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White House confirms it is sending vaccines to Canada

Canada is about to get a big boost in vaccine doses, with a first cross-border shipment from the United States, as the southern neighbour ever-so-slightly eases the tight grip on its supply.

The White House confirmed Friday that the U.S. will allow exports of four million AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine doses to Canada and Mexico, with 1.5 million doses headed to Canada.

That’s equivalent to a more than a one-third boost in total doses administered in Canada, an influx that will still leave Canada far behind the U.S. in its overall rate of vaccinated citizens.

The shipment dates are still being finalized, though one Canadian official said vaccines could arrive in Canada within a few days.

“We’re able to announce that we are lending a portion of our releasable AstraZeneca vaccines to Mexico and to Canada,” said Jeffrey Zients, the White House co-ordinator for the COVID-19 response. 

“This action will allow our neighbours to meet a critical vaccination need in their countries, providing more protection immediately across the North American continent.”

Zients’ colleague Andy Slavitt also tweeted the news. The White House had said Thursday the countries were finalizing plans, and, amid numerous conversations between the capitals, the news was made official Friday.

The Canadian official said the vaccine doses have expiry dates in May and June, leaving ample time to get them administered to Canadians.

Vaccines were sitting unused in the U.S.

White House officials, aware of the potential for political blow back at home over exporting vaccines during a pandemic, said the decision would not affect the U.S.’s own immunization schedule: the country plans to have enough supply for all Americans by May 31.

This transfer involves a product Americans aren’t currently using. The U.S. has yet to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, and is sending some of the doses it has stockpiled before they risk the threat of expiring.

The country has also vaccinated its residents at a rate four times faster than Canada’s. On Friday, the U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration celebrated news that 100 million vaccine doses have been administered in 58 days, well ahead of its stated target.

Canada and Mexico will return the doses to the U.S. later this year, Zients said. He said the return would be handled through AstraZeneca.

The Biden administration said earlier this week that it was working on a deal to loan vaccines to Canada and Mexico. On Friday, Jeff Zients, the co-ordinator of the White House COVID-19 response, seen here in December, confirmed it’s going ahead. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Marc-André Gagnon, a pharmaceutical policy expert at Carleton University in Ottawa, says the export of these particular vaccines, at this particular time, makes obvious sense.

He said the U.S. couldn’t sit on unapproved doses for much longer, lest it invite the worrying scenario of coveted vaccines going to waste in U.S. warehouses.

Why this is happening now

“I think that the expiry consideration can be the best explanation [for] why the U.S. would waive the export ban,” he said in an email.

At the same time, he said, it would have been politically toxic for the Biden administration to export other vaccines Americans are currently using — so he said shipping Astrazeneca doses was the safest political bet.

But he said the fact these AstraZeneca vaccines haven’t been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration raises a worrying question: Why?

The delay in approval is problematic whether it stems from a valid scientific concern or non-scientific considerations, he said.

Steve Morgan, a pharmaceutical-policy expert at the University of British Columbia, said the threat of vaccines expiring also looms large. 

“The Biden administration would far rather loan these vaccines to neighbours than wear the potential disaster of having millions of vaccines expire in the U.S.,” he said.

Another consideration at play: migration.

The continental migration angle

Some border-state lawmakers have urged the administration to get vaccines next to Canada and Mexico, in order to help get America’s land borders reopened earlier.

The shipment also potentially buys some goodwill with Mexico, whose help the Biden administration needs to stem a surge in undocumented migrants coming from Central America.

White House reporters have pressed Biden’s spokespeople on whether the vaccine shipments are intended as part of a plan to get Mexico to clamp down on migration.

Canada has been importing COVID-19 vaccines from overseas, as with this batch overseen by Canada Border Services Agency personnel on March 3. Expect a shipment soon from the U.S. (via REUTERS)

Biden spokespeople have replied that they’re having different conversations with Mexico at the same time. 

“As you can imagine, when you’re having conversations with different countries, you’re talking about different issues,” deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Friday on Air Force One.

“So that is that is what’s happening. … When you think about Mexico, when you think about Canada, those are our neighbours, we have similar interests,” Jean-Pierre said.

“And we want to make sure that we’re doing our part in beating back this pandemic. There are no borders when it comes to the pandemic.”

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White House says U.S. plans to send 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada

The United States plans to send roughly 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that it is not using to Canada and Mexico through loan deals with the two countries, the White House confirmed today.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that a number of countries, including Canada and Mexico, have asked the U.S. for doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but those loan deals are still being worked out. 

Psaki confirmed today that the U.S. has “seven million releasable doses” of the AstraZeneca vaccine “available.”

“2.5 million of those, we are working to finalize plans to lend those to Mexico, and 1.5 million to Canada,” she said.

“It’s not fully finalized yet. It’s our aim and what we’re working toward, to Canada and Mexico. It’s a complex process and our team is working with the companies to move it forward.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki takes a question from a reporter during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Washington. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

“This virus has no borders,” a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity earlier in the day. “We only put the virus behind us if we’re helping our global partners.”

The “releasable” vaccines are ready to be used once they arrive, Reuters reported. Under the deal, the United States will share doses with Mexico and Canada now — with the understanding that they will send the United States doses in return. The official said that would take place later this year.

The Biden administration has come under pressure from allies worldwide to share vaccine doses — particularly the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is authorized for use in other countries but not yet cleared for use in the United States.

AstraZeneca has millions of doses made in a U.S. facility and has said that it would have 30 million shots ready at the beginning of April.

The deal does not affect President Joe Biden’s plan to have vaccine doses available for all adults in the United States by the end of May, an official told Reuters. The deal is likely to be announced publicly in the coming days.

Two officials said the vaccine would be delivered in “short order” once the deal was completed, but they declined to give a more specific timetable.

The Associated Press also quoted an unnamed official saying that a loan deal for 2.5 million doses to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada is in the works.

U.K. clears AstraZeneca

News of the loan deal comes as the United Kingdom’s drug regulator reports that a “rigorous scientific review” has ruled out the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as the cause of blood clots in veins. The regulator is doing a more detailed study looking at blood clots in the brain.

The U.K. Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any risks.

Health Canada officials are attending a meeting of the European Medicines Agency, which is set to issue a report on blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine today.

Many European countries halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine following reports of blood clots in about three dozen patients.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said Canada is monitoring all the evidence closely. 

Health Canada has said the vaccine’s benefits are strong and it has not seen evidence to link the vaccine to blood clots.

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White House says it’s ‘carefully’ considering vaccine requests from Canada and Mexico

This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians. 

A White House spokesperson says the United States is carefully considering requests to eventually ship that country’s excess supplies of COVID-19 vaccines across the border to its neighbours in Canada and Mexico.

But she cautions that nothing is confirmed at this point. 

The comments come amid mounting anticipation of what might happen to the stockpile of doses in the U.S. after that country has enough supply for all its residents, likely by late May.

This week, U.S. President Joe Biden said he was speaking with several countries — without naming any. On Wednesday, Bloomberg News reported that Canada and Mexico topped Biden’s list of priority export destinations, according to an administration official.

The issue was raised with White House spokesperson Jen Psaki, who replied with a warning that any shipments are not imminent. She said the U.S. still needs its vaccines, as 1,400 Americans are still dying of COVID-19 each day, and that the U.S. priority remains getting Americans vaccinated.

Psaki added, however, that the administration also wants to be a contributing member of the global community in getting the pandemic under control, and that there are requests from around the world.

“We have received requests from both Mexico and Canada and are considering those requests carefully,” Psaki said.

“But I don’t have any update for you on whether they will be granted, and a timeline for that.” 

Some members of the U.S. Congress have said it should be a U.S. priority to vaccinate others on this continent next, in order to get land borders reopened, citing the economic and human ties Americans have with those two neighbouring countries. 

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White House sends a message about foreign policy in announcing Biden call with Trudeau

In announcing a planned phone call on Friday between U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the White House’s intended message was clear: Traditional allies are back in favour while despots, dictators and the killers of dissenters are on the outs.

The way press secretary Jen Psaki announced the scheduled call with Trudeau was revealing, as it came in response to a question that had nothing at all to do with Canada’s prime minister.

She was asked about Vladimir Putin. Specifically, she was asked when Biden would speak with the Russian leader. Psaki replied that it wasn’t an immediate priority.

“[Biden’s] first foreign leader call will be on Friday with Prime Minister Trudeau,” she said.

“I would expect his early calls will be with partners and allies. He feels it’s important to rebuild those relationships.”

U.S. plans to investigate Russia

Psaki elaborated on Putin in a separate news conference where she described Russia as “reckless” and “adversarial.” 

She said Biden has tasked the intelligence community with reporting on a variety of alleged Russian transgressions: cyberattacks on U.S. companies, interference in U.S. politics, the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and Russian-paid bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

Yet the goal of rebalancing relationships away from rivals toward like-minded countries has been tested already.

Some Canadians, notably Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, want trade retaliation against the U.S. following the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline on Day 1 of the new administration. The decision undermines Canada’s No. 1 export to the United States: oil.

WATCH | The National’s report on Keystone XL: 

Many officials are hoping for improved relations between Canada and the United States under President Joe Biden, but his executive order cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline dealt some of those hopes an early blow — especially in Alberta. 2:02

Biden’s foreign policy ambitions will keep being tested as international relationships undergo unwieldy twists on any given issue due to practical and political considerations. 

Here is what we already know about the Biden administration’s approach to other countries after its first couple of days in office.

The moves so far

The administration will release a report on suspected Saudi government involvement in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, an issue the last administration showed little interest in pursuing.

It is also threatening to cancel support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

It is willing to consider new NATO expansion on Russia’s doorstep, into Georgia, and in fact is staunchly supportive of the international military alliance.

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, seen here in 2018 holding a chart of military hardware sales to Saudi Arabia, had a warm relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left. Biden will release a report on the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen alive on Oct. 2, 2018, entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

And Biden has rejoined previous alliances the U.S. was either scheduled to exit (the World Health Organization) or had already left (the Paris climate accord).

These activities are intended to signal a dramatic change in foreign policy from Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who frequently bashed the leaders of democracies and international institutions while simultaneously cultivating friendly relationships with non-democratic leaders in the Middle East, Russia and North Korea.

There will be contradictions in Biden’s approach — as there were in Trump’s. 

For example, while Trump often had kind words for dictators, he also sanctioned their countries on occasion, including Russia and China.

Biden, seen here with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2011, has demanded a series of intelligence reports on Putin’s actions against the U.S. (Alexander Natruskin/Reuters)

Also, don’t count on an ambitious foreign policy from Biden. Early on, the new administration will be busy juggling domestic crises, said Edward Alden, an expert on Canada-U.S. relations.

“I think we are going to see an approach to alliances that looks a lot like [Barack] Obama’s — engaged, respectful, but not overly ambitious,” said Alden, a senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

“The United States has enormous problems at home, and those are going to take priority for some time.” 

Alden said he does expect some new international initiatives, such as more active co-operation on global vaccine distribution.

Biden wants changes on Canada-U.S. pandemic travel 

On COVID-19, Biden also wants to immediately connect with Canada and Mexico to establish new rules within 14 days for pandemic-related travel safety measures.   

Alden also expects an attempt to rework and revive the international nuclear deal with Iran, and establish greater co-ordination with other countries in confronting China.

For example, Biden has proposed a summit of democracies where countries can share ideas for countering autocracies. 

Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told his confirmation hearing this week that the last administration had a point in reorienting policy toward Beijing.

“President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China,” Blinken said. “The basic principle was the right one, and I think that’s actually helpful to our foreign policy.”

He got into a testy exchange at that hearing with Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian-minded Republican who favours a hands-off approach on foreign affairs. 

When Blinken said he was open to expanding NATO membership to Russia’s neighbour Georgia, Paul called that a recipe for war with Russia.

Blinken argued the opposite is true. After years of Russian incursions in non-NATO Georgia and Ukraine, recent evidence suggests Russia is most belligerent with countries outside NATO’s shield, he said.

Keystone XL: The early irritant

Biden and Trudeau are expected to discuss new travel measures to control the spread of COVID-19, as well as Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline expansion that would run south from Alberta to Nebraska.

So far, Trudeau has shown little desire to escalate the pipeline issue. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, on the other hand, has demanded retaliatory action, and some trade experts say potential legal avenues do exist.

WATCH | Kenny on the fate of Keystone XL: 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the federal government ‘folded’ in response to U.S President Joe Biden’s decision to revoke the Keystone XL pipeline. 2:14

But they’re skeptical they will achieve much.

Eric Miller of the Rideau Potomac Strategy Group, a cross-border consulting firm specializing in trade and government affairs, said the best that pipeline-backers can hope for is to sue the U.S. government for financial compensation for the cancelled project.

He said the Alberta government and the project’s developer, TC Energy, can try suing under the investor-state dispute chapter in the old NAFTA, which will remain in effect for two more years for existing investments.

“[But] nothing is going to force the Biden administration to deliver the permit,” Miller said.

“One has to be clear that there is no world in which Joe Biden [retreats on this].”

Canada-U.S. trade lawyer Dan Ujczo said he doubts complaints from Canada will make a difference. He said the most politically effective argument for the pipeline would come from Americans — from the companies and unions that would have serviced the project.

The Ohio-based lawyer said challenges under U.S. laws, such as the Administrative Procedures Act, could potentially work, but he cautioned: “They’re high hurdles.”

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White House staffers working close to Trump, Pence to be offered early COVID-19 vaccine access

Senior U.S. government officials, including some White House officials who work in close proximity to President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence, will be offered coronavirus vaccines as soon as this week, while its public distribution is limited to front-line health workers and people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Doses of the newly approved vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech will be made available to those who work in close quarters with the country’s top leaders, two people familiar with the matter confirmed. They said the move was meant to prevent more COVID-19 spread in the White House, which has already suffered from several outbreaks of the virus that infected Trump and other top officials, and other critical facilities.

It was not immediately clear how many officials would be offered the vaccine initially and whether Trump or Pence would get it.

The Trump administration is undertaking the vaccination program under federal continuity of government plans, officials said.

“Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy,” said National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot. “The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership.”

A nurse administers the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in London, U.K., on Tuesday. (Frank Augstein/AP)

The two people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The New York Times first reported the news.

The move to vaccinate top U.S. officials would be consistent with the rollout of rapid testing machines for the coronavirus, which were similarly controlled by the federal government with kits reserved to protect the White House complex and other critical facilities.

According to guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is not yet enough information to determine whether those who have had COVID-19 should also get the vaccine. Pence has not come down with the virus, and his aides have been discussing when and how he should receive the vaccine as the administration looks to boost public confidence in the shot.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses administered three weeks apart, meaning Trump administration officials would receive the final shot just weeks before leaving office.

WATCH | Small players will play big roles in ‘cold chain’ of vaccine delivery:

On both sides of the border, small companies are taking on a big role in helping perfect the cold chain to keep the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine cold enough for safe delivery. And one key component is making sure there’s enough dry ice to keep the vaccine cold enough. 2:06

The Trump administration’s vaccination plan could prove to be a boon for his successor, as aides to President-elect Joe Biden have been discussing when and how he should receive the vaccine and working to establish plans to boost virus safeguards in the West Wing to keep the 78-year-old Democrat healthy.

The White House vaccinations come as Trump and his aides have consistently flouted the COVID-19 guidelines issued by his own administration, including hosting large holiday parties with maskless attendees this December.

According to a Capitol Hill official, lawmakers have not been informed how many doses would be made available to them, adding it would be premature to speculate who might receive them. The official was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Trump tells crowded White House holiday gathering he might run again in 2024

U.S. President Donald Trump teased running again for president in 2024 as he hosted a holiday reception at the White House on Tuesday evening.

“It’s been an amazing four years,” Trump told the crowd, which included many Republican National Committee members. “We’re trying to do another four years. Otherwise, I’ll see you in four years.”

The video of Trump’s appearance was streamed live on Facebook by one attendee, former Oklahoma Republican Party Chair Pam Pollard. It showed dozens of people crammed into the Cross Hall of the White House state floor, standing closely together. Many seen in the video were not wearing masks.

The Trumps began hosting holiday receptions this week, intent on celebrating a final season before Trump leaves office on Jan. 20.

According to social media postings reviewed by The Associated Press, the events have featured large crowds of often maskless attendees gathered indoors — violating the very public health guidance the U.S. government has pressed the nation to follow this holiday season as cases of COVID-19 skyrocket across the country.

The Cross Hall leading to the East Room of the White House. The Trumps began hosting holiday receptions this week, often with large crowds of people not wearing masks. (Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)

In the video, Trump is heard continuing to air baseless allegations of election fraud to explain his defeat by president-elect Joe Biden despite his attorney general, William Barr, telling the AP earlier Tuesday that the U.S. Justice Department had not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud and had seen nothing that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

“It’s certainly an unusual year. We won an election. But they don’t like that,” Trump told the group, adding: “I call it a rigged election, and I always will.”

Superspreader event

The White House has been the site of at least one suspected COVID-19 superspreader event, and dozens of the president’s aides, campaign staffers and allies have tested positive in numerous outbreaks. Trump himself was hospitalized for the virus in October, and his wife and two of his sons have tested positive. Numerous others have had to quarantine.

Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump’s spokesperson and chief of staff, had said last month that the White House would be moving forward with events, “while providing the safest environment possible.” She said that would include smaller guest lists, that “masks will be required and available, social distancing encouraged while on the White House grounds, and hand sanitizer stations throughout the State Floor.”

“Attending the parties will be a very personal choice,” she said.

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Trump COVID-19 adviser Scott Atlas resigns from White House job

Dr. Scott Atlas, a science adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump who was skeptical of measures to control the coronavirus outbreak, is leaving his White House post.

A White House official confirmed that the Stanford University neuroradiologist, who had no formal experience in public health or infectious diseases, resigned at the end of his temporary government assignment.

Atlas confirmed the news in a letter to Trump dated Dec. 1 that he posted on Twitter.

In his letter, Atlas listed what he considered accomplishments in reopening schools and expanding virus testing while also defending himself against his many critics.

“Like all scientists and health policy scholars, I learned new information and synthesized the latest data from around the world, all in an effort to provide you with the best information to serve the greater good,” he wrote.

Atlas joined the White House this summer, where he clashed with top government scientists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, as he resisted stronger efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 267,000 people in the U.S. Atlas has been sharply criticized by public health experts, including Fauci, for providing Trump with misleading or incorrect information on the pandemic.

Atlas has broken with government experts and the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community to criticize efforts to encourage face covering to slow the spread of the virus. Just weeks ago on Twitter he responded to Michigan’s latest virus restrictions by encouraging people to “rise up” against the state’s policies.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called Atlas’s call “incredibly reckless.” “We really all need to be focused on the public health crisis that is ravaging our country and that poses a very real threat to every one of us,” the Democratic governor said.

Atlas later tweeted that he “NEVER” would endorse or incite violence. Fourteen men have been charged in connection with an alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer.

His views also prompted Stanford to issue a statement distancing itself from the faculty member, saying Atlas “has expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic.”

“We support using masks, social distancing, and conducting surveillance and diagnostic testing,” the university said Nov. 16. “We also believe in the importance of strictly following the guidance of local and state health authorities.”

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Biden chooses all-female senior White House press team

President-elect Joe Biden will have an all-female senior communications team at his White House, naming longtime Democratic spokesperson Jen Psaki as his White House press secretary and campaign spokesperson Kate Bedingfield as communications director.

Biden also plans to name Neera Tanden, the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, as director of the Office of Management and Budget, according to a person familiar with the transition process granted anonymity to speak freely about internal deliberations.

All three are veterans of the Obama administration. Bedingfield served as communications director for Biden while he was vice president; Psaki was a White House communications director and a spokesperson at the State Department; and Tanden served as a senior adviser to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and helped craft the Affordable Care Act.

“Communicating directly and truthfully to the American people is one of the most important duties of a President, and this team will be entrusted with the tremendous responsibility of connecting the American people to the White House,” Biden said in a statement.

“These qualified, experienced communicators bring diverse perspectives to their work and a shared commitment to building this country back better,” he added.

Karine Jean Pierre, who was Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ chief of staff, will serve as a principal deputy press secretary for the president-elect. She’s another Obama administration alum, having served as a regional political director for the White House office of political affairs.

Pili Tobar, who was communications director for coalitions on Biden’s campaign, will be his deputy White House communications director. She most recently was deputy director for America’s Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group, and was a press staffer for Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Biden also plans to name Neera Tanden, pictured in 2014, as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden is the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. (Mel Evans/The Associated Press)

The transition also announced the appointment of three Biden campaign senior advisers to top communications roles. Ashley Etienne, a former communications director for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will serve as Harris’ communications director. Symone Sanders, another senior adviser on the Biden campaign, will be Harris’ senior adviser and chief spokesperson.

Elizabeth Alexander, who served as the former vice president’s press secretary and his communications director while he was a U.S. senator from Delaware, will serve as Jill Biden’s communications director.

Biden suffers fractures in foot

Biden, meanwhile, suffered hairline fractures in his foot while playing with one of his dogs and will probably have to wear a protective boot for several weeks, his personal physician said on Sunday.

The incident happened on Saturday, Biden’s office said in a statement, with the 78-year-old Democrat visiting an orthopedist on Sunday for X-rays and a CT scan.

WATCH | Biden says foreign policy, national security team will make U.S. proud:

While announcing a foreign policy and national security team that he says will keep Americans safe and secure, U.S. president-elect Joe Biden expressed his gratitude for state certifications that he says help ‘wrap up’ the presidential election. 2:30

The president-elect’s communications hires reflect Biden’s stated desire to build out a diverse White House team — four of the seven top communications roles will be filled by women of colour, and it’s the first time the entire senior White House communications team has been entirely female.

But they also reflect what’s expected to be a return to a more traditional White House press operation, after President Donald Trump upended the ways in which his administration communicated with the press.

After his campaign went virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, Biden faced some of his own criticism for not being accessible to reporters. But near the end of the campaign, he answered questions from the press more frequently, and his transition team has held weekly briefings since he was elected president.

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Trump says he’ll leave White House if electoral college votes for Biden, but he may never concede

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will leave the White House if the electoral college votes for president-elect Joe Biden, the closest he has come to conceding the Nov. 3 election, even as he repeated his unfounded claims of massive voter fraud.

Speaking to reporters on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, Trump, a Republican, said if Democrat Biden — who is due to be sworn in on Jan. 20 — is certified the election winner by the electoral college, he will depart the White House.

But he also said it would be hard for him to concede under the current circumstances and declined to say whether he would attend Biden’s inauguration.

“This election was a fraud,” Trump insisted in a sometimes rambling discourse at the White House, while continuing to offer no concrete evidence of widespread voting irregularities.

Biden won the election with 306 electoral college votes — many more than the 270 required — to Trump’s 232, and the electors are scheduled to meet on Dec. 14 to formalize the outcome. Biden also leads Trump by more than six million in the popular vote tally.

WATCH | Trump says he will leave the White House if the electoral college votes for Biden:   

U.S. President Donald Trump, in a testy exchange with reporters, finally says he will leave the White House if Joe Biden is declared the winner of the electoral college vote. 1:06

Efforts to overturn results have failed

Trump has so far refused to fully acknowledge his defeat, though last week — with mounting pressure from his own Republican ranks — he agreed to let Biden’s transition process officially proceed.

Asked if he would leave the White House if the electoral college votes for Biden, Trump said: “Certainly I will. Certainly I will. And you know that.

“But I think that there will be a lot of things happening between now and the 20th of January. A lot of things,” he continued. “Massive fraud has been found. We’re like a third world country.”

Desperate efforts by Trump and his aides to overturn results in key states, either by lawsuits or by pressuring state legislators, have failed, and he is running out of options.

In the United States, a candidate becomes president by securing the most electoral votes rather than by winning a majority of the national popular vote. Electors, allotted to the 50 states and the District of Columbia largely based on their population, are party loyalists who pledge to support the candidate who won the popular vote in their state.

Several election law experts have pointed out that Trump does not have to concede

Trump says he’ll go to Georgia

During the news conference, Trump went on to denounce officials in battleground states he’d lost, including Pennsylvania and Georgia, as “communists” and “enemies of the state.”

State officials and international observers have repeatedly said no evidence of mass fraud exists, and Trump’s campaign has repeatedly failed in court.

Trump announced he’d be travelling to Georgia to meet with what he said would be tens of thousands of supporters on Dec. 5, ahead of two runoffs there that will likely determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the Senate.

Emily Murphy, the top official at the General Services Administration, declared Biden the “apparent winner” Monday, a procedural yet critical step that allowed for the transition to begin in earnest. She cited “recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results.”

General Services Administration administrator Emily Murphy, pictured in 2019, declared Biden the ‘apparent winner’ of the election Monday, a procedural yet critical step that allowed for the transition to begin in earnest. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

More lawsuits filed

But one day after Trump said his administration should begin working with Biden’s team, three more lawsuits were filed by allies attempting to stop the certification in two more battleground states.

In Minnesota, a judge did not rule on the suit and the state certified the results for Biden. Another was filed in Wisconsin, which doesn’t certify until Tuesday. Arizona Republicans filed a complaint over ballot inspection; the state certification is due Monday.

And the campaign legal team said state lawmakers in Arizona and Michigan would hold meetings on the election “to provide confidence that all of the legal votes have been counted and the illegal votes have not been counted in the November 3rd election.”

In Pennsylvania, where state Republican lawmakers met at Gettysburg on Wednesday to air grievances about the election, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani attended in person and Trump dialled in from the Oval Office.

“We have all the evidence,” Trump asserted. “All we need is to have some judge listen to it properly without having a political opinion.”

But the strongest legal rebuke yet came from a conservative Republican judge in federal court in Pennsylvania, who on Saturday dismissed the Trump team’s lawsuit seeking to throw out the results of the election. The judge admonished the Trump campaign in a scathing ruling about its lack of evidence. The campaign has appealed.

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Promises, promises: After 4 years in the White House, which ones has Trump kept?

In the flood of half-truths, exaggerations and outright lies Donald Trump is selling in the final days before the election, his campaign makes one assertion that has some validity to it. 

“I didn’t back down from my promises. I kept every single one,” Trump said in a video played at the Republican National Convention in August

Well, no, he didn’t keep every one, but the U.S. president has kept enough of them to fundamentally change the country. And for his supporters, that might be enough to once again support their guy — even in the middle of a deadly pandemic that is getting worse. 

Case in point: Jeff Johns, a Trump supporter who spoke to CBC reporter Paul Hunter outside the final presidential debate in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 22.

“He does what he said he’s going to do,” Johns said of Trump. “Almost everything he said he’s going to do, he’s done.”

In fact, Trump’s record on his pledges is a mixed bag, at best. Independent fact-checking organization Politifact looked at 100 of Trump’s campaign promises from 2016. It calculated that while 49 per cent of them have been broken, he’s delivered on 44 percent of them, either in full or in part — and five per cent are stalled. 

WATCH | How many of his 2016 campaign promises did Trump keep?

From boosting manufacturing in the United States to building a border wall, Donald Trump made a lot of promises during his first presidential campaign. CBC News’s Paul Hunter checks in on whether he delivered on them. 6:00

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had a better record of promises kept, but that hasn’t stopped Trump from touting his accomplishments, and his supporters from believing him all the way to the ballot box. 

Remaking the judiciary

The rightward shift of the judiciary isn’t just a promise kept — it’s the home run of campaign promises, right out of the political park. 

Trump confirmed three Supreme Court justices in his four-year term. Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each had only two opportunities to confirm justices in their eight-year presidencies. 

Trump’s success in this area is partially due to circumstances, including the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on Sept. 18. 

Trump presides over the swearing-in of Amy Coney Barrett as a new Supreme Court justice on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 26. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

But it is also the result of calculation and planning by the Republican Party and, specifically, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If McConnell hadn’t held up the nomination of Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016, Trump’s first opportunity to nominate a justice (Neil Gorsuch) wouldn’t have happened. And if McConnell had played by his own rules to wait until after the election to nominate a replacement for Ginsberg, Amy Coney Barrett wouldn’t be on the top court right now. 

This promise kept goes well beyond the Supreme Court. Before her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, Barrett was the 220th federal judge confirmed under the Trump presidency and McConnell-led Senate. 

“We do a lot of stuff here that is small ball, but this is something that may last 25 or 30 years,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn told the Washington Post last week when describing the impact of judicial appointments during the Trump administration.

WATCH | Confirmation hearings begin Oct. 13 for Amy Coney Barrett:

The deep-seated divisions between Republicans and Democrats were front and centre during the first day of Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Coney Barrett says she wouldn’t let her personal beliefs impact her judgements. 2:01

Tax cuts and the economy

At a rally in Bullhead, Ariz., on Oct. 28, Trump told the crowd, “A vote for me is a vote for massive, middle-class tax cuts, regulation cuts, fair trade.” 

His record has some evidence of that. In 2017, the Trump administration overhauled the U.S. tax code, dropping rates for individuals and corporations. But has the middle class really benefitted from those cuts? 

The White House says a family of four earning $ 73,000 US a year received a $ 2,000 tax break in 2018. But that’s small potatoes compared to what corporations are saving — an estimated $ 1.5 trillion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, which reports to the Senate and House finance and budget committees. 

Trump displays the $ 1.5-trillion tax overhaul package he signed in December 2017. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Democrats argue the tax cuts have benefitted the rich and exacerbated inequality — and The Center for Public Integrity reported more companies paid no tax at all in 2018, partially as a result of the tax law. This is also a case where fulfilling one promise meant the president couldn’t make good on another. The combination of losing tax revenue, spending more money on defence — another campaign promise — and the costs of the coronavirus have ballooned the U.S. national debt to more than $ 27 trillion

That’s around $ 8 trillion more than when Trump took office in 2017, when he was promising to eliminate it entirely.

When it comes to deregulation, much of the administration’s rollback of rules has focused on the environment. The New York Times counted 100 policies related to clean air, water, wildlife and toxic chemicals that have been rolled back or reversed under Trump, including weakening rules for emissions from vehicles and power plants, as well as removing protections from wetlands. 

America First 

Donald Trump promised a new kind of foreign policy, one that put “America first.” Over the past four years, that has meant pulling back from multilateral international institutions, resulting in diminished American leadership in the world. 

The United States left the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran Nuclear Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and re-negotiated NAFTA with Canada and Mexico to form the new USMCA trade deal. While U.S. troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, their numbers are going down, reflecting Trump’s commitment to put an end to endless wars.


Trump’s promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” on the U.S. border with Mexico — and have Mexico pay for it — was a cornerstone of his 2016 campaign. 

In 2020, Trump has been telling crowds at his campaign rallies that the wall is almost finished, but that’s a very generous definition of “almost.” 

Trump speaks during a June 2020 tour of a section of the border wall in San Luis, Ariz. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

The original promise was for more than 1,600 kilometres of concrete barrier. In reality, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol says about 500 kilometres have been built, mostly reinforcement of existing barriers and fencing. The Associated Press reports less than seven kilometres of wall have been built where no barrier existed before. 

Mexico did not pay for any of it. The cost of the project — estimated at upward of $ 11 billion — is being borne by the United States. In fact, the president diverted money from the Pentagon’s budget to cover it. 

WATCH | Trump promises to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico boder at a 2016 campaign rally in Phoenix, Ariz.:

Trump: ‘Mexico will pay for the wall.’ 0:38

But the president’s promised immigration crackdown is real. Under Trump, the U.S. is a much harder place to get into. As promised, the administration restricted travel from several Muslim-majority countries (although the law had to be adapted and expanded after court challenges). The non-partisan Migration Policy Institute found Trump used executive actions to pretty much end the asylum system at the southwest border and reduce refugee admissions

In 2021, the Trump administration plans to cap the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. at 15,000 a year, down from the current cap of 18,000, and far less than the more than 85,000 slots during the final year of the Obama administration

Broken promises 

There are some pledges from the 2016 campaign that simply haven’t been kept. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, remains in place despite Trump’s promise to repeal and replace the health-care law. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Obamacare in November, and the Trump administration supports scrapping it entirely. Despite Trump’s promise to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions, he hasn’t explained how he would do that. 

Remember “Drain the swamp,” Trump’s call to clean up corruption in Washington? That hasn’t happened. His administration has presented no anti-corruption legislation and Trump himself did not divest from his businesses. In fact, many argue the swamp has gotten swampier, with Trump’s own family in key government positions and his properties profiting from government business. 

A demonstrator holds a sign at a September protest march in Los Angeles. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Coal hasn’t come back despite his promises it would. Neither have manufacturing jobs in a meaningful way. In both cases, that may have more to do with broader market forces.

All of these promises, kept or not, may pale in comparison to the growing U.S. death toll from COVID-19. For those inclined to believe Trump when he says the pandemic has “rounded the corner” — despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — or that he did the best he could, there are plenty of reasons to justify voting to keep him in office. 

The question before the electorate is whether they see more positive than negative in a record that, in four years, has changed the country dramatically.


What do you want to know about the U.S. election? Your questions help inform our coverage. Email us at Ask@cbc.ca

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