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President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., whose team is finally free to coordinate transition planning, is hurriedly attempting to fill a void in pandemic response leadership left by President Trump, who has largely ignored the escalating 2,000-death-a-day crisis and who has made few public appearances since the election.
Mr. Biden is expected to take a major step next week, perhaps as early as Monday, when he will announce his pick for a new Health and Human Services secretary.
The two top contenders are Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, a former surgeon general under President Barack Obama who has advised Mr. Biden on pandemic strategy, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, who has the support of many Hispanic groups and elected officials, according to two people involved in the transition.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden — who sees his immediate role as breaking down the resistance to mask-wearing that has exacerbated an already dire wave of contagion — plans to deliver a presidential-style Thanksgiving address to rally the American people for the challenges ahead, intermingling hope with hard reality, his aides said.
It is a moment to mark. This will be Mr. Biden’s first truly presidential address to the American people — the first big speech as president-elect that is not political and does not have the ulterior motive of pressuring Mr. Trump to concede defeat and get out of the way.
In his address, expected to be delivered direct-to-camera from Wilmington, Del., Mr. Biden will “discuss the shared sacrifices Americans are making this holiday season and say that we can and will get through the current crisis together,” according to an advisory sent to reporters.
A senior Biden adviser offered a blunt message: “Help is on the way.”
His approach was in stark contrast to that of President Trump, who has downplayed the coronavirus during his presidency, spending the past several weeks focusing on turkey pardons, golfing and evangelizing for his victory that wasn’t, rather than hunkering down to deal with the crisis.
Those two worlds collided on Wednesday morning, when Mr. Trump scrapped a planned visit with his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to a Republican-led event focused on election irregularities — claims without clear evidence — in Gettysburg, Pa.
It was not immediately clear why Mr. Trump canceled, but the schedule change was announced shortly after news broke that a former White House official, Boris Epshteyn, who was in close contact with Mr. Giuliani, had tested postive for the virus.
Mr. Trump was not expected to deliver a coronavirus-themed statement on Wednesday, though anything was possible, an aide said. Instead, he plans to release a broad proclamation celebrating the holiday. The president participated in the traditional turkey pardoning event at the White House on Tuesday.
In pressuring Mr. Trump to begin the transition, Mr. Biden’s team emphasized the national security dangers of depriving him access to intelligence reports.
But people close to the president-elect said that was, in part, a political strategy to prod Republican hawks into pushing Mr. Trump out the door. Mr. Biden and his team, especially his incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, have been more anxious about getting an inside look at the administration’s plans to distribute vaccines in the coming weeks and months.
“It’s Covid 24/7 now,” Donald M. Berwick, a former Medicare and Medicaid chief in the Obama administration who is close to Mr. Biden’s team, told Politico. “That’s got to be dealt with.”
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s transition began in earnest on Tuesday, after President Trump authorized intelligence agencies to begin briefing his successor on classified information delivered in the President’s Daily Brief, and transition teams started communicating with their counterparts in agencies throughout the federal government.
Mr. Biden also formally announced top members of his national security team on Tuesday in Wilmington, Del.
“Our teams can prepare to meet the challenges at hand,” he said. “To control the pandemic, to build back better, and to protect the safety and security of the American people.”
Mr. Biden’s nominees seemed intent on fully repudiating the current administration’s “America First” isolationism.
“Diplomacy is back,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat and Mr. Biden’s pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Antony J. Blinken, the nominee for secretary of state, said America needed the “humility and confidence” to depend on its allies.
The president-elect also formally introduced Alejandro N. Mayorkas, a Cuban-American, as his pick to run the Department of Homeland Security, and Avril D. Haines, who would be the first woman to be the director of national intelligence. In her remarks, Ms. Haines warned Mr. Biden that she would bring him news that would be politically “inconvenient or difficult,” a contrast with the outgoing administration.
Mr. Biden appointed John Kerry, who was previously secretary of state under President Barack Obama, to a new role inside the National Security Council to put “climate change on the agenda in the Situation Room,” after four years of the Trump administration trying to have the words struck from international agreements.
A major player who has yet to be named is Mr. Biden’s secretary of defense, though the leading candidate is believed to be Michèle Flournoy, who served as the under secretary of defense for policy under Mr. Obama and, in the Trump years, created a foreign policy advisory firm with Mr. Blinken, WestExec Advisors.
While Mr. Trump ended his blockade of the start of a formal transition process, he continued to refuse to concede defeat, even as more states — including the battleground of Pennsylvania — certified their election results.
Transition officials said their teams had made contact with every federal agency to begin setting up meetings. About 20 of those meetings took place on Tuesday, including at the Department of Homeland Security and the Education Department. The officials said the reception from the Trump administration was responsive and helpful.
The stock market surged on Tuesday on the news that a robust transition was set to begin, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing past 30,000 for the first time. Investors appeared to be further buoyed by reports that Mr. Biden was expected to choose Janet L. Yellen, a former chair of the Federal Reserve, as Treasury secretary. If they are selected and confirmed, Ms. Yellen and Ms. Flournoy would be the first women to hold their respective posts.
President Trump abruptly canceled a planned trip to Gettysburg, Pa., scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, where he was to attend a hotel gathering of Republican state lawmakers to discuss allegations of voting irregularities in the state.
Members of the press pool that covers Mr. Trump were told the trip was canceled just as they were getting ready to depart by car, after an adviser who has been around Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, frequently in the last two weeks said on Twitter that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Mr. Giuliani was planning to attend the hotel event, and had convinced Mr. Trump to join him, despite concerns from a number of other advisers who believed it was beneath a sitting president to attend and had tried to get the trip canceled.
The adviser who tested positive, Boris Epshteyn, a member of the president’s legal team, wrote on Twitter that he was “experiencing mild symptoms.” News of his diagnosis had raised questions of whether Mr. Giuliani would risk other people’s health by traveling to Gettysburg.
The event was set to be yet another chapter in Mr. Trump’s unending quest to overturn the results of the election he lost. It was to come the day after Pennsylvania finalized its election results and found that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. had beaten the president there by more than 80,000 votes.
“The election is over,” Kate Bedingfield, a deputy campaign manager for Mr. Biden, said in a press briefing with reporters before the event was canceled. “Virtually everyone on Earth has accepted that truth except for President Trump and Rudy Giuliani.”
A power struggle for the top Democratic slot on the Senate Judiciary Committee may be emerging after the decision of Senator Dianne Feinstein of California to step aside next year.
After her announcement on Monday, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat and next in line on the committee, said he intended to take on the role, noting that his 22 years on the panel provided the experience needed to challenge Republicans over the courts.
But some of the same progressives who sought to push out Ms. Feinstein, deeming her insufficiently aggressive against Republicans, also signaled that they did not want Mr. Durbin. Instead they began nudging Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island to consider a bid. Mr. Whitehouse, a former federal prosecutor, has railed against Republicans for trying to mount a conservative takeover of the courts with the help of a network of undisclosed financial contributors.
Mr. Whitehouse’s office had initially declined to weigh in on the possibility of seeking the Judiciary Committee position, but on Tuesday evening he issued a statement that, without directly challenging Mr. Durbin, left the door open to pursuing the top slot. Mr. Whitehouse said it would be up to fellow Democrats to decide who should fill the post.
“In the wake of Ranking Member Feinstein’s announcement, I look forward to the question of succession on the Senate Judiciary Committee being decided by the caucus,” he said. “I will abide by the caucus’s decision.”
The potential clash illustrated the challenge Democrats are likely to face as the party seeks to reconcile the views of progressives demanding sweeping changes, new leadership after the election and others who believe the results showed that voters want to steer a more moderate course.
Unlike Republicans, who have established term limits on chairmanships, Democrats typically follow seniority in committee assignments. Besides being the party whip, Mr. Durbin is also the top Democrat on the Appropriations panel that handles military spending, a very influential position.
Some Democrats may consider that enough. But Mr. Durbin, who just won re-election, is a very practiced player in internal party politics and has survived at the top for years, suggesting that he would be difficult for Mr. Whitehouse to defeat.
Whether the position up for grabs will become the chairman of the panel or the top Democrat under Republican control will depend on the outcome of two Senate runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.
President Trump has told aides that he plans to pardon his former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn and that it is one of a string of pardons he plans to issue before leaving office, a person familiar with the discussions said on Tuesday.
Mr. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, twice pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with a Russian diplomat during the presidential transition in late 2016 and early 2017. He was the only former White House official to plead guilty in the inquiry led by Robert S. Mueller III.
In May, the Justice Department sought to withdraw its charges against Mr. Flynn. That move has since been tied up in federal court, challenged by the judge who presided over Mr. Flynn’s case. Mr. Trump’s plans were reported earlier by Axios.
Mr. Flynn served just 24 days as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser before the president fired him in February 2017 for lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak.
Mr. Trump, who initially distanced himself from Mr. Flynn after his firing, has since taken up his cause, calling him “an innocent man” targeted by Obama administration officials trying to “take down a president.”
After nearly three weeks of silence, China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, congratulated President-elect Joseph R. Biden on Wednesday, becoming one of the last major world leaders to acknowledge his victory.
In his message to Mr. Biden, Mr. Xi said that China and the United States should “uphold the spirit of nonconflict and nonconfrontation,” adding that the countries should “focus on cooperation and manage differences,” according to the state-controlled Xinhua news agency.
Mr. Xi “pointed out that promoting the healthy and stable development of China-U.S. relations not only conforms to the fundamental interests of the two peoples, but is also the common expectation of the international community,” Xinhua wrote.
China’s vice president, Wang Qishan, congratulated Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Chinese state media said.
The Chinese government has been slow to acknowledge Mr. Biden’s victory, saying it would respect American laws and procedures for determining the winner of the election. Last week, China’s Foreign Ministry congratulated Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris, but Mr. Xi himself had remained silent, at least according to official media.
U.S.-China relations have plummeted to their lowest levels in decades, as the Trump administration has sparred with Beijing over trade, technology, human rights and other issues. Chinese politics experts have said Beijing was initially gun-shy because President Trump had not conceded and officials were aware of the lawsuits that his campaign was threatening to file that could challenge the results.
Although Mr. Biden is less likely to adopt a similarly bellicose approach, few experts think his presidency would quickly reset relations. On the campaign trail, Mr. Biden called Mr. Xi “a thug.” He has said that China’s rise represents the “greatest strategic challenge” to the United States and its allies.
The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid controlled by China’s ruling Communist Party, said the party’s calculus had changed because the General Services Administration on Monday finally allowed Mr. Biden’s team to begin the transition process.
“China thinks the election situation in the U.S. has settled,” the newspaper wrote in a tweet.