Nearly 90,000 COVID-19 patients are in hospitals across the United States as of Thursday, the Thanksgiving day, reaching a new all-time high for the 16th consecutive day, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
Wednesday's death toll climbed to 2,284, the highest since May 7.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted that the number of newly reported COVID-19 deaths will likely increase over the next four weeks, with 10,600 to 21,400 new deaths likely to be reported in the week ending Dec 19.
The third wave of COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities has continued, as cases increased at twice the rate of the nation's total cases, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
States across the United States reported a 50 percent increase in new long-term care cases, 46,153 new COVID-19 cases this week alone.
Long-term care facilities recorded about 3,000 new deaths in one week, a marker last passed in early June. Nearly half of these deaths occurred in the Midwest, according to the tracking project.
While the Midwest remains the epicentre of long-term care facility outbreaks, accounting for 39 percent of new cases, the crisis stretches beyond the Midwest.
As COVID-19 continued to sweep the country, each region reported their largest increase of long-term care cases in the past four months, according to the tracking project.
"With winter approaching and case numbers higher than ever before, existing safety measures will not adequately protect this vulnerable population," said a report of the project.
Public health officials have urged Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving only with members of the same household, or at least gather outdoors, to avoid further virus spread.
The CDC issued a new guidance last Friday urging Americans to stay home and not travel for Thanksgiving.
"Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year," said the guidance.
The United States has recorded more than 12.86 million cases with over 263,200 related deaths as of Thursday afternoon, according to the real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
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President Donald Trump said Thursday that he will leave the White House if the Electoral College formalizes President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory — even as he insisted such a decision would be a “mistake” — as he spent his Thanksgiving renewing baseless claims that “massive fraud” and crooked officials in battleground states caused his election defeat.
“Certainly I will. But you know that,” Trump said Thursday when asked whether he would vacate the building, allowing a peaceful transition of power in January. But Trump — taking questions for the first time since Election Day — insisted that “a lot of things” would happen between now and then that might alter the results.
“This has a long way to go,” Trump said, even though he lost.
The fact that a sitting American president even had to address whether or not he would leave office after losing reelection underscores the extent to which Trump has smashed one convention after another over the last three weeks. While there is no evidence of the kind of widespread fraud Trump has been alleging, he and his legal team have nonetheless been working to cast doubt on the integrity of the election and trying to overturn voters’ will in an unprecedented breach of democratic norms.
Trump spoke to reporters in the White House’s ornate Diplomatic Reception Room after holding a teleconference with U.S. military leaders stationed across the globe. He thanked them for their service and jokingly warned them not to eat too much turkey, then turned to the election after ending the call. He repeated grievances and angrily denounced officials in Georgia and Pennsylvania, two key swing states that helped give Biden the win.
Trump claimed, despite the results, that this may not be his last Thanksgiving at the White House. And he insisted there had been “massive fraud,” even though state officials and international observers have said no evidence of that exists and Trump’s campaign has repeatedly failed in court.
Trump’s administration has already given the green light for a formal transition to get underway. But Trump took issue with Biden moving forward.
“I think it’s not right that he’s trying to pick a Cabinet,” Trump said, even though officials from both teams are already working together to get Biden’s team up to speed.
And as he refused to concede, Trump announced that he will be traveling to Georgia to rally supporters ahead of two Senate runoff elections that will determine which party controls the Senate. Trump said the rally for Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler would likely be held Saturday. The White House later clarified he had meant Dec. 5.
One of the reasons Republicans have stood by Trump and his baseless claims of fraud has been to keep his loyal base energized ahead of those runoffs on Jan. 5. But Trump, in his remarks, openly questioned whether that election would be fair in a move that could dampen Republican turnout.
“I think you’re dealing with a very fraudulent system. I’m very worried about that,” he said. “People are very disappointed that we were robbed.”
As for the Electoral College, Trump made clear that he will likely never formally concede, even if he said he would leave the White House.
“It’s gonna be a very hard thing to concede. Because we know there was massive fraud,” he said, noting that, “time isn’t on our side.”
“If they do,” vote against him, Trump added, “they’ve made a mistake.”
Asked whether he would attend Biden’s inauguration, Trump said he knew the answer but didn’t want to share it yet.
But there were some signs that Trump was coming to terms with his loss.
At one point he urged reporters not to allow Biden the credit for pending coronavirus vaccines. “Don’t let him take credit for the vaccines because the vaccines were me and I pushed people harder than they’ve ever been pushed before,” he said.
As for whether or not he plans to formally declare his candidacy to run again in 2024 — as he has discussed with aides — Trump said he didn’t “want to talk about 2024 yet.”
All states must certify their results before the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14, and any challenge to the results must be resolved by Dec. 8. States have already begun that process, including Michigan, where Trump and his allies tried and failed to delay the process, and Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Vote certification at the local and state level is typically a ministerial task that gets little notice, but that changed this year with Trump’s refusal to concede and his unprecedented attempts to overturn the results of the election through a fusillade of legal challenges and attempts to manipulate the certification process in battleground states he lost.
Biden won by wide margins in both the Electoral College and popular vote, where he received nearly 80 million votes, a record.
President Donald Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Wednesday, ending a yearslong prosecution in the Russia investigation that saw Flynn twice plead guilty to lying to the FBI and then reverse himself before the Justice Department stepped in to dismiss his case.
“It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon,” Trump tweeted. “Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!”
The pardon, in the waning weeks of Trump’s single term, is part of a broader effort by Trump to undo the results of a Russia investigation that shadowed his administration and yielded criminal charges against a half-dozen associates. It comes just months after the president commuted the sentence of another associate, Roger Stone, days before he was to report to prison.
A Justice Department official said the department was not consulted on the pardon and learned Wednesday of the plan. But the official, who spoke on condition on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, noted that the president has the legal power to pardon Flynn.
The move is likely to energize supporters who have taken up Flynn as a cause celebre and rallied around the retired Army lieutenant general as the victim of what they assert is an unfair prosecution, even though Flynn twice admitted guilt. Trump has repeatedly spoken warmly about Flynn and, in an indication of his personal interest in his fate, asked then-FBI Director James Comey in February 2017 to end a criminal investigation into the national security adviser.
In a statement, Flynn’s family thanked Trump “for answering our prayers and the prayers of a nation” by issuing the pardon.
Democrats lambasted the pardon as undeserved and unprincipled. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “an act of grave corruption and a brazen abuse of power,” while Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said a “pardon by Trump does not erase” the truth of Flynn’s guilty plea, “no matter how Trump and his allies try to suggest otherwise.”
“The President’s enablers have constructed an elaborate narrative in which Trump and Flynn are victims and the Constitution is subject to the whims of the president,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler said in a statement. “Americans soundly rejected this nonsense when they voted out President Trump. ”
The pardon is the final step in a case defined by twists and turns. The most dramatic came in May when the Justice Department abruptly moved to dismiss the case, insisting that Flynn should not have been interviewed by the FBI in the first place, only to have U.S. District Justice Emmet Sullivan resist the request and appoint a former judge to argue against the federal government’s position and to evaluate whether Flynn should be held in criminal contempt for perjury.
That former judge, John Gleeson, called the Justice Department’s dismissal request an abuse of power and said its grounds for dropping the case were ever-evolving and “patently pretextual.”
As Sullivan declined to immediately dismiss the prosecution, Flynn lawyer Sidney Powell sought to bypass the judge by asking a federal appeals court to direct him to drop the matter. A three-judge panel did exactly that, but the full court overturned that decision and sent case back to Sullivan.
At a hearing in September, Powell told Sullivan that she had discussed Flynn’s case with Trump but also said she did not want a pardon — presumably because she wanted him to be vindicated in the courts.
Powell emerged separately in recent weeks as a public face of Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of his election loss to President-elect Joe Biden, but the Trump legal team distanced itself from her after she advanced a series of uncorroborated conspiracy claims.
The pardon spares Flynn the possibility of any prison sentence, which Sullivan could potentially have imposed had he ultimately rejected the Justice Department’s dismissal request. That request was made after a review of the case by a federal prosecutor from St. Louis who had been specially appointed by Attorney General William Barr.
At issue in the prosecution was an FBI interview of Flynn, days after Trump’s inauguration, about a conversation he had during the presidential transition period with the then-Russian ambassador.
Flynn acknowledged lying during that interview by saying he had not discussed with the diplomat, Sergey Kislyak, sanctions that the outgoing Obama administration had just been imposed on Russia for election interference. During that conversation, Flynn advised that Russia be “even-keeled” in response to the punitive measures, and assured him “we can have a better conversation” about relations between the countries after Trump became president.
The conversation alarmed the FBI, which at the time was investigating whether the Trump campaign and Russia had coordinated to sway the election. In addition, White House officials were stating publicly that Flynn and Kislyak had not discussed sanctions, which the FBI knew was untrue.
Flynn was ousted from his position in February 2017 after news broke that Obama administration officials had warned the White House that Flynn had indeed discussed sanctions with Kislyak and was vulnerable to blackmail. He pleaded guilty months later to a false statement charge.
But last May, after years of defending the prosecution, the Justice Department abruptly reversed its position.
It asserted the FBI had no basis to interview Flynn about Kislyak and that any statements he made during the interview were not material to the FBI’s broader counterintelligence probe. The department also pointed to internal FBI notes showing agents had planned to close out the investigation weeks before interviewing Flynn about Kislyak.
Flynn, of Middletown, Rhode Island, was among the first people charged in Mueller’s investigation and provided such extensive cooperation that prosecutors did not recommend any prison time, leaving open the possibility of probation.
But the morning he was to have been sentenced, after a stern rebuke about his behavior from Sullivan, Flynn asked for the hearing to be cut short so that he could continue cooperating and earn credit toward a more lenient sentence.
After that, he hired new attorneys — including Powell, a conservative commentator and outspoken critic of Mueller’s investigation — who took a far more confrontational stance to the government and tried to withdraw his guilty plea.
Competence is making a comeback.
President-elect Joe Biden has prized staying power over star power when making his first wave of Cabinet picks and choices for White House staff, with a premium placed on government experience and proficiency as he looks to rebuild a depleted and demoralized federal bureaucracy.
With an eye in part toward making selections who may have to seek approval from a Republican-controlled Senate, Biden has prioritized choosing qualified professionals while eschewing flashy names. Even the most recognizable pick — John Kerry — lacks the showmanship that has defined the Trump era.
In sharp contrast to President Donald Trump, who openly distrusted the very government he led, Biden has showcased a faith in bureaucracy that was born out of his nearly five decades in Washington. He’s made hires with the deliberate aim of projecting a sense of dutiful and, even boring, competency.
Surrounding himself with longtime aides and veterans of the Obama administration, many of whom have already worked together for years, Biden has so far rolled out a team of careerists with bursting resumes and little need of a learning curve.
“Collectively, this team has secured some of the most defining national security and diplomatic achievements in recent memory — made possible through decades of experience working with our partners,” Biden said Tuesday as he unveiled his national security team.
“Experience” is indeed the coin of the realm on Biden’s burgeoning team.
His pick for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, worked for Biden in the Senate for years, and held the posts of deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser. His choice for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, was the deputy to that post under President Barack Obama. His nominee for treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, was chair of the Federal Reserve and chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. His incoming White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, was chief of staff to two vice presidents — Al Gore and Biden himself — and was the Obama administration’s Ebola czar.
And Kerry, Biden’s choice to fill the newly created post of presidential climate envoy, was a longtime U.S. senator and his party’s 2004 presidential nominee before serving as secretary of state.
“The team is bringing competency and experience, which are two separate things but deeply interwoven,” said retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis, former NATO supreme allied commander Europe, who has worked with much of Biden’s new team. “There are deputies stepping up into full roles, seasoned hands returning to the job. They tend to be calm and centered and they won’t all fight over the ball.”
“They know their counterparts overseas and they know whom to pick up the phone and call,” said Stavridis. “It’s a completely different approach than what we saw with the Trump team — and I hesitate to call it a team because they didn’t work all that well together.”
Four years ago, contenders for Cabinet posts were marched through the gilded lobby of Trump Tower, the president-elect’s Manhattan skyscraper, in full view of reporters and TV cameras. The candidates publicly jockeyed for posts, Trump aides took turn knifing each other in the media, and the incoming president even took one secretary of state contender, Mitt Romney, out to dinner for a public and ultimately unsuccessful audition.
Conversely, Biden’s transition hiring process has been carried out behind closed doors or, out of concern for the surging pandemic, on Zoom and over the phone. Leaks to reporters have been few. And the public only got its first glimpse of Biden’s choices when they took their spots, spaced apart and wearing masks, on a Delaware stage.
Another change was the distinct lack of tributes from the staffers about their boss, a marked difference from the lengthy, glowing venerations of the president that came to define any Trump Cabinet meeting. Also different: No one who stood with Biden was a family member or an in-law.
“The contrast between Biden’s selections and Trump’s selections are like night and day: Biden’s picks are capable, sensible and play well in the sandbox together,” said Steve Rattner, a former Obama economic adviser. “Biden prefers people he has known for decades. Trump picked Rex Tillerson because he thought he looked like a secretary of state.”
There are risks. Many progressive Democrats aren’t looking for simply a return to the Obama years, which ended with many on the left frustrated at the slow pace of change.
Republicans are also unimpressed with Biden’s hires.
“Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline,” tweeted Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who may seek the White House again in 2024.
Trump’s own hiring process was besieged with chaos of his own making. He jettisoned the man in charge of his transition — former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — and over 30 binders Christie had prepared in favor of a staffing plan based on his gut, family recommendations and, yes, by his own admission, who looked straight out of central casting.
The tumult didn’t end once he took office.
While a few of his picks were establishment choices, like Marine Gen. James Mattis to run the Pentagon, most were plucked from the corporate world — like Tillerson at State and Steve Mnuchin at Treasury — while his senior adviser Steve Bannon declared he wanted to oversee “the destruction of the administrative state.”
Trump had more senior staff and Cabinet turnover than any modern predecessor — his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, didn’t last a month — and he declared an informal war on the federal bureaucracy once the investigation began into whether his campaign had any ties to Russia.
Deeply suspicious of what he deemed the “deep state,” Trump allowed scores of vacancies to remain unfilled across federal agencies, fired officials he deemed insufficiently loyal, encouraged in-fighting on his staff and, with relentless public attacks, attempted to undermine Americans’ faith in the institutions of their own government.
Declaring “America is back,” President-elect Joe Biden introduced his national security team on Tuesday, his first substantive offering of how he’ll shift from Trump-era “America First” policies by relying on experts from the Democratic establishment to be some of his most important advisers.
“Together, these public servants will restore America globally, its global leadership and its moral leadership,” Biden said from a theater in his longtime home of Wilmington, Delaware. “It’s a team that reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it.”
The nominees are all Washington veterans with ties to former President Barack Obama’s administration, a sign of Biden’s effort to resume some form of normalcy after the tumult of President Donald Trump’s four years in office. There are risks to the approach as Republicans plan attacks and progressives fret that Biden is tapping some officials who were too cautious and incremental the last time they held power.
Still, Biden’s nominees were a clear departure from Trump, whose Cabinet has largely consisted of men, almost all of them white. Biden’s picks included several women and people of color, some of whom would break barriers if confirmed to their new positions.
They stood behind Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris spaced apart and wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a contrast with Trump and many of his top aides who have largely eschewed facial coverings.
The president-elect’s team includes Antony Blinken, a veteran foreign policy hand well-regarded on Capitol Hill whose ties to Biden go back some 20 years, for secretary of state; lawyer Alejandro Mayorkas to be homeland security secretary; veteran diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Obama White House alumnus Jake Sullivan as national security adviser.
Avril Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA, was picked to serve as director of national intelligence, the first woman to hold that post, and former Secretary of State John Kerry will make a curtain call as a special envoy on climate change. Kerry and Sullivan’s position will not require Senate confirmation.
With the Senate’s balance of power hinging on two runoff races in Georgia that will be decided in January, some Senate Republicans have already expressed antipathy to Biden’s picks as little more than Obama world retreads.
Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and potential 2024 presidential candidate, argued that Biden is surrounding himself with people who will go soft on China.
Sen. Marco Rubio, another potential White House hopeful, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that will consider Blinken’s nomination, broadly wrote off the early selections.
“Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline,” Rubio tweeted.
Biden said his choices “reflect the idea that we cannot meet these challenges with old thinking and unchanged habits.” He said he tasked them with reasserting global and moral leadership, a clear swipe at Trump, who has resisted many traditional foreign alliances.
The president-elect said he was “struck” by how world leaders have repeatedly told him during congratulatory calls that they look forward to the U.S. “reasserting its historic role as a global leader” under his administration.
Trump, who has debated recently whether to mount another presidential campaign in 2024, appeared to defend his worldview on Tuesday.
“We shouldn’t go away from that — America First,” he said at the annual turkey pardon, a lighthearted pre-Thanksgiving White House tradition.
While Trump expected total loyalty from his Cabinet and chafed at pushback from advisers, Biden said he expected advisers to tell me “what I need to know, not what I want to know.”
Further drawing a contrast with Trump, Haines said she accepted Biden’s nomination knowing that “you value the perspective of the intelligence community, and that you will do so even when what I have to say may be inconvenient or difficult.”
Haines said she has “never shied away from speaking truth to power” and added “that will be my charge as director of national intelligence.”
Biden celebrated the diversity of his picks, offering a particularly poignant tribute to Thomas-Greenfield. The eldest of eight children who grew up in segregated Louisiana, she was the first to graduate from high school and college in her family. The diplomat, in turn, said that with his selections, Biden is achieving much more than a changing of the guard.
“My fellow career diplomats and public servants around the world, I want to say to you, ‘America is back, multilateralism is back, diplomacy is back,’” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Mayorkas, who is Cuban American, also offered a nod to his immigrant upbringing.
“My father and mother brought me to this country to escape communism,” he said. “They cherished our democracy, and were intensely proud to become United States citizens, as was I.”
But Mayorkas might pose the most difficult confirmation challenge from Biden’s early round of nominees.
The Senate previously confirmed him in December 2013 by a party-line vote to be the deputy secretary of Homeland Security. The Senate was controlled by Democrats then, and all of the chamber’s Republicans voted against his confirmation mainly because he was then under investigation by the Obama-appointed inspector general in that department. At the time, the Senate historian’s office said it was unprecedented for the Senate to vote on a nominee who was under investigation.
The inspector general, John Roth, found in March 2015 that Mayorkas, as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, appeared to give special treatment to certain people as part of the visa program that gives residency preference to immigrants who agree to invest in the U.S. economy.
Meanwhile, there were signs on Tuesday that the stalled formal transition of power is now underway. Biden’s team now is in contact with all federal agencies, according to a transition official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe developments that have not been announced.
At the Pentagon, Kash Patel, chief of staff to the acting secretary of defense, is heading the department’s transition work. A transition task force has been assembled, led by Tom Muir, head of the Pentagon office that provides administrative and management services to all Defense Department facilities in the Washington area.
Muir said the first meeting with Biden’s team was held virtually on Tuesday morning and that he expected daily meetings to come — some virtually and some in person. He said normal accommodations for the Biden team have been made, including provision of briefing materials, video-teleconferencing capabilities, and office space inside the Pentagon.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also said his agency is working to get briefing materials to Biden’s aides immediately and pledged a “professional, cooperative and collaborative” transition.
The moves came a day after the head of the General Services Administration wrote the necessary letter of “ascertainment” acknowledging Biden as the apparent winner of the election, triggering the transition process.
Trump, who continues to press a legal challenge to overturn the election results, again on Tuesday refused to concede his election loss.
Trump tweeted that “the GSA does not determine who the next President of the United States will be.”