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Week offers snapshot of how Trump, Biden approach presidency

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WASHINGTON — One spent the week at his home in Delaware care­ful­ly try­ing to build a gov­ern­ment and prepar­ing to take on a pan­dem­ic.

The oth­er large­ly kept to him­self behind closed doors at a most­ly emp­ty White House, angri­ly tweet­ing and using his office and allies to try to sub­vert the results of an Amer­i­can elec­tion in a dan­ger­ous breach of democ­ra­cy.

If the dif­fer­ences between Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump were not already clear, the days since the Nov. 3 elec­tion was decid­ed have demon­strat­ed the dra­mat­i­cal­ly diver­gent ways in which each approach­es the job of com­man­der in chief.

Trump has large­ly aban­doned gov­ern­ing, despite a pan­dem­ic that has now killed more than 250,000 peo­ple in the U.S. and is rag­ing out of con­trol. He has reject­ed the results of the elec­tion, con­coct­ed con­spir­a­cies that are now believed by his most loy­al sup­port­ers and refused to allow his gov­ern­ment to par­tic­i­pate in the peace­ful tran­si­tion of pow­er to the next admin­is­tra­tion while try­ing to pres­sure state leg­is­la­tors and elec­tion offi­cials to over­turn the will of the vot­ers.

Denied the brief­in­gs, access to agen­cies and fund­ing that are part of a tra­di­tion­al tran­si­tion, Biden has nonethe­less tried to move for­ward. He has named senior staff, decid­ed on Cab­i­net mem­bers and attempt­ed to glean infor­ma­tion about pol­i­cy and nation­al secu­ri­ty from for­mer gov­ern­ment offi­cials and oth­ers, includ­ing gov­er­nors, who have worked with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion.

At the White House, the West Wing was large­ly emp­ty, with few staffers and lit­tle of the hus­tle and bus­tle typ­i­cal­ly seen in the tight war­ren of offices before the elec­tion and before yet anoth­er COVID-19 out­break.

The cir­cle around the pres­i­dent has grown small­er in recent weeks. Staffers who nor­mal­ly would leap at the chance to set foot in the Oval Office now try to avoid it fear of cross­ing a tem­pera­men­tal pres­i­dent who has been angri­ly demand­ing answers from aides as to how to fur­ther con­test the elec­tion.

Even his per­son­al attor­ney, Rudy Giu­liani, has been forced to steer clear of the White House after the for­mer York mayor’s son, a White House staffer, announced he had test­ed pos­i­tive for the virus. Rudy Giu­liani has tak­en over the president’s legal efforts to con­test the elec­tion, despite a lack of evi­dence behind those chal­lenges.

Trump snapped at aides when he was told that Giu­liani and the rest of his legal team could not meet at the White House on Fri­day after they, too, had been exposed. And he com­plained to con­fi­dants that Giu­liani had embar­rassed him­self dur­ing a Thurs­day con­fer­ence when what appeared to be hair dye dripped down Giuliani’s sweat­ing face as he assert­ed false­hood after con­spir­a­to­r­i­al false­hood about the results.

The Trump West Wing, nev­er a well-oiled machine, was even less orga­nized than usu­al.

Staffers in the press office, who con­trol the White House brief­ing room, found out from reporters on Thurs­day that the coro­n­avirus task force, led by Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, had sched­uled a brief­ing there.

Trump final­ly made an appear­ance Fri­day to dis­cuss pre­scrip­tion drug prices — an event he had demand­ed, to push back against the sto­ry­line that he was in hid­ing. But he again skirt­ed reporters’ ques­tions, as he has for more than two weeks now.

Just beyond the White House gates, con­struc­tion con­tin­ues on the stands from which spec­ta­tors will watch the inau­gu­ra­tion parade in hon­or of Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden in Jan­u­ary.

Just about two hours’ dri­ve away, in Delaware, Biden focused on the busi­ness of gov­ern­ing rather than social media or base­less claims of vot­er fraud. It was his sec­ond full week as pres­i­dent-elect.

Biden and Vice Pres­i­dent-elect Kamala Har­ris gath­ered each day at a makeshift tran­si­tion head­quar­ters at a the­ater in down­town Wilm­ing­ton where they held a series of vir­tu­al meet­ings.

They met with busi­ness and labor lead­ers Mon­day, nation­al secu­ri­ty experts Tues­day, front-line health care work­ers Wednes­day, gov­er­nors Thurs­day and the two most pow­er­ful Democ­rats in Con­gress on Fri­day, House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi and Sen­ate Minor­i­ty Leader Chuck Schumer.

“It was more of an infor­ma­tion gath­er­ing meet­ing. They didn’t put forth any poli­cies or say, ‘This is what we want to change,’” said GOP Gov. Lar­ry Hogan of Mary­land, who par­tic­i­pat­ed in Thursday’s call that was focused on the coro­n­avirus. “They were most­ly lis­ten­ing mode.”

Indeed, the con­ver­sa­tions, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with their con­tents, were focused almost exclu­sive­ly on the pan­dem­ic and how the Biden admin­is­tra­tion might try to stop the expo­nen­tial spread of the dis­ease imme­di­ate­ly after his Jan. 20 inau­gu­ra­tion — or even before.

Biden repeat­ed­ly called on con­gres­sion­al lead­ers to end their stale­mate and pass a sweep­ing COVID-19 relief bill by year’s end.

While at home, he was in reg­u­lar con­tact with a small group of senior aides, includ­ing new­ly appoint­ed chief of staff Ron Klain, to begin the com­pli­cat­ed process of fill­ing key admin­is­tra­tion posts. By Thurs­day, he had final­ized his pick for trea­sury sec­re­tary. By Fri­day, he had announced more than a dozen senior White House hires.

He also made a series of thank-you calls to mem­bers of the dis­parate fac­tions of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty who had helped achieve his vic­to­ry and whose con­tin­ued sup­port will be crit­i­cal to ral­ly­ing Amer­i­cans behind his agen­da.

Biden did not com­plete­ly ignore Trump.

Biden answered ques­tions dur­ing two brief news con­fer­ences dur­ing the week, and both times, he con­demned the Repub­li­can president’s unprece­dent­ed push to block his tran­si­tion. But even in his crit­i­cism, Biden focused on the chal­lenge of gov­ern­ing.

He said Thurs­day that Trump’s intran­si­gence was “anoth­er inci­dent where he will go down in his­to­ry as being one of the most irre­spon­si­ble pres­i­dents in Amer­i­can his­to­ry.”

“Let me choose my words here. I think they’re wit­ness­ing incred­i­ble irre­spon­si­bil­i­ty, incred­i­bly dam­ag­ing mes­sages being sent to the rest of the world about how democ­ra­cy func­tions,” he told reporters.

Asked what he would say to peo­ple con­cerned about Trump’s push to under­mine the elec­tion, Biden had a sim­ple mes­sage: “Hang on. I’m on my way.”

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