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Biden Taps Dr. Anthony Fauci, Brian Deese For Medical And Economic Adviser Roles

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Two-hundred-and-seventeen thousand infections yesterday, record hospitalizations - it is hard to grasp the scale of the calamity here in the United States. It's as if every single person in Richmond, Va., or Boise, Idaho, were all infected with the coronavirus on the same day. And that's happening every single day. That is where we are at right now. So what is President-elect Joe Biden going to do about it? He spoke last night to CNN. And NPR's political correspondent Asma Khalid is here to bring us up to speed. Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Biden's talking masks?

KHALID: That's right. He has been talking masks. You know, and he explicitly is making it clear where he stands. You know, he had previously encouraged the public to wear masks as a matter of patriotic duty. He's also acknowledged, though, that he doesn't exactly have the authority to implement a so-called mask mandate. So yesterday, you know, it was interesting. He gave some new details on what exactly he intends to do.

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JOE BIDEN: On the first day I'm inaugurated to say - I'm going to ask the public for 100 days to mask, just 100 days to mask - not forever, 100 days. And I think we'll see a significant reduction.

KHALID: And his thinking there is that after 100 days, vaccines will be more widely distributed. He also said he'll plan to require masks in federal buildings or on interstate transportation like airplanes and buses.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's not a mask mandate, though?

KHALID: That's right. It's not a mask mandate. I mean, what he believes is that if you encourage the public to do this - and he's been calling it a patriotic duty - that he'll be able to do that. So this is not a nationwide mask mandate, as he's previously acknowledged. He really doesn't have the authority to do that as president.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. Asma, there was always this question - right? - whether or not Anthony Fauci would stay on. And we now know that at least Biden might want him to.

KHALID: That's right. Dr. Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where he's worked for decades. Yesterday, Joe Biden told CNN he's asked Fauci to stay on the job and also become a chief medical adviser to him. We know, as of this morning, in fact, that Dr. Fauci has accepted the role. So it seems clear that, you know, Biden wants him to remain a key voice in terms of combating the pandemic and distributing vaccines for the next administration. And it seems like he will do that. Biden himself said, you know, he'd also be happy to get his own vaccine publicly as a way to encourage trust. I thought that was interesting. You know, it follows similar commitments from former Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's turn to something else, because there's also been some news on another economic adviser. Who is it? And why is it important?

KHALID: Yeah. His name is Brian Deese. And he'll be the director of the National Economic Council, which is a key White House role that does not require any Senate confirmation. Deese, like a lot of the names we've been hearing about in the newly announced incoming Biden White House, is an alum of the Obama administration.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right.

KHALID: He played a role in two of the administration's key accomplishments, the bailout of the auto industry and the Paris climate accords, which, of course, you know, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of those accords. But Biden has pledged to reenter them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So there's been this division - right, Asma? - playing out in the Democratic Party between progressives and moderates. And Deese's appointment has gotten some pushback from progressives, though. Can you explain why?

KHALID: Yeah. You know, some progressives are unhappy because Deese went on to work at BlackRock, which is the world's largest asset manager. And even though Deese headed a sustainable investing, you know, sort of organization within the firm, many progressives point out that the financial firm itself, BlackRock, has been a huge investor in fossil fuels. The other issue, Lulu, is that Deese's appointment comes as frustrations have been bubbling up about diversity. And Deese is white. And a lot of folks want to see more diverse candidates.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thank you very much.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.