President Donald Trump's decision to delay the transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden is "fundamentally irresponsible" and will complicate the US response to the coronavirus pandemic, former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told CNBC.
Lew, who served in the Obama administration alongside then-Vice President Biden, pointed out the complicated task of distributing one or more Covid-19 vaccines to millions of Americans, if one or more were approved by the Food and Drug Administration should receive.
Pfizer said Wednesday it plans to apply for emergency clearance "within days" after final trial data from its Covid-19 vaccine showed 95% effectiveness. Two days ago, Moderna said preliminary data from late-stage studies showed the vaccine was 94.5% effective. Both vaccine candidates are based on a new approach to vaccines that uses genetic material to trigger an immune response.
Making vaccines available to the general public on a large scale is a "huge undertaking," Lew said in Squawk Box. "I'm not saying it's impossible, but you don't want to lose a day, not a day in terms of a smooth transition, and a delay, which is fundamentally irresponsible, I believe is a risk to people who are sick and dying."
White House spokesman Judd Deere suppressed Lew's comments on the vaccine distribution, calling them "irresponsible and non-factual".
"At the direction of the president, we've been working non-stop with states, territories, tribes, local health programs and their partners on distribution plans for months," Deere wrote in an email to CNBC. He also said that a key Operation Warp Speed official, Gen. Gustave Perna, and his deputy "have confirmed readiness to ship vaccine doses to any postcode in America within 24 hours of the FDA being issued an EUA".
Trump has refused to allow the post-Biden election despite major media outlets including NBC News calling the race more than a week ago. Trump's campaign has instead launched election-related lawsuits in battlefield states in hopes of undoing Biden's victory. Many of these legal challenges were denied despite Trump continuing to tweet falsehoods about the election and after firing a senior federal cybersecurity official who had repeatedly defended the integrity of the election.
"It's absolutely clear what the outcome of the elections is and they are only delaying the orderly transition that we know will take place," said Lew, who headed the finance department from 2013 to 2017, a new low point in relation to the Dealing with the transition from a national security perspective, and frankly, it's unpatriotic, "he added.
Biden has not yet received any classified information from the US government as the General Services Administration has not yet made an official "determination" that Biden won the November 3rd election. Numerous Republicans in Washington have raised concerns about the national security implications.
Senator James Lankford, R-Okla., Previously said on Squawk Box that Trump and Biden should get information now. "Let's not make the same mistake we made in the 2000 elections," said Lankford. He referred to the report by the 9/11 Commission, which explained how a delayed transition of then-elected President George W. Bush in 2000 due to the Florida recount battle hampered the country's national security apparatus in the months leading up to deadly September . 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Lew, who also worked at the State Department during the Obama-Biden administration, agreed with Lankford. "The world doesn't stop and our opponents are looking for weak spots," said Lew. "Intelligence is not a one-moment event. You pick up points of information and they form a picture. The earlier you start, the better your understanding and the clearer your judgment."