Joe Biden will demand his meeting with President Donald Trump be outdoors if the two men ever have their post-election sit down as his team ponders how to implement their COVID-campaign practices into the West Wing.
The president-elect and his team face a transition process unlike any other – not just the lack of cooperation from the proceeding administration but moving into cramped, crowded office space during a global pandemic.
The Biden campaign and Trump’s White House have taken vastly different approaches to the coronavirus with the Democratic candidate being much more cautious than his Republican counterpart. Even when it comes to wearing face masks, Biden is rarely seen in public without one while Trump rarely puts one on.
Now Biden’s aides are struggling with how to apply their COVID-campaign practices to the West Wing.
President-elect Joe Biden and President Donald Trump have taken different approaches to combating the coronavirus pandemic
One of those would be demanding an outdoor meeting between the president and president-elect should Trump ever invite Biden for a post-election gathering, NBC News reported. It’s traditional for an outgoing president to invite the president-elect to the White House for a sit down, which usually takes place in the Oval Office.
Transition advisers are also weighing how to have Biden’s staff work in the White House office space, which is famously crowded – desks pushed next to one another, four or five aides crammed into a single office, small hallways, and windowless rooms.
It makes social distancing impossible.
And the Trump White House has seen multiple outbreaks of COVID, infecting the first family to the president’s inner circle – including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and adviser Hope Hicks – to the staff in the residence that care for the Trumps to members of the Secret Service that guard them.
‘The entire functionality of the White House is people crammed around desks and huddling at a meeting,’ a Biden adviser told NBC News. ‘There are going to be adjustments to accommodate for distancing. Folks are going to wear masks.’
As the COVID cases were on the rise in March, Biden’s campaign team implemented a series of practices – including shutting down their headquarters to have staff work from home; limited crowds at events where social distancing and mask wearing are enforced; virtual fundraisers; testing of staff, the press and the candidate; and limited access to Biden himself – to keep the virus at bay.
Procedures are so strict that staff measure out and place white cardboard circles at Biden events to ensure social distancing. The podium is wiped down with disinfectant between speakers. And anyone coming into close contact with Biden has to have two negative tests before seeing him and be retested every three days.
The Biden transition team is meeting virtually both among themselves and with the president-elect as they plan the transfer of power and the logistics behind moving several hundred staff into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Trump White House also recommends staff wear masks – although many of them don’t – and deep clean the West Wing regularly. Senior staff are tested for COVID on a daily basis. But that didn’t stop COVID outbreaks from happening.
The White House is deep cleaned on a regular basis – above a member of the cleaning crew sprays disinfectant into the press area in the West Wing
Biden’s campaign also implemented several safety practices – above an aide cleans the podium with disinfectant before Joe Biden speaks
Joe Biden has been holding meetings with his transition team virtually – including Tuesday’s with national security advisers
At least two of the outbreaks had ties to White House events that have been named superspreaders – the September 26 Rose Garden announcement of Amy Coney Barrett as President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee and an election night event in the East Room of the White House.
Medical experts estimate that COVID-19 can live on some surfaces for up to three days.
Safety procedures were upgraded after President Trump, Melania Trump and their son Barron tested positive for COVID.
In the aftermath of October’s diagnosis, the first lady’s office released a detailed memo on the procedures in place to protect staff in the residence, including using hospital-grade disinfection policies, encouraging ‘maximum teleworking’ and installing additional sanitization and filtration systems. Staff also wore full PPE and were tested regularly for COVID.
On Inauguration Day, staff at the White House and the General Services Administration – which cleans and handles technical issues for the West Wing – pride themselves on the quick turnaround between administrations.
As the new president takes the oath of office, the belongings of the predecessor’s family and staff are being moved out and the new administration is moved in.
It’s a highly-orchestrated procedure with moving vans and trucks pulling out of the drive way as others come rolling in.
In the West Wing, photos of the current president – which decorate the walls – will be taken down to leave empty frames to greet the new one. Staff remove personal belongings as office equipment and furniture is the property of the U.S. government.
But that means Biden’s staff will be coming into offices with the same furniture and equipment used by Trump staff. And the Oval Office will have the same desk and decorations Trump used (a new president usually changes the decor but that takes time).
As president, Biden will need quick access to his staff and aides will need to be able to huddle to collaborate on various crisis – including the pandemic and the economy.
How to make that happen safely and following recommendations on COVID is the challenge the transition team is dealing with
There’s not a lot of huge meetings room in the West Wing. The Roosevelt Room, the main meeting room, only seats 16 at its table and that’s when people are crammed in next to one another. Usually officials sit at the table while their aides crowd in seats around the wall behind them.
The Cabinet Room is slightly bigger to fit the president, vice president and 15 members of the Cabinet along its conference – again with the main participants squashed in next to one another and aides along the back wall.
Even the Oval Office itself is not that big.
Ventilation is also a problem in the West Wing – an extension of the White House that was built in 1902.
There are not a lot of large meeting rooms in the West Wing; President Trump moved some of his meetings – such as the May 19 Cabinet meeting above – to the East Room of the White House, where participants can spread out
The Biden team is considering making more use of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which has larger offices and meeting space and sits across the street from the West Wing
President Trump held some of his larger meetings in the East Room, where participants could be spaced out six feet part. He’s also made use of the Rose Garden where chairs can be spread out more in its wider space.
‘One of the big things to get done over the course of the 78 days is to take a real look at how do we operate safely in the different physical spaces that we’re going to be in post-Inauguration Day,’ a senior transition adviser told NBC News.
One option being discussed is to use the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It’s across the street from the West Wing – easily accessible to the president and his staff – and has larger offices and meeting rooms.