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Biden says jobs report is 'grim,' warns of 'dark winter' as COVID-19 rages

WILMINGTON, Del., Dec 4 (Reuters) - President-elect Joe Biden said Friday’s “grim” jobs report shows the economic recovery is stalling and warned the “dark winter” ahead would exacerbate the pain unless the U.S. Congress passes a coronavirus relief bill immediately.

“The situation requires urgent action,” Biden said in a statement. “Americans need help and they need it now.”

A government report earlier in the day showed the labor market slowing in November amid a surge of COVID-19 cases.

Biden, the Democratic former vice president, offered support for an emerging bipartisan package of around $908 billion that has drawn tentative support from members of both parties in Congress.

But he said the bill would be “just the start” and vowed to press for additional relief once he takes office in January.

The president-elect has focused heavily on the pandemic and economy during the transition, after a campaign in which he made President Donald Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus a central theme.

He is expected to name Jeff Zients, a co-chair of his transition and a former Obama administration economic aide, as his coronavirus “czar” to coordinate the government’s pandemic response and oversee an ambitious vaccine distribution effort, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Earlier this week, he unveiled his economic team, led by his nominee for Treasury secretary, former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.

But he faces intensifying pressure from congressional allies and rights groups to make ethnically diverse picks for the remaining slots in his administration.

Biden was set to meet the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a long-running Black civil rights organization, on Tuesday to discuss criticisms that his cabinet picks lacked the representation he promised during a campaign that was propelled by Black voters.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, another prominent civil rights group, released a statement on Friday urging “President Biden and his transition team to take a fresh, close-up look at the voting clout of Latinos across America” and ensure his top advisers reflect the nation’s diversity.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Thursday both publicly and privately lobbied for Biden to name more Latino members to his top positions, stewing over reports that Biden’s team sidelined Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for a position atop the Health and Human Services department after she turned down the Interior secretary job. Lujan Grisham is of Mexican-American descent.

Biden’s selections for top roles thus far have included some ground-breaking picks, including Yellen, who would be the first female Treasury secretary; Neera Tanden, who would be the first woman of color to run the Office of Management and Budget; and Cecilia Rouse, who would be the first Black woman to oversee the Council of Economic Advisers.

Transition spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday that Biden would announce more positions early next week, including members of his public health team.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence was visiting Georgia on Friday, where he was receiving a briefing on the pandemic at the Atlanta headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before attending a rally with Republican U.S. senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who face January runoff elections that will determine control of the U.S. Senate.

Trump, a Republican who has still refused to concede to Biden, is scheduled to headline a rally with Perdue and Loeffler on Saturday. (Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington, Delaware, writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

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