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Biden convenes shadow war room to devise anti-virus policy

Jennifer Epstein, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

With no campaign events to headline and the public's attention consumed by the coronavirus pandemic, Joe Biden is struggling to stay relevant and acknowledging frustration at being on the sidelines of a devastating national crisis.

So the Democratic presidential front-runner has built a shadow war room of public health and economic experts to keep him engaged on the issue, with academics, medical experts and Obama administration alumni advising him on a response, just as they would a sitting president.

He's rolled out recommendations on the only policy Americans currently care about, plans that also give voters a window into a possible alternative come November.

And like the vice president he was, he eagerly urges President Donald Trump to consider his advice, promising not to try to seize credit if one of his ideas were adopted. When Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway suggested on television that perhaps Biden ought to call the White House and share his ideas, he quickly -- and publicly -- accepted the offer. The call hasn't yet taken place.

Such is how Biden is managing one of the strangest election years in memory. He doesn't have the nomination yet, Bernie Sanders is still in the race, the primaries are on hold, and the July Democratic convention will take place in August -- maybe. Unlike Sanders, a U.S. senator, Biden has no government job and is riding out the pandemic from his home in Delaware.

He's in a no man's land of high expectations to stay engaged but few means of doing so. After 36 years in the Senate and eight years as vice president, he's closer to occupying the Oval Office than he ever has been, and yet has no access to the levers of policy making.

 

"There's some frustration," Biden said last week.

Instead, he holds two daily meetings by telephone and the broader activities of his war room help keep him involved.

"He recognizes he's not in government so what's available to him is a platform to make an argument for a better course," said Jake Sullivan, a longtime Biden adviser who's helping coordinate the candidate's coronavirus response as a volunteer.

Biden offered his first pandemic response plan in mid-March and last week released a "make it work" checklist of ideas on how to implement the $2 trillion CARES Act, drawing in part on his experience overseeing the distribution of economic stimulus money in 2009.

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