(CN) — President-elect Joe Biden called on Congress and President Donald Trump to pass a stimulus package as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, prompting record numbers of deaths and hospitalizations as well as shutdowns that will hurt small businesses and the American economy.
“This situation is urgent and if we don’t act now, the future will be bleak,” Biden said during a Friday press conference in Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden said he was encouraged by the $900 billion stimulus deal currently being hammered out in Congress, but also said it amounted to a “down payment” as Americans will need more help to get to the other side of the public health and economic crisis.
“Congress will need to act again in January,” he said.
The call came amid a grim jobs report as nonfarm payrolls added 245,000 jobs in November, which is paltry compared to the 610,000 in October. The number also fell well short of Wall Street’s forecast of 440,000 new jobs.
“This report shows an economy that is ailing amid one of the worst economic and job crises in history,” Biden said.
The federal government needs to put money in the hands of everyday Americans with urgency, the president-elect said.
“Folks aren’t looking for a handout, they just need help,” he said. “They are in trouble through no fault of their own.”
Should Congress fail to reach a deal, 12 million Americans are set to lose unemployment benefits when the previous deal expires after Christmas.
“Emergency paid leave will end and moratoriums on evictions will expire,” Biden said.
Small businesses are struggling too. Restaurants, hotels, concert venues, airlines and the travel industry as a whole continue to flail amid the public health crisis that has caused some states to frequently oscillate between lockdowns and reopenings.
Biden also discussed plans to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine to Americans, saying what he has seen so far from Operation Warp Speed and the adjacent efforts by the Trump administration leave much to be desired.
“There is no detailed plan to get the vaccine out of the container, into the syringe and into people’s arms,” the president-elect said.
However, he noted that he agreed with the current coronavirus task force’s priorities so far.
“The leading cause of death for all Americans this week is Covid 19,” he said. “So we have a lot of work to do.”
Biden said he is willing to get the vaccine publicly to sow trust in the American public regarding safety. He also said he will not make vaccines mandatory and despite asking Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his presidency, he will not make doing so mandatory either.
“We must make an effort to build confidence in science that has been so diminished by this administration,” Biden said.
The president-elect also addressed increasing calls from some coalitions to make his cabinet more diverse, promising to appoint men and women from across the cultural and racial spectrum.
“It will be the single most diverse cabinet in terms of race and gender in the history of America,” he said.
As for Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, Biden noted many of the usual festivities will not occur this time.
“There will probably not be a gigantic inaugural parade,” Biden said, saying he doesn’t have the full picture of how the day will look.
Biden also talked about dealing with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, who will likely continue in his role if the two Republicans vying for Senate seats in Georgia prevail in a Jan. 5 runoff.
“He knows me, he knows I keep my commitments and I never try to embarrass the other side,” he said.
Biden said he will strive to seek bipartisan compromise and work across the aisle to confront problems, a frequent campaign promise that has prompted ire from sectors of the Democratic Party who are eager to embark on a more confrontational approach.
But don’t expect Biden to waver from his tone of bipartisan comity.
“We have to take the vitriol out of politics,” he said.