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Incoming White House plans extraordinary steps to protect Biden from COVID-19

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."


  • Besides protecting Biden, he and his team want to model best practices and are insisting that West Wing officials abide by the highest standards. Biden is asking the nation to "mask up" for the first 100 days of his administration.

The big picture: The guidance was sent to incoming staffers who will have “proximity” to any White House “principals,” generally defined as heads of departments like the National Security Council and the National Economic Council.

  • The email also holds out the prospect that some West Wing aides will soon be eligible for a vaccine. “For those of you who have not yet received your first vaccine,” the guidance reads, “we will follow up in the coming days with information on how to do so.”
  • The guidance will have its biggest impact in the West Wing, where staffers gladly accept tight quarters for proximity to the Oval Office. The email instructs staffers to remain 6 feet apart at all times. In reality, that means that lone employees will work in offices that usually have bullpen seating.
  • Fifteen-minute rapid antigen tests will be conducted in the White House medical office, and aides who need to be at the White House regularly will be asked to sign-up on a testing schedule.

"The Biden White House will follow public health guidelines that ensure that we are keeping all staff safe during the pandemic," a transition official told Axios.

The bottom line: The White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building will start at a diminished capacity, as many Biden aides work from home in the administration's opening days.

Report: U.S. urges UN-led Afghan peace talks and warns of Taliban "territorial gain" threat

Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed in a letter to President Ashraf Ghani steps including a UN-facilitated summit to revive stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Afghanistan's TOLOnews first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: Blinken expresses concern in the letter, also obtained by Western news outlets, of a potential "spring offensive by the Taliban" and that the "security situation will worsen and the Taliban could make rapid territorial gain" after an American military withdrawal, even with the continuation of U.S. financial aid.

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Harry and Meghan accuse British royal family of racism

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle delivered a devastating indictment of the U.K. royal family in their conservation with Oprah Winfey: Both said unnamed relatives had expressed concern about what the skin tone of their baby would be. And they accused "the firm" of character assassination and "perpetuating falsehoods."

Why it matters: An institution that thrives on myth now faces harsh reality. The explosive two-hour interview gave an unprecedented, unsparing window into the monarchy: Harry said his father and brother "are trapped," and Markle revealed that the the misery of being a working royal drove her to thoughts of suicide.

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Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has taken the coronavirus vaccine

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla tells "Axios on HBO" that he recently received his first of two doses of the company's coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: Bourla told CNBC in December that company polling found that one of the most effective ways to increase confidence in the vaccine was to have the CEO take it.

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Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse: SEC lawsuit is "bad for crypto" in the U.S.

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse tells "Axios on HBO" that if his company loses a lawsuit brought by U.S. regulators, it would put the country at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to cryptocurrencies.

Between the lines: The SEC in December sued Ripple, and Garlinghouse personally, for allegedly selling over $1.3 billion in unregistered securities. Ripple's response is that its cryptocurrency, called XRP, didn't require registration because it's an asset rather than a security.

Pfizer CEO: "It will be terrible" if COVID vaccine prices limit access

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told "Axios on HBO" that it "will be terrible for society" if the price of coronavirus vaccines ever prohibits some people from taking them.

Why it matters: Widespread uptake of the vaccine — which might require annual booster shots — will reduce the risk of the virus continuing to spread and mutate, but it's unclear who will pay for future shots or how much they'll cost.

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Lindsey Graham intends to "lean into" climate change during Biden era

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told "Axios on HBO" he intends to "lean into" climate change and that he has already discussed potential common ground with President Biden's special climate envoy John Kerry.

Behind the scenes: In a follow-up interview with Axios, Graham said Kerry called him in November, around the time Kerry's new position was announced, to see if there were openings to work together.

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Lindsey Graham: Trump could make the GOP "stronger" or "destroy" it

Sen. Lindsey Graham told "Axios on HBO" that Donald Trump has a "dark side" but he tries to "harness the magic" because he succeeded where Republican candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney failed.

Why it matters: The South Carolina Republican gyrates between support and criticism of the former president, even after Trump harshly criticized McCain — Graham's longtime friend — and helped spark the Capitol insurrection.

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Senate plots its own earmark comeback

With the Senate done battling over President Biden's coronavirus rescue package, it's preparing to tackle another priority: earmarks.

Driving the news: Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top members on the Senate Appropriations Committee, are expected to work out a deal restoring the congressional spending tool in the coming weeks, committee aides tell Axios.

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