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Biden And Harris Address The U.S. Economy And Lay Out Their Plans For Recovery

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President-elect Joe Biden has so far downplayed the impact of President Trump's refusal to acknowledge he lost the election. But with the transition still on hold, Biden spoke bluntly today about what that means when it comes to controlling the pandemic and distributing a vaccine.

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JOE BIDEN: More people may die if we don't coordinate.

KELLY: Those comments came after Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris met with business leaders and labor leaders today to discuss plans for an economic recovery. NPR's Asma Khalid was in Delaware for Biden's remarks. She is here with us now.

Hey, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: Strong and grim warning there about the impact of the delayed transition - what other details did Biden give?

KHALID: That's right, Mary Louise. I mean, he said that a vaccine is great but essentially useless if people are not getting vaccinated. And his main advice was that he feels like there needs to be a coordinated, strong effort around vaccine deployment. Some of Biden's COVID advisory task force members have told NPR that they're not getting full access, and, you know, they're not able to speak with folks working on vaccine deployment within the Trump administration. And I think what we heard from Biden today really crystallized those concerns. You know, I will point out, though, that shortly after Biden spoke, we did see Vice President Mike Pence take to Twitter. He said that they had actually held a two-hour call with governors today to review vaccine distribution plans and said, quote, "we're ensuring every state has what they need to deliver a vaccine to every American."

KELLY: Did Biden today offer any more specifics about what he plans to do to get the pandemic under control?

KHALID: You know, he reemphasized his plans and his desire, really, for a mask mandate. And this is something that he has been emphasizing all throughout the candidacy, frankly, since the point that COVID really became a big campaign issue. And what I will say is, you know, he seems to remain fairly upbeat about the need for bipartisan unity. He, in fact, praised some Republican governors who have implemented mask mandates within their states. He also called for Congress to pass more COVID relief. He mentioned that a couple of times, really, you know, there needs to be some sort of economic stimulus for people.

But I think, you know, Mary Louise, that's where some of his calls for bipartisanship clearly run into an obstacle because there is no unity, as we've seen, you know, between Republicans and Democrats around passing some sort of bipartisan COVID relief bill at this point. So even though he's been calling for this and he's really been emphasizing this desire for unity, it really doesn't seem like Congress has any plans to move forward on that front. The other thing that was interesting to me and that I want to note is, you know, he was asked explicitly if he would take a vaccine if it got safety approvals now that we've heard, you know, sort of positive results both from Pfizer and Moderna. And he was very clear about it. He said multiple times that he would not hesitate to get a vaccine if it were available.

KELLY: Worth emphasizing, Asma, just how very different the message from Biden has been to the public. You know, he's clearly signaling there if there's a vaccine and it's safe, you should get it. He's also talked about masks. You should wear them. He calls it patriotic. Did he have more on that today?

KHALID: Yeah. You know, one interesting exchange to me was sort of him giving holiday Thanksgiving travel advice. He was asked what he would do, and he tried to say that he, you know, sort of sees himself in the same boat as many families.

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BIDEN: Jill and I spent this morning, like many of you, trying to figure out, what are we going to do for Thanksgiving? How are we going to do it? And we've narrowed down which family members and that they were tested - recently tested in 24 hours.

KHALID: And, you know, he said that he's been told by experts that it's really important to try to keep it to five people in the house - 10 people max - wear a mask and stay socially distant.

KELLY: And just real quick, in the few seconds we have left - any movement from the president? Is he conceding the election at some point?

KHALID: He is still not conceding. He still seems to be dug in. This morning, he's saying that he won the election. What I will say, though, Mary Louise, is his national security adviser did seem to acknowledge that things are looking like Biden-Harris won, and so we're hearing different rhetoric from a couple of people around him.

KELLY: Thank you, Asma.

KHALID: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Asma Khalid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.