WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – President-elect Joe Biden said Friday’s “grim” jobs report shows the economic recovery is stalling, and urged the U.S. Congress to pass a coronavirus relief bill immediately and follow up with “hundreds of billions of dollars” in more aid in January.
“If we don’t act now, the future will be very bleak. Americans need help and they need it now. And they need more to come early next year,” said Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20.
A government report on Friday showed the labor market slowing in November as the COVID-19 pandemic eclipsed its levels of the spring. Some 179,124 new infections are reported each day, a record, and more than 276,000 Americans have died of the disease.
Biden, the Democratic former vice president who defeated Republican President Donald Trump in the November election, offered backing for an emerging bipartisan package of around $908 billion in COVID-19 spending that has drawn tentative support from members of both parties in Congress.
Biden said he would press for more relief once he is in office.
“Any package passed in the lame-duck session is not going to be enough overall. It’s critical but it’s just a start. Congress is going to need to act again in January,” Biden told reporters in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
“We’re looking at hundreds of billions of dollars,” he said.
Biden said he expected Republicans to join Democrats in delivering more coronavirus relief because “they are going to find there is an overwhelming need.” He sidestepped questions about whether he has spoken to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell about negotiations.
The president-elect said he would not make the vaccines being developed for COVID-19 mandatory but hoped the public would develop confidence in them over time.
Biden has focused heavily on the pandemic and economy during the transition, after a campaign in which he made Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus a central theme and promised to make the pandemic his top priority in the White House.
He is expected to name Jeff Zients, a co-chair of his transition and a former Obama administration economic aide, as his coronavirus “czar” to coordinate the government’s pandemic response and oversee an ambitious vaccine distribution effort, according to a person familiar with the matter.
He also said plans for his inauguration next month were being developed with safety in mind given the pandemic. He does not expect the traditional parade or crowds, he said, although there might be a public swearing-in ceremony along with more virtual activity around the country.
PRESSURE FOR DIVERSITY
Biden, who earlier this week unveiled his economic team, faces intensifying pressure from congressional allies and advocacy groups to make ethnically diverse picks for the remaining slots in his administration.
Biden was set to meet the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a long-running Black civil rights organization, on Tuesday to discuss criticisms that his Cabinet picks lacked the representation he promised during a campaign that was propelled by Black voters.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, another prominent civil rights group, released a statement on Friday urging Biden and his transition team to take a fresh look at the voting clout of Latinos and ensure his top advisers reflect the nation’s diversity.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Thursday lobbied for Biden to name more Latino members to his top positions, stewing over reports Biden’s team sidelined Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for a position atop the Health and Human Services department after she turned down the Interior secretary job. Lujan Grisham is of Mexican-American descent.
Asked about the pressure, Biden said he was still in the process of selecting his Cabinet.
“It will be the single most diverse Cabinet based on race, color, based on gender, that’s ever existed in the United States,” Biden said.
Biden’s selections for top roles thus far have included some ground-breaking picks, including former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, who would be the first female Treasury secretary; Neera Tanden, who would be the first woman of color to run the Office of Management and Budget; and Cecilia Rouse, who would be the first Black woman to oversee the Council of Economic Advisers.
Transition spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday that Biden would announce more positions early next week, including members of his public health team.
Biden said he would visit Georgia to campaign for the Democratic candidates in two Jan. 5 runoff elections that will decide which party controls the U.S. Senate, but did not give a timetable for his trip.
Vice President Mike Pence visited Georgia on Friday, where he received a briefing on the pandemic at the Atlanta headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and joined a rally for the Republican candidates, U.S. senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
Trump, a Republican who has still refused to concede to Biden, is scheduled to headline a rally with Perdue and Loeffler on Saturday.
Trump suffered more setbacks in his legal efforts to overturn the election results when judges in Nevada and Wisconsin on Friday dismissed or declined to act on lawsuits brought on his behalf.
Trump’s campaign filed a new lawsuit in Georgia state court seeking to invalidate Biden’s election win there, alleging fraud and irregularities. Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has said his office found no evidence of widespread fraud.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington, Delaware, writing by Joseph Ax and John Whitesides; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Sonya Hepinstall)