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Biden's West Wing to start with small staff to curb COVID-19

President-elect Joe Biden will likely start with a "skeleton staff" in the West Wing to keep him healthy after the Trump administration's cavalier approach to the coronavirus, a White House support staffer familiar with the transition plans told Axios.

Why it matters: The incoming president, at 78, is in a high-risk group and already careful to mask up. President Trump and numerous staffers have flouted safety protocols and caught COVID-19, meaning there will have to be some sort of deep cleaning for the White House residence and offices before the new team moves in.


The support staffer said the White House is expected to be a “ghost town” immediately after Biden’s inauguration next month. Many staffers will work remotely or next door in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

  • If tradition holds, Biden would spend at least the night before inauguration at Blair House, the presidential guest house just across Pennsylvania Avenue.
  • Harry Truman lived and worked there from 1948 to 1952 while the White House was being renovated.
  • Biden spokespeople declined to comment, but aides have noted that they worked remotely throughout the campaign and during the transition.

Biden allies know coronavirus numbers are going to be much worse come January.

  • The president-elect has already said he will try to fight back by asking Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days in office and ordering masks be worn in federal buildings, airplanes and buses.
  • When he presented his medical team on Tuesday, Biden also announced his goal to vaccinate 100 million Americans during the same three-month period.

Between the lines: While details are still being formalized, the way the Biden-Harris team has operated thus far offers clues as to what to expect next year.

  • When Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are together for briefings and events, they remain socially distanced, wear masks and meet with outside experts and officials virtually.
  • Most transition staffers are not working in-person at their D.C. offices, instead conducting business and meetings remotely.
  • And early inauguration plans suggest the team is organizing a pared-down event. Sources involved in the planning tell Axios Biden plans to forgo the traditional inaugural balls and parades because of the coronavirus, and instead intends to celebrate with close family and advisers.

Flashback: The coronavirus pandemic fundamentally changed the election campaign, forcing Biden to skip many traditional retail events and both candidates to sharply curtail their nominating conventions.

  • Trump defiantly held large events, with his supporters defying mask requirements as a form of political protest.

Trump received COVID vaccine at White House in January

Former President Trump and former first lady Melania Trump were both vaccinated at the White House in January, a Trump adviser tells Axios.

Why it matters: Trump declared at CPAC on Sunday that "everybody" should get the coronavirus vaccine — the first time he's encouraged his supporters, who have been more skeptical of getting vaccinated, to do so.

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Biden administration seeks to allow separated migrant families to reunite in the U.S.

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced Monday that the Biden administration will explore "lawful pathways" to allow migrant families separated under the Trump administration to reunite in the U.S.

Why it matters: Biden has pledged to reunite the hundreds of families still separated as a result of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, and signed an executive order last month creating a family separation task force chaired by Mayorkas.

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CDC director warns "now is not the time" to lift COVID restrictions, citing stalled progress

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned states on Monday that "now is not the time" to lift public health restrictions, as the recent dramatic declines in coronavirus cases and deaths "appear to be stalling."

Why it matters: While the average of 70,000 new infections and 2,000 daily deaths is nowhere near the extremely high levels recorded at the start of 2021, the figures are still a poor baseline to "stop a potential fourth surge" — especially with the threat posed by more contagious new variants, Walensky warned.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduces "ultra-millionaire" wealth tax bill

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday introduced a bill in the Senate that would impose a new tax on the assets of America's wealthiest individuals.

Why it matters: The plan, which Warren introduced along with Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) is similar to a proposal that was the centerpiece of Warren's campaign for the presidency in 2020.

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Private equity firms dodge cost-cutting and aim for revenue growth

Private equity is mimicking venture capital, banking on revenue growth instead of cost-cutting.

Why it matters: PE firms may struggle to maintain historical returns, particularly if the bull market slows its rampage and they're stuck with overpriced and overleveraged portfolios.

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Former French President Sarkozy sentenced to jail for corruption

A court in Paris on Monday sentenced former French President Nicolas Sarkozy to one year in prison and a two-year suspended sentence, after he was found guilty of trying to bribe a magistrate, the AP reports.

Driving the news: Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, is the first president in France’s modern history to have gone on trial for corruption, per AP. He was charged with corruption and influence-peddling.

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Canceled NFL Scouting Combine puts 40-yard dashes on the backburner

Top NFL prospects would normally be gathering in Indianapolis this week for the annual Scouting Combine. But due to the pandemic, this year's event has been canceled.

What they're saying: No combine means no 40-yard dash times making headlines. Former scout and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah thinks that could be a glimpse of the future:

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J&J CEO "absolutely" confident in vaccine distribution goal of 100 million doses by June

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said Monday that he is "absolutely" confident that the company will be able to meet its distribution goals, which include 100 million doses by June and up to a billion by the end of 2021.

Driving the news: J&J is already in the process of shipping 3.9 million doses this week, just days after the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the one-shot vaccine. Gorsky said he expects vaccines to be administered to Americans "literally within the next 24 to 48 hours."

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