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Biden meets with struggling workers, calls for more Covid relief amid economic crisis

Biden's virtual roundtable follows the formal introduction of his economic policy team the day before.

President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday used a virtual roundtable with workers and small-business owners struggling economically due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic to offer another full-throated call for more Covid-19 stimulus.

During the frequently emotional event, Biden repeatedly comforted the four participants — a school crossing guard from Chicago, a stadium worker in Detroit, a restaurant owner in Milwaukee and a stagehand in Atlanta — and promised he was pushing the current Congress to pass a spending package and would push for another after he is sworn in next month.

“We need to get help out the door as soon as we can,” Biden said, adding that he’d been “urging” congressional Republicans “to work on a bipartisan emergency package” immediately.

This week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers outlined a temporary $908 billion coronavirus relief proposal — an amount far less than what Democrats had hoped for, but one that Democratic leaders said Wednesday they’d support as the basis for an ultimate deal. The proposal includes more unemployment benefits, but doesn’t include another round of direct payments to families.

Biden, speaking from Wilmington, Delaware, said Wednesday that any package passed before he takes office on Jan. 20 would be “only a down payment” for what he wants passed “early next year.”

Throughout the event, the four workers with Biden repeatedly implored the federal government to pass additional stimulus, describing, often starkly, the economic hardships they’ve endured during the pandemic.

During one particularly emotional moment, the Detroit stadium worker began crying as she described feeling “hopeless.”

“It’s hard trying to keep up with the bills,” she said. “We are really suffering.”

“We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, whether any help is going to come,” the woman said.

Later, Biden pressed people not to travel during the upcoming holidays due to the raging pandemic.

“You cannot be traveling during these holidays, as much as you want to,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Biden received the presidential daily briefing, as did Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. The briefs, which they started receiving Monday, contain high-level intelligence and analysis about a range of national security issues.

  • A transition official tells NBC News that Biden could announce his health team as soon as next week, including his picks to lead Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the incoming administration's coronavirus response team. Jeff Zients, who headed President Barack Obama's National Economic Council and is co-chair of Biden's transition team, is a leading contender to lead the response team.
  • As NBC previously reported, former Obama Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is a leading contender for HHS secretary, as is Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, according to a transition official. But New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was not at the top of the shortlist, sources familiar with the matter said.
  • For education secretary, Sonja Santelises, the CEO of Baltimore's public school system, and Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, are being strongly considered, a transition official said. The shortlist also includes two teacher union leaders: former National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García and American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten, NBC News previously reported.
  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is a top pick to lead the Small Business Administration, two sources familiar with the matter said. The SBA administrator will be elevated to a Cabinet-level position in the incoming administration, sources said.
  • Instead of attending Biden’s inauguration and swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20, President Donald Trump is considering announcing a 2024 campaign to retake the White House.
  • Trump released a 46-minute video where he repeated many of the baseless claims of voter fraud and complaints about mail-in ballots that he and his legal team have been touting for weeks. The video was flagged by both Twitter and Facebook.
  • Biden filled out his senior staffing for the inaugural committee Wednesday with former campaign communications and finance aides, including his incoming White House deputy communications director, Pili Tobar, and his former campaign national finance director, Katie Petrelius.
  • Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale, who was demoted in July and eventually stepped down in September following an incident with police at his Florida home, gave his first interview since his resignation to Fox News on Tuesday. He said that Trump’s biggest misstep was his handling of the coronavirus, saying: “I thought we should have public empathy. I think people are scared.”
  • Trump has been discussing the possibility of issuing pardons for his family members and some close associates, multiple sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.
  • Federal investigators are looking into a potential “bribery-for-pardon” scheme involving presidential pardons, according to federal court documents unsealed by the chief judge for the federal court in Washington on Tuesday. The redacted documents do not name the individuals involved or Trump and do not indicate if any White House officials had knowledge of the scheme.
  • Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling, a Republican, implored the president and other Republicans on Tuesday to condemn the remarks of Trump campaign lawyer Joe diGenova for saying former Trump cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs should be shot.
  • Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday that there has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the election, telling The Associated Press: “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said he spoke to Biden on Tuesday night about a range of issues facing his incoming administration, and the president-elect said his top priority is getting a stimulus deal through Congress even before he takes office early next year. Biden also spoke about his relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"There are a number of things that when McConnell controlled the Senate that people said couldn’t get done, and I was able to get them done with [him]. I was able to get them to, you know, raise taxes on the wealthy," Biden told Friedman. “I think there are trade-offs, that not all compromise is walking away from principle,” Biden added. “He knows me. I know him. I don’t ask him to embarrass himself to make a deal.”

Reacting to GOP lawmakers bashing Neera Tanden, Biden's nominee for Office of Management and Budget director, for her "mean" tweets, Biden said, "That disqualifies almost every Republican senator and 90 percent of the administration.”

“But by the way, she’s smart as hell. Yeah, I think they’re going to pick a couple of people just to fight [over] no matter what," he added.

The only event on Trump's official schedule Wednesday was lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.