On Friday afternoon, President Trump delivered his first public remarks since last week’s election was called for Joe Biden, an outcome Trump has refused to acknowledge the validity of in any way since. The president didn’t concede to the president-elect during his Friday press conference, which was held on the topic of the U.S. efforts to develop and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine and included Trump’s first public comments in eight days. Trump did, however, come as close as he ever has to publicly admitting that he realizes he won’t be the president much longer.
Trump’s half baby step came during an attempt to discredit the utility of the coronavirus lockdowns, in which he pledged, “I will not go … this administration will not be going to a lockdown,” before adding, “Hopefully, the, the … uh — whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration it will be, I guess time will tell — but I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown.”
Yes, when the president has refused to acknowledge losing an election for nearly a full week, when he has made hundreds of attempts to discredit the results, and when the White House is actively blocking the future president’s efforts to get moving on the transition process, an almost partial-admission of defeat counts as news.
The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker later reported that Friday’s press conference was supposed to be a victory lap for the president regarding the week’s good vaccine news:
After pharmaceutical behemoth Pfizer announced Monday that it had developed a coronavirus vaccine that was more than 90 percent effective, Trump’s advisers had been urging him to tout the apparent success, which they argued was one of the key achievements of his presidency. But the president was reluctant to do so, angry that Pfizer had waited until after the election to announce the encouraging news — and believing that the drug company and his own Food and Drug Administration had withheld news that could have helped him at the polls.
Friday’s Rose Garden announcement, then, was that delayed victory lap — but Trump displayed almost no joy in what could have been a triumphant moment.
Pfizer is not a part of the White House’s COVID-19 vaccine-development project Operation Warp Speed, and Trump attacked the company on Friday for distancing itself from the initiative after the White House had tried to claim credit for its vaccine development success. The company has made a deal with the federal government to sell it 100 million doses of the vaccine, however, and Trump said on Friday that 20 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine would be available in December for distribution to high-risk populations, including health-care workers and the elderly. (Warp Speed’s head scientist, Moncef Slaoui, added that there would another 25-30 million doses available per month after that.) Trump said a vaccine would be available to the general public “as soon as April,” but the president’s previous claims about the availability of a coronavirus vaccine haven’t held up to scrutiny, so it remains to be seen whether the timetable he outlined on Friday will be accurate either. Trump advisers have reportedly refused to allow Operation Warp Speed briefings for Biden’s transition team.
The president also failed on Friday to acknowledge the surging third wave of the pandemic (though Vice-President Pence did) and he once again tried to discredit the country’s high case count. President-elect Biden later tweeted that action was needed now to confront the rising wave:
I am alarmed by the surge in reported COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and fatalities. This crisis demands a robust and immediate federal response which has been woefully lacking. I am the president-elect, but will not be president until next year. COVID-19 does not respect dates on the calendar, it is accelerating right now. Urgent action is needed today, now, by the current administration.
The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reported on Thursday night that the reality of Trump’s defeat continues to sink in ever so slowly for the president now that his campaign’s long-shot legal efforts to challenge the election results have failed to gain traction in any meaningful way:
“He knows it’s over,” one adviser said. But instead of conceding, they said, he is floating one improbable scenario after another for staying in office while he contemplates his uncertain post-presidency future.
There is no grand strategy at play, according to interviews with a half-dozen advisers and people close to the president. Mr. Trump is simply trying to survive from one news cycle to the next, seeing how far he can push his case against his defeat and ensure the continued support of his Republican base. By dominating the story of his exit from the White House, he hopes to keep his millions of supporters energized and engaged for whatever comes next.
Trump took no questions on Friday. Earlier in the day, he tweeted that he might attend a rally his supporters are holding for him in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. On Friday night, Trump falsely claimed on Twitter that he had won Pennsylvania.
This post has been updated to include Biden’s Friday-night message regarding the surge in COVID-19 cases.