Last week, public-health officials warned of the dangers of blocking Joe Biden’s transition team from communicating with the Department of Health and Human Services, describing a scenario in which the president-elect enters office scrambling coordinate with experts ready for competent federal leadership.
But Trump’s political appointees aren’t going to start listening to public-health officials at this point in the crisis. At a press briefing on Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar reiterated his commitment to noncooperation, saying that his department would only speak with Biden’s team once the General Services Administration — the federal agency responsible for easing the transition — acknowledges Trump’s loss. “We’ve made it very clear that when GSA makes a determination, we will ensure complete, cooperative professional transitions and planning,” Azar said. “We follow the guidance. We’re about getting vaccines and therapeutics invented and get the clinical trial data and saving lives here. That’s where our focus is as we go forward with our efforts.”
In the interim, CNN reports that HHS employees must inform a supervisor if they are contacted by a Biden team member hoping to break the detente: “HHS staffers have been informed that if anyone from Biden’s team contacts them, they are not to communicate with them and should instead alert the deputy surgeon general of the communication.”
The refusal of General Services Administration head Emily Murphy to acknowledge the results of the election has caused a great deal of headache for an incoming administration planning to actually tackle the interconnected public-health and economic crises facing the nation. But her rationale for the obstruction — that Trump did it first — may soon expire. According to a new Washington Post report, the president has finally “abandoned his plan to win reelection by disqualifying enough ballots to reverse” the election results, shifting to the goal of “delaying a final count long enough to cast doubt” on Biden’s win.
Many of the manmade coronavirus frustrations Biden has been presented with cannot be addressed until either the GSA and the president accept reality, or they stall until Electoral College results are certified on December 14. But as the transition team waits, they are preparing staffing changes for the effectively defunct White House Coronavirus Task Force. One of the key decisions will be over the group’s coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, who has both pushed back on Trump’s worst impulses (and advisers) while serving as his apologist at other times — like when she said the president’s recommendation to inject disinfectant was him having a “dialogue” out loud. “It’s complicated,” Céline Gounder, a member of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, told Politico. “It’s almost like she herself has been politicized.”