By Simon Lewis
WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) -President-elect Joe Biden said on Tuesday he had seen no evidence that a massive cyber attack against the United States is under control and warned that the breach will not go unanswered once he takes office on Jan. 20.
Biden, the Democratic former vice president, said President Donald Trump needs to squarely place blame for the hack on Russia - something he has yet to do even though both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr have accused Moscow.
Trump has floated the idea on Twitter that China might be responsible for the hacking spree. Uncovered last week, it breached at least half a dozen U.S. government agencies and left thousands of American companies exposed.
“It is a grave risk and it continues," Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware. "I see no evidence that it’s under control. I see none. Heard of none. Department won’t even brief us on many things. So I know of nothing that suggests it’s under control."
Biden faulted Trump for stripping U.S. defenses against cyber attacks, saying: "This assault happened on Donald Trump's watch, when he wasn't watching."
Responding to the cyber attack is among a host of issues Biden faces when he starts work in the Oval Office. After defeating Trump in a November election, he also must fight the coronavirus pandemic and work with Congress to battle the economic damage from COVID-19 lockdowns.
Biden said on Tuesday his administration will put forward another COVID-19 relief package next year, including a new round of stimulus payments, after Congress passed an $892 billion relief package this week.
The next COVID relief bill should address vaccine distribution, unemployment, a moratorium on evictions for people who cannot pay their mortgages, and PPE and other supplies to businesses, he said.
HOW TO RESPOND
Biden said his administration will take meaningful steps to respond to the cyber breach.
The incoming White House chief of staff said on Sunday that Biden's response to the hacking campaign would go beyond sanctions. Ron Klain said Biden was mapping out ways to degrade the capacity of foreign actors to engage in cyber attacks against the United States.
Options being mulled by the Biden administration to punish Moscow for its alleged role include financial penalties and retaliatory hacks on Russian infrastructure, people familiar with the matter have told Reuters.
The Kremlin denies any role in the hacking.
"The question of the damage done remains to be determined. We have to look at, very closely, the nature of the breaches, how extensive they are, and what damage has been done," Biden said.
As Biden closes in on his final selections for his Cabinet, he will introduce his pick for U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, at an event in Delaware on Wednesday, his transition team said.
Cardona is a veteran teacher and school administrator, a choice that would align with a pledge Biden made during his presidential campaign to appoint a teacher as education secretary.
Biden has not yet nominated an attorney general or director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis in Wilmington Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw, Brad Heath, Michael Martina and Eric BeechWriting by Alistair BellEditing by Colleen Jenkins, Matthew Lewis and Howard Goller)