Pandemic politics leave DC in gridlock as virus surges

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A supporter of President Donald Trump holds a Trump 2020 flag outside the U.S. Capitol building as they attend pro-Trump marches, Saturday Nov. 14, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON – With the nation gripped by a resurgent coronavirus and looking to Washington for help, President Donald Trump and lawmakers in Congress have a message for struggling Americans: Just keep waiting.

The urgency of the nationwide surge in virus cases, spiking hospitalizations and increasing death tolls has hardly resonated in the nation’s capital as its leaders are vexed by transition politics and trying to capitalize on the promise of a coming vaccine. The virus has killed more than 247,000 Americans this year and infected at least 11.1 million — some 1 million of them in just the past week.

Yet in Congress, where talks over economic relief bills stalled out months ago, lame-duck approval of aid is hardly front-of-mind. Across town at the White House, Trump is more focused on getting credit for the vaccine development push and blocking President-elect Joe Biden from getting the information needed to ensure the new administration can smoothly take over the fight against the pandemic.

“Another Vaccine just announced,” Trump tweeted Monday morning after Moderna announced that its candidate appeared in early testing to be 95% effective against the virus. “For those great ‘historians’, please remember that these great discoveries, which will end the China Plague, all took place on my watch!”

On a call Monday with governors, Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the White House coronavirus task force, struck a rosy tone and asked states to give their residents comfort that vaccines are coming and that “America and your state has never been more prepared.”

That didn't stop Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards from appealing to Pence and Trump for a more unified message on the importance of social distancing and wearing masks. And Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator, reported that 27 states were in the “red zone” for widespread transmission of the virus — more widespread and worrisome than spikes seen earlier this year.

Biden, who has warned of a “dark winter” ahead on the virus, called for the Trump administration to share its vaccine distribution plans with his own incoming administration, warning that “more people may die if you don’t coordinate.”

Saying vaccine plans are vital to repairing the nation’s economy, Biden said, “If we have to wait until Jan. 20 to start that planning, it puts us behind.”