Biden to focus on plans for U.S. economy as Trump presses long-shot legal claims

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By Trevor Hunnicutt and John Whitesides

© Reuters/JONATHAN ERNST U.S. President-elect Biden holds news conference in Wilmington, Delaware

WILMINGTON, Del./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Joe Biden on Monday will focus on plans for reviving a pandemic-battered U.S. economy as he prepares for his new administration, while President Donald Trump vowed to press ahead with long-shot court challenges to the election results.

With the number of coronavirus cases surging across the country, Biden will receive a briefing and give a speech in his home state of Delaware on rebuilding an economy that has suffered millions of job losses as the pandemic has killed more than 245,000 Americans and closed many businesses.

Biden’s scientific advisers will meet this week with pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines to battle COVID-19, a top aide to the president-elect said, in preparation for the logistical challenges of widespread vaccination.

Trump sent mixed messages on Sunday, briefly appearing to acknowledge defeat in a morning tweet, only to backtrack, saying he concedes “nothing” and repeating his unfounded accusations of voter fraud.

He later promised on Twitter to file “big cases showing the unconstitutionality of the 2020 Election,” even though he has made no headway with his legal challenges in multiple states so far.

Legal experts have said the Trump litigation stands little chance of altering the election’s outcome, and election officials of both parties have said there is no evidence of major irregularities.

In another blow to Trump’s legal strategy, his campaign on Sunday dropped a major part of a lawsuit it brought seeking to halt Pennsylvania from certifying its results, narrowing the case to an issue affecting a small number of ballots. Biden won the state by more than 60,000 votes.

More than a week after Biden was declared the victor by major news organizations based on state-by-state vote counts, the General Services Administration has still not recognized him as president-elect, preventing his team from gaining access to government office space and funding normally provided to an incoming administration to ensure a smooth transition.

Biden’s top advisers warned that Trump’s refusal to begin a transition could jeopardize the battle against the virus and inhibit vaccine distribution planning.

The number of U.S. coronavirus cases passed 11 million on Sunday, a million more new cases than a week ago and the fastest increase since the pandemic began. The number of COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals also has reached an all-time high.

‘FUTURE’S IN OUR HANDS’

Michigan and Washington state on Sunday imposed sweeping new restrictions on gatherings, including halting indoor restaurant service, to slow the spread of the virus. [L1N2I10D0]

“We are in a very dangerous period,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, a member of Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board and director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Unless action is taken now, “we’re going to see these numbers grow substantially,” Osterholm warned. “Our future’s in our hands.”

Biden has promised to make the health crisis a top priority as president. Ron Klain, who will be White House chief of staff when Biden takes office on Jan. 20, said Biden’s scientific advisers would meet with Pfizer Inc and other drugmakers this week.

Pfizer said last week its vaccine candidate proved more than 90% effective in initial trials, giving hope that widespread vaccination in the coming months could help get the pandemic under control. Other companies also are in advanced stages of developing promising vaccines.

Biden beat Trump in the Nov. 3 election by the same 306-232 margin in the state-by-state Electoral College that Trump proclaimed a “landslide” when he won in 2016. The Democratic former vice president also won the national popular vote by at least 5.5 million votes, or 3.6 percentage points, with ballots still being counted.

A laborious hand recount is under way in Georgia, where Biden has been projected the winner and holds a lead of more than 14,000 votes. Patrick Moore, a Biden campaign legal adviser, said the recount had so far shifted vote totals “almost imperceptibly,” and in Biden’s favor, and there had been no evidence of widespread irregularities.

Control of the U.S. Senate will be decided by two January runoff elections in Georgia, which will be important for the fate of Biden’s ambitious legislative agenda. Klain said Biden may campaign in Georgia ahead of the runoffs.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington and John Whitesides in Washington; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Jan Wolfe and David Shepardson; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

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