Joe Biden faces rocky transition as work of undoing Trump's damage begins
In his first address to the nation, the president-elect said he would unveil a group of scientists and experts on Monday to help him craft a plan to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.
Biden said “our work begins with getting Covid under control”, adding Americans “cannot repair the economy, restore our economy or relish life’s most precious moments” without doing so.
Biden’s presidential transition team has already spent months planning for his first term, and accelerated their activities in the hours prior to his win becoming official. The team launched its presidential transition website a day before the election was officially called for Biden
Now, Biden and the transition team have to build a government largely remotely, during the pandemic, and while contending with a Senate that could stay in Republican hands, a House sure to feature fewer Democratic allies than it did previously, and a public that includes more than 70 million people who voted for Donald Trump over Biden.
Biden is already said to be planning to sign a series of executive orders soon after being sworn into office on 20 January that would reverse the work of the Trump administration, including rejoining the Paris climate accords, and reversing Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO).
With the president refusing to concede on Saturday, it is not clear how collaborative the Trump administration will be during the transition process. The transition process formally starts once the General Service Administration determines the winner based on all available facts. That’s vague enough guidance that Trump could pressure the agency’s director to stall.
It’s also unclear whether the president would meet personally with Biden. Obama met with Trump less than a week after the election.
By law, presidential campaigns have to set up a transition team and begin the early steps needed to inherit the entirety of the federal government. Long-time Biden aide Ted Kaufman, a former senator from Delaware, was appointed to run the team back in April.
A senator for decades and vice-president for eight years, Biden has a deep understanding of the workings of government, and he’s surrounded by a small group of top advisers with equally deep institutional knowledge.
“The Biden team is the most experienced, most prepared, most focused transition team ever, commensurate with the challenges that Biden will face” after the inauguration on January 20 2021, said David Marchick, director of the Center for Presidential Transition at the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. The center advises presidential candidates on the transition.
But even with so many months to prepare, there are a few bumps ahead for the transition team.
Biden has vowed to form one of the most diverse cabinets in history, including Republicans to stress his belief in bipartisanship, and a record number of women as well.
South Carolina representative Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking House leader whose coveted endorsement helped resurrect Biden’s flagging presidential bid early in the primary season, has already said he’d like to see the cabinet include one of Biden’s best known African American advisers, Louisiana Representative Cedric Richmond.
Biden’s team has also suggested it is open to including progressive champions in high ranking positions in his administration, though Biden himself is considered to be more moderate.
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, who both ran against Biden in the Democratic primary, have taken steps to position themselves to be secretary of labor and secretary of the treasury.
Liberal Democrats have already begun pushing the transition team to fill out his administration with as many progressives as possible. Other interest groups have also reached out to Biden, his allies, and the transition orbit to push names on them.
The rub for the Biden team is it remains unclear which party would control the Senate, the body that confirms cabinet secretaries. Biden will have to name 4,000-plus political appointees, including more than 1,200 requiring Senate confirmation. Republicans have signaled they would block the more “radical” nominees that Biden makes to fill his cabinet.
Chris Murphy of Connecticut predicted Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, “will force Joe Biden negotiate on every single pick.”
Biden and his allies have, in response, raised the prospect of refraining from nominating any senator to his cabinet, which in turn would limit the pool of top prospects, including longtime friends of the president-elect, like sitting-Delaware senator Chris Coons.
A key member of Biden’s inner circle who is likely to move into a top administration job is Ron Klain, a former Biden chief of staff. Klain served as President Barack Obama’s Ebola response “czar” during the outbreak of that disease in the US in 2014.
Biden’s potential foreign policy team is subject to some of the most intense speculation. Coons and his allies have signaled interest in serving as secretary of state. Antony Blinken, another longtime Biden ally and former deputy secretary of state, is another name commonly found on foreign policy shortlists for the Biden administration. And former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, who also ran against Biden in the Democratic primary for president, is frequently mentioned as a potential ambassador to the United Nations.
Last week some of Biden’s more technocratic plans for his administration came into public view. He’s expected to bring in Gary Gensler, the former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission regulatory organization, to advise on regulating Wall Street, according to the Wall Street Journal. Bringing in Gensler suggests that Biden plans to satiate calls from some liberal organizations to include regulators with high regard in liberal circles like Gensler.
But Biden has said his first priority is the economy and instituting a new nationwide effort to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
The tradition during the transition period is for potential candidates for the next cabinet to avoid saying directly that they are either very interested or uninterested in serving in an incoming administration. Susan Rice, a former national security adviser, for example, has repeatedly refrained from saying whether she was talking with the Biden team about serving as secretary of state.