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Biden issues stark warning to Americans ahead of holidays

President-elect Joe Biden spoke Tuesday in Delaware, addressing the pandemic surge and the new relief package ahead of the holiday. White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, who was at the event, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President-elect Biden spoke today, as we reported, in Delaware. He addressed the pandemic surge and the relief package ahead of the holiday.

    Yamiche Alcindor was at the event. And she joins us now from Wilmington.

    So, hello, Yamiche.

    Tell us about what — more about what the president-elect had to say in these days leading up to Christmas. He had a pretty dire warning, didn't he?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right.

    President-elect Joe Biden really issued a stark warning to Americans, as, of course, 320,000 Americans have now died from the coronavirus pandemic. He said that Americans are going to need to steel their spines and be ready, because he said the darkest days are ahead of us, not behind us.

    That, of course, is remarkable, thinking about all the things people lived through in 2020. But he said, I'm going to give it to you straight. I'm going to tell you the truth about this. He said, look, the vaccine, the COVID vaccine, is great, it's promising. We're hoping to get it to as many Americans as possible, but he said the vaccine is not going to stop people from dying.

    And he was making, of course, that contrast because President Trump has downplayed the coronavirus pandemic, has been accused of spreading disinformation about the pandemic, so that was Joe Biden in some ways separating himself from the administration that he's going to be taking over from.

    He also said that he's willing and wanting to work with Congress to try to get more COVID relief done. Of course, we have been covering this all week, with Lisa giving us the play-by-play. And he said that he — once he comes into office, he wants to see a new bill. He says that this is really just a down payment.

    I should remind people that, a few weeks ago, Joe Biden told me that — when I was questioning him, that he wanted to see billions of new dollars poured into the economy, not trillions, but billions.

    So, we have to keep watching what exactly he does.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Different subject, Yamiche.

    He addressed the reported, suspected hack by the Russians of U.S. government agencies, private companies. What are we learning, what are you learning about how he plans to respond himself to all this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, president-elect Biden really left this squarely in the fault of President Trump. He said this happened under President Trump's watch. He said that these hackers that look like they are Russian hackers — experts say that — that they are really people who caught the United States off-guard and unprepared.

    He said that President Trump, while he's still in office for these 20-odd days left, that he really needs to do something about this. He also said that he pledged he would get ready and get the country and the government more protected.

    I questioned him specifically, can you ensure Americans that these government agencies that were targeted, including the Department of Homeland Security and State Department, will they be safe when you are president? And he said, Judy, "I cannot."

    That in some ways is a really remarkable statement, thinking about the fact that there's so much at stake and that experts have said that we're not sure we will know whether or not Russia is continuing to be in those networks and whether or not we will be able to remove them in a quick time period or if it is going to take years to do so.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, more broadly, Yamiche, we are expecting the president-elect to announce more of his picks for his Cabinet this week, including for secretary of education.

    What are you hearing about all that?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right.

    The Biden administration, the Biden transition team, they're continuing to make picks, continuing to do the work, even though, I should say, president-elect Biden said today they're not getting all the cooperation they want to, especially when it comes to the Defense Department, as well as other pockets of the government.

    That being said, we know that president-elect Biden is expected to pick Miguel Cardona.

    And I want to put up for people a little bit about his background. He's a Puerto Rican education official. He was Connecticut's education commissioner. He was also a former public school teacher and principal. This is a — he's seen as a lifelong champion for public school, which is much different than Betsy DeVos, the current education secretary.

    Also, he has pushed for schools to reopen during COVID. Now, people who are allies of Cardona say that he's someone who's really going to be trying to turn the U.S. government and the Education Department back to supporting public schools. There are a lot of critics of Betsy DeVos, the current education secretary, who say she was focused too much on school choice, focused too much on the private sector, and not doing enough to really help public schools, especially during the pandemic.

    I also think it's very interesting that he is pressing for schools to be reopened during the pandemic. He's saying, essentially, that there are too many students, too many children who are being left behind in the middle of the pandemic.

    This is, in some ways, a controversial idea. But there are, of course, people who want to see more students in schools and others of course, who say it's just not safe.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Yamiche, turning to President Trump, he is continuing to push these unfounded claims of widespread fraud in the election that led to his defeat.

    But, today, we see two of his prominent allies in the media backing away from that. What have you learned about what's happened here?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    This is pretty remarkable.

    We saw really unusual walk-backs from FOX News, as well as Newsmax, which is a smaller conservative network. They both backed away from reporting that they were doing that was, in some ways, insinuating that voting machines, somehow, the votes may have been changed because of those machines.

    What we saw were two companies then threaten those networks with legal action, saying that you are essentially lying about our companies. We then saw FOX News and Newsmax say, in fact, that there is no evidence that voting machines have been changed or that there was any sort of fraud there.

    It's really important, because President Trump has continued to make the case, even though there's no evidence, even though he has lost in court case after court case, he continues to make the case that these voting machines were messed with and that that's — somehow, that's the reason why he lost the 2020 election.

    So, in some ways, we're seeing these media outlets back away from the president's claims.

    I also think it's notable because there are allies of the president who tell me, as well as other reporters, that they are increasingly worried about the fact that the president wants to go through even more means to try to take back this election, thinking about putting in a special counsel to oversee election fraud and other means.

    There are a lot of people who are very worried about the president's actions. He hasn't taken those actions yet. But this — these media companies walking that back, as well as the president continuing to really say things that could be very scary, tells us where we are in this moment, where the president now has about 29 days left in office.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it sounds like this threat of legal action had something to do with what happened.

    Yamiche Alcindor reporting again on the outgoing president and the incoming one.

    Thank you, Yamiche.

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