WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — President Donald Trump, who is refusing to concede election defeat, injected new volatility by firing his defense secretary, while President-elect Joe Biden made good on a promise to focus on leading the country out of the Covid-19 crisis.
With construction already starting in central Washington for the 20 January inauguration ceremony, an awkward and potentially chaotic transition period is underway.
Trump, in a move unprecedented for a US president, insists that the 3 November election was stolen from him.
“This election is not over, far from it,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters at a press conference on the claim.
However, Trump’s lawyers have so far produced only flimsy evidence to support their court challenges alleging irregularities, while media projections based on near-complete results show Biden won convincingly.
Even Fox News, which has often given Trump an uncontested mouthpiece during his term, cut away from McEnany’s event, with presenter Neil Cavuto telling viewers the allegations were so poorly substantiated, “I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this.”
The Trump administration is also refusing traditional cooperation with Biden’s team, denying him the normal transition package that includes office space, a budget and expertise to prepare for the takeover.
Trump announced on Twitter that he had “terminated” defense secretary Mark Esper — a notable shuffling of such an important position so close to the end of a presidency. Trump and Esper had clashed over the latter’s opposition to suggestions military personnel be used to quell civil unrest.
Republican Senator Susan Collins broke ranks to recognize Biden’s win, saying, “He loves this country, and I wish him every success.”
But for now, most of the Trump-dominated party’s heavyweights, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are siding — publicly, at least — with the president.
Attorney General Bill Barr on Monday gave federal prosecutors blanket authorization to open investigations into voting irregularities.
“Such inquiries and reviews may be conducted if there are clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election,” Barr, long a close defender of Trump, said in a letter to US attorneys around the country.
Dual task forces
Biden, meanwhile, forged ahead with his agenda, starting with his number one campaign promise of trying to get the raging coronavirus pandemic under control.
He held a first meeting of his own coronavirus task force, just hours before the White House version headed by Vice President Mike Pence was due to gather.
Biden then gave a televised speech on the crisis that signaled a dramatic departure from Trump’s erratic style.
Where Trump has repeatedly mocked people wearing masks and claimed the virus would go away by itself, Biden told the nation that face coverings are the single best way to get the situation under control.
“I implore you, wear a mask,” he said. “A mask is not a political statement, but it is a good way to start putting the country together.”
The speech and the announcement of Biden’s new task force came as US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech announced that a jointly developed vaccine had so far proven 90 percent effective in preventing infections in trials.
Lost in transition?
The Biden team said the president-elect and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were holding “briefings with transition advisors.”