Trump just tried to change US COVID policy in Biden's term — but Biden's team says it won't happen

Trump just tried to change US COVID policy in Biden's term — but Biden's team says it won't happen
Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden speaking with supporters at a community event at Sun City MacDonald Ranch in Henderson, Nevada. Credit: Gage Skidmore

In a bizarre move on Monday, President Donald Trump released a proclamation seeking to lift the pandemic-related travel restrictions on much of Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil. The administration had recently put the restrictions in place, understandably, to limit spread of the virus. But the odd feature of the new decision to lift restrictions was the fact that it sought to make the change effective on Jan. 26 — once Trump is no longer president.

For some reason, several news outlets covered the development at face value, announcing that Trump and the United States were, in fact, making this change — even though everyone knows Trump won't be president on Jan. 26. But pretty soon after the news broke, Jen Psaki, a member of President-elect Joe Biden's incoming communications team, shot down the news.

"With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel," Psaki said on Twitter. "On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

In a statement from the White House, Trump had cited the advice of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who is also leaving on Jan. 20 like Trump, for deciding to ease the restrictions:

On January 12, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order, effective January 26, 2021, requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 for all air passengers arriving from a foreign country to the United States. The Secretary has explained that this action will help to prevent air passengers from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and the Federative Republic of Brazil from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 into the United States, as it is the Secretary's understanding that the vast majority of persons entering the United States from these jurisdictions do so by air.
...
Accordingly, the Secretary has advised me to remove the restrictions applicable to the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and the Federative Republic of Brazil, while leaving in place the restrictions applicable to the People's Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran. I agree with the Secretary that this action is the best way to continue protecting Americans from COVID-19 while enabling travel to resume safely.

It goes on to say:

Proclamation 9993 of March 11, 2020 (Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus), Proclamation 9996 of March 14, 2020 (Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus), and Proclamation 10041 of May 24, 2020 (Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus), are hereby terminated effective at 12:01 a.m. eastern standard time on January 26, 2021.

Of course, the clear truth is that, under normal circumstances, neither Azar nor Trump would be making decisions about policies that will extend between administrations without extensive consultation during the transition. But because of his refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election, Trump has had little or zero interaction with Biden — there's no indication yet that he ever even called to concede the race. The normal coordination that would happen between presidents on a policy of this magnitude is absent.

And beyond Trump's own actions, there have been many indications that the Biden transition team hasn't gotten the full cooperation it wanted or needed from the current administration. This episode only illustrates what is likely a broader problem and failure to communicate on behalf of the Trump White House and administration. The impact of this breakdown may be wide-ranging and difficult to fully assess.

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