Biden receives congratulations from China's Xi, to address Americans on COVID-19

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Joe Biden received congratulations for his election victory from China’s President Xi Jinping on Wednesday as he prepared to give a speech highlighting the challenges Americans face as COVID-19 cases surge on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Biden, who introduced his foreign policy and national security team on Tuesday as he begins a formal transition to the White House after defeating Republican President Donald Trump, has promised to make fighting the pandemic a top priority after taking office on Jan. 20.

China’s foreign ministry, though not Xi himself, congratulated Biden on Nov. 13, nearly a week after many U.S. allies had, holding out as Trump, who is still challenging the election results on the basis of unsubstantiated voting fraud claims, refused to concede defeat.

In his congratulatory message to Biden on Wednesday, Xi said healthy ties between the world’s two biggest economies were not only in the fundamental interests of their two peoples but also expected by the international community, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Trump has marked his last year in office with frequent China-bashing. The world’s two largest economies sparred over China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic – a public health crisis that Trump sometimes has called the “China plague” – as well as deteriorating freedoms in Hong Kong and territorial issues in the South China Sea. Trump also presided over trade tensions with China.

Biden’s planned address is meant to offer encouragement during an intensifying pandemic and focus on the sacrifices Americans are making during the holiday season, his office said, as officials across the country plead with people to stay at home and avoid large gatherings that could spread the pathogen.

About 260,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and infections are surging on a national scale. The daily U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 2,000 on Tuesday for the first time since May.

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Millions of Americans have flocked to airports and highways in the days before Thursday’s holiday, leading to the busiest U.S. travel period since the early days of the pandemic in March, though well below pre-pandemic holiday levels.

Biden, who plans to spend Thanksgiving at home in Delaware with a few family members, said on Tuesday his team has been able to coordinate with the Trump administration on the pandemic, vaccine distribution plans and national security since getting the green light on Monday for formal transition efforts.

The White House also gave the go-ahead for Biden to start receiving the president’s daily intelligence briefing.

“It’s been offered,” Biden told reporters on Tuesday. “I did not have it today. We’re going to do it on a regular basis.”

TRUMP TRIP CANCELED

Trump has waged a failed legal battle to overturn the election results, falsely claiming it was stolen. Critics have said Trump’s refusal to accept the results has damaged American democracy and undercut Biden’s ability to fight the pandemic and prepare to deal with national security threats.

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A planned trip by Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani to a Pennsylvania Senate committee meeting in Gettysburg, which was expected to seize on the unsubstantiated claims of voting fraud, was canceled as journalists were gathering to accompany Trump.

Gettysburg is best known as the site of a pivotal 1863 battle in the U.S. Civil War and the famed Gettysburg Address in which President Abraham Lincoln vowed that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Biden’s communications director, Kate Bedingfield, called the planned Gettysburg event on Wednesday “a sideshow,” adding that the president-elect was continuing to move forward with the transition and preparing to tackle the crises facing the country.

Giuliani unsuccessfully pursued a lawsuit aiming to block the certification of Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania. U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, in dismissing the Pennsylvania lawsuit on Saturday, compared the Trump team’s arguments claiming voter fraud to a “Frankenstein’s Monster” that was “haphazardly stitched together” using meritless legal arguments and speculative accusations.

Biden has moved swiftly to fill some top jobs in his administration. Biden also signaled that two former, more liberal, rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, were not under consideration for Cabinet appointments, saying he needed their votes in the closely divided Senate.

Two runoffs in Georgia on Jan. 5 will determine which party controls the 100-seat U.S. Senate. Democrats control the 435-member House of Representatives.

Trump has told allies he plans to pardon his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a source familiar with the situation said on Tuesday.

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