more already in the hands of the federal government.

Yet only 5.9 million people had received a dose. State and local public health officials, already overwhelmed by the rise in infections, are struggling to administer the vaccine to hospital workers and elderly Americans at risk, while most people are unsure when they might be. protected.

The biggest problem so far has not been the lack of vaccines, but the difficulties states and local governments face in distributing the doses they have. Capacity and logistics, not shortages, prevent vaccine delivery.

Dr Leana S. Wen, an emergency physician and public health expert at the George Washington University School of Public Health, said she was surprised and concerned about Mr Biden’s new strategy.

“This is not the problem that we are trying to solve at the moment,” said Dr Wen.

Those responsible for Operation Warp Speed ​​also played a critical role.

Speaking at a press briefing on Friday, Dr Stephen M. Hahn, commissioner of the FDA, urged states that have only used up a small portion of their supply to start vaccinating lower priority groups , while respecting government directives. Most states still prioritize frontline health care workers and older Americans in group residential settings.

Expanding the target groups “will go a long way in helping people use these vaccines appropriately and get them into the hands of people,” said Dr Hahn.

Biden’s advisers haven’t discussed the rest of their vaccine distribution review plan; they say more details will be released next week. Mr. Biden has always promised a much more muscular federal response than Mr. Trump’s leave-it-it-yourself approach, and he has laid out his vision in public appearances and interviews with local radio stations while campaigning earlier this week for Georgia. Democratic candidates for the Senate.

“Our plan will focus on gunshots, including launching a fundamentally new approach, establishing thousands of federally-run or federally-supported community vaccination centers of various sizes located in locations like high school gyms and NFL stadiums, ”Mr. Biden said in an interview with WFXE-FM in Columbus, Georgia.

“And,” he continued, “they can be led by federal staff, contractors, volunteers, including FEMA, you know, the emergency management group, the Centers for Disease Control, the US Army, National Guard.

A person familiar with Mr Biden’s vaccination plan said it would take time to establish mass vaccination sites. Mr Biden himself said on Friday that the vaccination effort would be the “greatest operational challenge we would ever face as a nation” – a challenge that would cost “billions of dollars”.

Joshua M. Sharfstein, a former senior FDA official who is now a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said mobile units would be especially important for reaching people in rural areas, as well as underserved populations, where transportation or lack of interest was a barrier to vaccination.

“We need to make the vaccine readily available to people who are excited to get it now, and we need to reach out to people who are at particular risk but still have questions or are unable to make it to sites. vaccination, ”he told me. “If we are just vaccinating the people who are excited to be vaccinated, we will be missing the people who really need to be vaccinated and who deserve special access.”

The dosage regimen, however, is a major complication. Booster injections for Moderna vaccine should be given four weeks after administration; for the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, the interval is three weeks. World Health Organization officials on Friday issued recommendations that the interval between the administration of two doses of Pfizer vaccine could be doubled to six weeks. But the FDA has not approved such a change.

Mr Biden, who received the vaccine nearly three weeks ago, will receive his second dose on Monday, his spokesperson Jennifer Psaki told reporters on Friday.

With the virus raging across the country and more than 367,000 Americans already dead from Covid-19, some experts have expressed hope that the early deployment of the vaccine would help bring the pandemic under control.

But there is not yet enough data to know what effect the vaccine has on the transmission of the virus. And without knowing the vaccine’s effect on transmission, it’s impossible to predict whether vaccinating more people will reduce the number of cases.

The models describing the impact of front-loading first doses are intriguing, said Olivia Prosper, a mathematical modeler at the University of Tennessee.

But while “they raise a lot of food for thought and a few hypotheses to test,” it is still premature to use them to inform public policy, she said. The models also have their limitations, she noted, as most do not take into account the country’s multilevel immunization strategy, which prioritizes those with high exposure and high risk for the first vaccines.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported from Washington and Katherine J. Wu from New York.

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The Democratic super PAC launches a multi-million dollar advertising blitz for the second round of the Georgia Senate.

WASHINGTON – With record sums pouring into two Senate rounds in Georgia to motivate every party’s base, a Democratic super PAC will launch a new multi-million dollar advertising blitz on Thursday in hopes that old-fashioned persuasion might help tip the scales.

The group, American Bridge, will begin running a series of announcements featuring testimony from Republicans as to why they oppose the party’s candidates, Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. The target: small pockets of disillusioned Republicans and working class independents outside of Atlanta. American Bridge believes these voters could play a central role in Democrats ‘efforts to overcome the traditional Republicans’ advantage in the state.

The ads recall a memorable campaign the group waged for the November election, using the voices of disgruntled President Trump supporters in an attempt to influence other working-class voters in the industrial Midwest. In Georgia, American Bridge plans to spend up to $ 12 million on a campaign reaching voters online and via TV, radio and mail in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with the campaign.

“These two Senate races are close and will ultimately be decided on the sidelines,” said Bradley Beychok, the group’s chairman. “To elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the Senate, we must win back some of the rural working class voters left behind by the failed policies of Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

Initial ads for the new campaign, reviewed by The New York Times, feature Tim, a middle-aged man from Duluth, Ga., Who identified himself as a “longtime Republican,” speaking directly to on camera from his home office about his opposition. to Mrs. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue.

The ads make oblique reference to the trading of Senators’ actions at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which has drawn the attention of federal investigators and attacks from their Democratic opponents. But the message is conveyed in clear and personal terms.

“His main concern at the time was not us. She was the one who made the money from stock trading, ”Tim said in one of the ads, referring to Ms. Loeffler’s response to the pandemic. “I’m tired of having multimillionaires who don’t understand our point of view, real people.”

The second ad portrays Mr. Perdue, himself a wealthy businessman, as a plutocrat willing to line his pockets and those of wealthy corporations.

“He’s certainly not a man of integrity as far as I’m concerned because he never kept his word to help people in Georgia,” says Tim. “He helped himself.”

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Biden could roll back Trump’s agenda with executive action blitz

WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is set to trigger a series of management actions on his first day in the Oval Office, which will spur what will likely be a multi-year effort to roll out the President Trump’s national agenda and immediately signal a global shift in America’s place in the world.

In the early hours after being sworn in on the Western Front on Capitol Hill at noon on January 20, Mr Biden said he will send a letter to the United Nations saying the country will join the global effort to fight climate change, overturning Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement with more than 174 countries.

Mr. Biden’s afternoon will be busy.

He pledged that on day one he would act quickly to deal with the coronavirus pandemic by appointing a “national supply chain commander” and establishing a “pandemic testing board”, similar to the production panel in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wartime. He said he would restore the right of public servants to organize. He vowed to order a new fight against homelessness and to resettle more refugees fleeing the war. He pledged to drop Mr. Trump’s travel ban in predominantly Muslim countries and start calling on foreign leaders in a bid to restore trust among America’s closest allies.

“Every president wants to come out loud and start keeping their election promises before lunch on the first day,” said Dan Pfeiffer, who served as senior advisor to President Barack Obama and helped choreograph Mr. Obama’s early days. to the White House. . “Executive orders are the best way to do this.”

For Mr. Biden, who narrowly won the election in a deeply divided country, the first signals he sends as the country’s new leader will be critical. On the track, he has said on several occasions that he is campaigning as a Democrat but that he will govern “as an American”. To keep that promise, he will need to show some respect for parts of Trump’s agenda that have been fiercely supported by the more than 70 million people who did not vote for him.

“How far is he going to go?” Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator, asked Saturday on CNN, hours after Mr Biden was declared the winner. “If you want to show this, you want to work on a bipartisan basis. So you don’t go out right away and sign all the immigration decrees and bypass Congress. “

But there is no doubt that Mr Biden and members of his party are eager to systematically erase what they see as destructive policies the president has waged on the environment, immigration, health care, gay rights, commerce, tax cuts, civil rights, abortion. , race relations, military spending and more.

Part of this will require cooperation with Congress, which may remain divided next year. If Republicans retain control of the Senate, Mr. Biden’s promises to roll back Mr. Trump’s tax cuts are almost certain to meet fierce opposition from this chamber head first. Efforts to push forward a more liberal agenda on civil rights and race relations – centerpieces of Mr Biden’s speech during his campaign – may fail. And his efforts to shape the new government with appointments could be limited by the need to get approval from a Republican Senate.

But Mr. Biden may be able to accomplish some of his goals with nothing more than a stroke of the pen. Mr Trump has largely failed to negotiate with House Democrats during his four years in office, leaving him with no choice but to use executive actions to advance his agenda . Mr. Biden can use the same tools to reverse them.

Past presidents have tried to do just that, but not always with success.

On his first full day in the White House in 2009, Mr. Obama issued an executive order on presidential records and a second on ethics that, among other provisions, attempted to bar members of his administration from lobbying on the federal government for two years after they leave. Ethics watchers later complained that some officials had found ways around the restrictions.

The next day, Obama ordered an end to government torture, responding to outcry over the use of harsh interrogation measures by his predecessor. He also ordered the closure of the terrorist detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba – which members of Congress continued to block when he left office eight years later.

Mr. Trump also acted quickly. In the first hours after his swearing-in, Mr. Trump issued an executive order promising to repeal the Affordable Care Act and directing the government to “take all steps in accordance with the law to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the law”.

In the week that followed, Mr. Trump issued immigration decrees, calling for changes to asylum procedures at the border, increasing deportations of undocumented immigrants and banning travel from several predominantly Muslim countries – an order that caused chaos at several airports as border officials struggled to figure out who it applied to.

Some decrees have become almost automatic at the start of a new administration. Mr. Biden is almost certain to act immediately to repeal the so-called global gag rule, which prohibits federal funding of foreign organizations that provide or even talk about abortion. The rule, also known as Mexico City politics, has been a political ping-pong ball since Ronald Reagan was president and is generally only in place under Republican administrations. Mr. Trump reinstated him on his first working day on the job.

But Mr. Biden signaled that his top priority would be to demonstrate a much more muscular federal approach to the pandemic than Mr. Trump’s leave-it-it-yourself strategy.

Aides said he would use the power of his office to invoke the Defense Production Act – the Korean War-era law that allows the president to order companies to manufacture products needed for defense national – in order to build supplies more aggressively than Mr. Trump.

While Mr Biden would like to see a national mask warrant, his advisers have concluded he does not have the legal authority to impose one. He will therefore try to increase the wearing of the mask by other means. He has previously said that as president he will demand masks on all federal property, an executive order that could have wide reach and is expected to come in the early hours or days of his presidency.

In addition to making masks mandatory in federal buildings, Mr Biden said he would need them for “all interstate transportation.”

The president-elect has also repeatedly derided Mr. Trump’s lack of ethical standards, accusing him of carrying out a massive attack on Washington’s standards and traditions. Mr Biden’s response to this will likely take the form of an ethical pledge to impose strict new requirements on those who serve in his government.

“The Trump administration has shredded these standards,” Mr. Biden’s campaign wrote on his website. “On day one, Biden will issue an Ethical Commitment, building on and enhancing the Obama-Biden administration’s engagement, to ensure that every member of his administration is focused day in and day out on the best results for the American people, and nothing else. “

In addition to joining the climate deal, Biden also made it clear that he would immediately begin using the levers of executive power to restore Mr. Obama’s environmental regulatory regime that Mr. Trump has systematically shredded during his tenure. .

This will likely include a swift rescinding of an executive order Mr. Trump issued early in his administration, which himself called for the revocation of all climate change regulations and the promotion of fossil fuel development – and to replace it with one that declares the Biden administration’s intention to cut. greenhouse gases that warm the planet.

“The revocation of the decrees can be effected immediately,” said Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, which has studied what climate regulation might look like in a Biden administration. “This is a big problem because executive decrees give direction to administrative agencies on how to exercise their discretion and on administrative priorities.”

Mr. Biden could also move quickly to restore national monuments that Mr. Trump shrunk soon after taking office; stop the Trump administration’s expedited reviews of fossil fuel projects such as pipelines; and reverse a 2017 order to “encourage exploration and energy production” offshore, including the outer continental shelf.

Efforts to help poor communities – often located near toxic polluting sites and bearing the brunt of the consequences of climate change – could also be undertaken from the White House. This could include executive orders establishing an advisory council on environmental justice that can coordinate policies between agencies; create screening tools to better understand environmental disparities across the country; and increase pollution monitoring in frontline communities.

Passing larger parts of Mr. Biden’s environmental agenda, like phasing out fossil fuel emissions from the energy sector by 2035, would almost certainly force Congress to pass clean energy specific law. , most likely in the form of a mandate that an increasing percentage of electricity produced in the United States will be produced by zero emission sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric and maybe nuclear power.

Thomas J. Pyle, chairman of the Institute for Energy Research, an organization that supports the use of fossil fuels, said that “if history is a guide,” Republicans likely wouldn’t support any kind of mandate.

“He certainly doesn’t have a mandate for his climate plan,” Pyle said. “He will be forced to abide by carefully crafted decrees and regulations.”

Sheryl Stolberg contributed reporting.

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Bloomberg funds last-minute advertising blitz for Biden in Texas and Ohio

Michael R. Bloomberg is funding a last-minute blitz campaign to support former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Texas and Ohio, directing millions to television advertising in two red states that are away from President Trump in the general election.

A political adviser to Mr Bloomberg said the billionaire former New York mayor would use his super PAC, Independence USA, to broadcast intensive advertising campaigns in all television markets in both states. The cost of the two-state campaign is expected to be around $ 15 million.

Mr Bloomberg’s decision reflects how much the electoral landscape appears to have changed in the final months of the presidential race, as Mr Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic has intensified his unpopularity and further alienated them. crucial electoral groups like women and commuters. .

Mr. Biden’s campaign has treated Ohio as a competitive battleground for some time, even though Mr. Trump won by far in 2016, and more recently the Democratic ticket has devoted time and effort. money in Texas. Senator Kamala Harris of California, Mr Biden’s running mate, plans to visit the state on Friday.

Howard Wolfson, one of Mr Bloomberg’s closest associates, said the former mayor recently asked his team to conduct a series of polls to see if Mr Trump had any unexpected vulnerabilities that could be exploited in campaign closing weeks. Mr Bloomberg’s general election activities so far have focused on Florida, where he has pledged to spend $ 100 million to support Mr Biden.

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The Bloomberg team conducted polls in a number of states over the weekend and came back convinced that Texas and Ohio were their best targets – tightly divided election prices or the war for the sake of it. TV antenna is not already cluttered with intense advertising on either side. The team presented the figures to Mr Bloomberg on Monday morning and he gave the green light.

“We believe Florida will go all the way, and we were looking for additional opportunities to expand the map,” Wolfson said. “Texas and Ohio present the best opportunities to do this, in our opinion.

Mr Bloomberg also plans to increase the size of his Florida TV ad purchases over the next week, Mr Wolfson said.

If Texas or Ohio slipped into the Democratic column, that would likely indicate not only a loss for Trump, but also a loss from afar. The two states have 56 votes in the electoral college between them, and Mr. Trump’s campaign has never designed a path to victory that does not involve both.

And Mr. Biden’s campaign relied on neither Texas nor Ohio to deliver the crucial 270 Electoral College votes needed to seal a victory: Although Democrats compete to a large extent in both states, none of them has only reached a level as high as Mr. Biden’s priority list as winning battlegrounds like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, or solidly purple states like North Carolina and Georgia.

Mr. Trump’s campaign ruled out the possibility that Texas could swing into the Democratic column, and over the weekend, Rick Perry, former energy secretary and governor of Texas, told reporters that it didn’t. was “not a battlefield state”.

But other Republicans have been alarmed for many weeks that Texas – the most populous red state in the country – is even competitive. Senator John Cornyn, a Republican running for re-election there, told his allies that the president’s unpopularity was keeping other members of his party in the state.

A poll released Monday by the New York Times found that Mr. Trump had a narrow lead over Mr. Biden in Texas, from 47% to 43%. Mr Wolfson said the Bloomberg poll showed the presidential race to be even tighter than the state’s, with Mr Trump only slightly ahead in Texas and Ohio.

Mr Wolfson said Bloomberg’s advertising campaign in both states will focus primarily on the coronavirus, highlighting the new spike in cases across the country under Mr Trump’s watch. Advertising in Texas will have a strong Spanish language component.

In Ohio, Independence USA is also planning to run commercials about the economy and Mr. Biden’s “build back better” message.

This isn’t the first time Mr Bloomberg has used his vast personal wealth to gamble on 11-hour spending in intimidating political territory. In the 2018 midterm election, Mr Bloomberg’s advisers conducted a late ballot in congressional districts to see if there were any winnable races for Democrats where other groups weren’t spending already a lot.

They discovered a Republican district of Oklahoma City and its suburbs where Democratic candidate Kendra Horn was surprisingly competitive. Mr. Bloomberg authorized hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising and Ms. Horn won her race by approximately 3,300 votes.