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Biden Creates Panel to Handle Coronavirus with Officials from Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations

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Biden Creates Panel to Handle Coronavirus with Officials from Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations

2020-09-14 22:59:44

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Joe Biden (Image source: Screenshot)


Former vice president Joe Biden, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, is already preparing for the day he would take office, should he win. One of the most important aspects of that will be how he will fight the coronavirus pandemic. He's created a panel that includes people from the Obama, Clinton, and Bush administrations.

He's actually been at this for quite some time. It started six months ago when his campaign consulted with David Kessler, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner under former President Bill Clinton and the late President George H.W. Bush, and Vivek H. Murthy, the surgeon general under former President Barack Obama, regarding how to run the campaign in the midst of a pandemic.

Biden campaign senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan said Kessler and Murphy started working with volunteer health experts behind the scenes to put together a plan that would be ready to go January 20 when the next president takes office.

Biden was already calling out Donald Trump's "failures of judgment" and "repeated rejection of science" in an op-ed on January 27. He has said he would urge state and local leaders to implement mask mandates if they are still needed when he takes office and also create a panel that would model the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt's War Production Board to tackle testing shortages and create plans to distribute vaccines to 330 million people once they are approved as being safe and effective.

Sullivan said Biden's "public pronouncements are not just about laying out an agenda for voters but giving shape to an operations plan that he's already starting to think about now for what Day One is going to look like."

Experts are cautioning that even the most careful of plans will be challenged in this political environment. To renew faith in health officials, "a lot of it is going to be out of Biden's hands," said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

"It's going to take time, and he is going to have to demonstrate that he's restoring these agencies to their prior reputations through actions."

Biden has been campaigning on showing Trump to be incompetent while also showing deficiencies in his character. At a Michigan campaign event last week, he called out the president's admissions to journalist Bob Woodward that he intentionally downplayed the depth and spread of the virus. The former vice president called it "beyond despicable. ... He knew how deadly it was. He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied."

He also pointed to Trump's failure to act in a way to stop the spread of COVID-19. He said last week that had the Trump administration acted earlier, "America's schools would be open, and they'd be open safely. Instead, American families all across the country are paying the price."

Trump has pushed back on Biden's criticism, boasting of his decision to seal the U.S. borders and suspend travel from China on January 31. But there were already people in the United States with the virus, and with the number of positive cases, as well as more than 190,000 deaths, it shows that wasn't an effective solution.

Trump had often played down the advice of the health officials on the coronavirus task force he put together and has continued to insist that the economic crisis is just as concerning as the health crisis. He has urged people to go back to school and work to boost the economy, though most experts believe economic recovery won't happen until the pandemic is brought under control.

He's also recently been hanging his hopes on a vaccine, insisting one will be available before the election, while experts don't want to rush into that.

"Americans have seen President Trump out front and leading the nation in the fight against coronavirus ... while Joe Biden has been behind the curve and fear-mongering to discredit the president," said Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager.

The Biden campaign's national press secretary, Jamal Brown, said, "With nearly 200,000 dead, more than 6 million infected with the virus, and nearly 30 million on unemployment, we desperately need action and new leadership now."

Biden and his aides are considering many factors when putting together the national strategy should he win in November. "There's a huge amount of preparation that needs to be done given the complete absence of leadership from the current administration and no time to waste," said Sullivan.

Both presidential candidates share a priority in distributing one or more vaccines. Biden is also stressing the need to appoint a "supply commander" to coordinate and distribute the supplies, unifying the country and restoring trust in the government.

Aides acknowledge that restoring trust could be the most difficult. If elected, Biden would call Democratic and Republican governors and mayors to ensure that the federal government speak with one voice and that everyone hears the same message from their state and local leaders. He would urge them to issue mandatory mask orders, if it's still necessary, and to work together on a nationwide vaccine campaign.

Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), continue to get regular briefings on the pandemic. Kessler and Murthy prepare the briefing documents of more than 80 pages and question the candidates.

Along with Kessler and Murthy, the six-person advisory committee includes former Obama advisers Lisa Monaco and Ezekiel Emanuel; Rebecca Katz, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center; and Irwin Redlener, a professor at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health.

"We've talked mostly about what's going to be necessary to get a vaccine up and running, not just have a vaccine but actually produce it, bottle it, ship it out, and vaccinate others," said Emanuel, the chairman of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

"The logistics behind getting a vaccine to people is much more daunting than what people have thought through. ... I don't think our current infrastructure is sufficient."

The advisers acknowledge frequent, honest conversations with the American public will be of utmost importance. 

"Lots of other countries have succeeded in controlling this, not because they have medicine we don't, or a magic vaccine that we don't," said Emanuel. "They've been clear about the message, they've enforced it, and I think that's what the future president is going to have to make clear to the American people — short-term pain for long-term gain."

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