With spotlight on the economy, Biden confers with leaders of corporate America

WILMINGTON, Del./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Buoyed by further progress in COVID-19 vaccine development, President-elect Joe Biden planned on Monday to consult with the CEOs of top U.S. companies and labor leaders before making a speech on reviving the nation’s pandemic-battered economy.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden smiles as he talks about protecting the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while speaking to reporters about his “plan to expand affordable health care” during an appearance in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were due to hold a midday conference call with several chief executives including General Motors Co’s GM.N Mary Barra, Microsoft Corp’s MSFT.O Satya Nadella, Target Corp’s TGT.N Brian Cornell and Gap Inc’s GPS.N Sonia Syngal.

Also scheduled to take part, according to Biden’s transition team, were AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and the heads of the Service Employees International Union, the United Auto Workers and two other large unions.

Biden said Moderna Inc’s MRNA.O announcement on Monday that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was 94.5% effective based on interim data from a late-stage trial provided fresh hope for beating the novel coronavirus.

The Democratic president-elect was moving ahead with economic planning even as Republican President Donald Trump on Monday again refused to accept his election loss. Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said on Monday he was prepared to ensure a professional transition to Biden’s team.

“If there is a new administration, look, they deserve some time to come in and implement their policies,” O’Brien said. “If the Biden-Harris ticket is determined to be the winner, and obviously things look like that now, we’ll have a very professional transition from the National Security Council, there’s no question about it.”

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

With U.S. COVID-19 cases surging as Biden prepares to take office, he was due to make remarks in his home state of Delaware on rebuilding an economy that has suffered millions of job losses during a pandemic that has killed more than 246,000 people in the United States.

Biden and Harris were due to speak at 1:45 pm ET (1845 GMT).

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Major business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable already have congratulated Biden on his victory and said they looked forward to working with him, even as Trump has refused to concede.

Biden’s scientific advisers will meet starting this week with pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines to prevent COVID-19, according to a top Biden aide, in preparation for the logistical challenges of widespread vaccination after the Democrat takes office on Jan. 20.

Trump briefly appeared to acknowledge defeat on Sunday only to backtrack, saying on Twitter that he concedes “nothing” and repeating his unfounded accusations of voter fraud.

The Republican president 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.

“I won the Election!” Trump wrote on Monday on Twitter, again falsely claiming victory. Twitter posted a disclaimer saying, “Official sources called this election differently.”

Election officials from both parties have said there is no evidence of major irregularities. Federal election security officials have decried “unfounded claims” and expressed “utmost confidence” in the integrity of the election, according to a statement last week by the lead U.S. cybersecurity agency.

Trump supporters voluntarily withdrew on Monday federal lawsuits challenging the election in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The Trump supporters had claimed that counting illegal votes violated their Constitutional rights and sought to block the states from certifying the election results.

COVID-19 VACCINE

The Trump administration – specifically a federal agency called the General Services Administration headed by a Trump appointee – has yet to recognize Biden as president-elect, preventing his team from gaining access to the government office space and funding normally provided to an incoming administration.

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

The number of U.S. coronavirus cases passed 11 million on Sunday, up a million in a week and the fastest increase since the pandemic began.

Pfizer Inc PFE.N said last week its vaccine candidate had proved more than 90% effective in initial trials, giving hope that widespread vaccination in the coming months could help get the pandemic under control.

Moderna was part of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed program aimed at expediting COVID-19 vaccine development. Unlike Pfizer’s vaccine, Moderna’s shot can be stored at normal fridge temperatures, which should make it easier to distribute.

“Today’s news of a second vaccine is further reason to feel hopeful. What was true with the first vaccine remains true with the second: we are still months away. Until then, Americans need to continue to practice social-distancing and mask-wearing to get the virus under control,” Biden wrote on Twitter.

Other companies and groups also are in advanced stages of developing promising vaccines.

In another blow to Trump’s legal strategy, his campaign on Sunday dropped a major part of a lawsuit it had brought seeking to prevent Pennsylvania from certifying its results, narrowing the case to an issue affecting a small number of ballots. Biden won the state by more than 68,000 votes.

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