Dec 11, 2020
Biden Harris Transition Team Update Press Conference Transcript December 11
Joe Biden’s transition team held a virtual press conference on December 11 to provide updates on the Biden Harris transition process. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:37)
Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us for our regular Friday afternoon briefing. I’m going to turn it over to you Yohannes in moment, who is going to give you all an update on our transition work. I will give you an update on the cabinet and then we will take your questions. Yohannes take it away.
Yohannes Abraham: (00:52)
Great. Thanks Jen. And thanks everyone for making the time to be here. Let me start with a recap of the progress that we’re making in building out an administration that will be ready to serve the country on day one. The American people have made their voices clear. The nation needs a cabinet who’s competence, expertise and diversity across all dimensions match the moment we find ourselves in and the crises and challenges we have to face. We’ve only announced 14 of nearly two dozen cabinet level positions, but president-elect Biden’s commitment to assembling the most diverse, effective cabinet in history is already clear. It started with the selection of the first woman of South Asian descendant, the first black woman to be vice president and is continued on to his subsequent picks. This is group is battle-tested and experienced. They are thus far majority female, and majority people of color.
Yohannes Abraham: (01:41)
Importantly, they are all ready to do the work with seriousness and expertise on day one. This group includes historic first, including some just named this week, such as the first African-American to lead the Department of Defense, the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and the first Asian American and first woman of color to be named United States trade representative.
Yohannes Abraham: (02:03)
Moving past the cabinet, our commitment to finding diverse expert talent applies to appointees in all positions and at all levels. Our team has been hard at work identifying candidates to serve as appointees to support our cabinet and sub cabinet. These appointees will be selected through a pre-inauguration process that is unprecedented in its rigor. Over these last months we have collected the names of thousands of highly qualified and aspiring public servants and rigorously analyzed and vetted them. Leading candidates will be invited to participate in multiple interviews before a robust selection process yields finalists, and ultimately administration appointees.
Yohannes Abraham: (02:39)
Now as personnel, the transition continues to expand its engagement with outside groups, including beyond the public meetings with frontline workers, business and labor leaders and state and local elected officials that have been previously briefed. On a staff level, over 1000 stakeholders were reached this week alone, spanning organizations representing a range of constituencies and issue areas. Now, finally, I wanted to give an update on the agency review teams and their work.
Yohannes Abraham: (03:05)
The teams continue making progress on our shortened timeline. And we have met some isolated delays, we continue to move forward in the vast majority of agencies. Classified briefings are happening across agencies, and we’re getting a more granular picture of the state of federal programs. On that note, I want to take a minute to thank the career staff at the agencies who have been extremely generous with their time and expertise throughout this process. Additionally, agency review teams have also conducted over 150 listening sessions with House and Senate congressional committee staff.
Yohannes Abraham: (03:35)
Not only have these sessions been substantively informative, but they laid the groundwork for strong working relationships between the Hill and the incoming administration. Lastly, the HHS agency review team continues to meet with the Trump administration’s COVID response team, and we’re making progress in learning more about the response we will inherit in a few weeks. As members of our COVID advisory board have noted, we were at a critical time in the pandemic response, given the number of rising cases.
Yohannes Abraham: (04:01)
And as you all know, the president-elect spoke about his priorities for his first 100 days related to the pandemic response. First, he will urge all Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days, which is the best thing each of us can do to protect ourselves and the people around us. He has also pledged to get at least 100 million COVID vaccines into the arms of American people in this timeframe. Finally, he spoken about the need to ensure that America school children can safely return to the classroom. We look forward to continuing the work across the agency review process to help prepare the incoming administration to be ready to serve the American people on day one. With that, I’ll turn it over to Jen.
Jen Psaki: (04:38)
Thanks so much, Yohannes. so just to give you all a brief overview of the cabinet process and where we are, I know it’s been a flurry of activity this week. To date, we’ve announced 14 of the roughly two dozen cabinet nominees. And of course, there’ll be more coming in the weeks ahead. The team that we’ve put together has been a combination of experienced crisis tested leaders, many of whom have served in government previously, which the president elect and the vice president Alexia is invaluable at this time where we are confronting not just a global pandemic, but a recession where hundreds of thousands of Americans are out of work. And of course, crises involving the climate and other issues that need to be addressed immediately. But also, it’s important to them that we elevate and bring up new leadership as we bridge to the future.
Jen Psaki: (05:30)
And that’s something that president-elect talked about when he was running for president. So I just want to highlight a couple of the people that he and the vice president-elect are particularly excited about. Wally Adeyemo, who has been nominated to serve as deputy treasury secretary, immigrated to the United States from Nigeria as a child. And he’s a son of a nurse and an elementary school principal, who taught him that the economy is supporting working families. He’s already been a trusted advisor in a time of crisis. Having served as deputy director of the National Economic Council, deputy national security advisor, and the first chief of staff of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He’s younger than I am, so I will just note that. But very impressive already.
Jen Psaki: (06:15)
Catherine Tai, who will be formally announced today, I should say, is deeply respected across the aisle and has spent her career working to level the playing field for American workers. She’s cast a bright new light on a new direction on trade that we need to be more strategic in how we trade in a way that makes us all stronger. Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith is among America’s foremost experts on persistent disparities in healthcare. She’s someone who was not known well, at least not known personally well by the president-elect and the vice president-elect before she was asked to serve as a co-chair of the task force, but she was so impressive in her work there, they knew that she needed to be a part of the administration, especially at this pivotal time when this disparities on healthcare is its own crisis in the country. Dr. Rochelle Walensky is the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts general hospital. And has been on the front lines of the COVID 19 pandemic response in Massachusetts.
Jen Psaki: (07:13)
And then there are, of course, some names that have been around, but are young and in positions that will also be bridges to the future, including Jake Sullivan. He’s an experienced tested advisor to the president-elect, who served several national security roles throughout his career, both former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. And of course, for a president-elect Biden, when he was the vice president. He is one of the youngest national security advisors in decades, and certainly recognizes that the national security challenges we’re facing today from the impact on the middle-class to climate change are different than they were just a few decades ago. And Brian Deese, who was just announced last week is already convening meetings about what to do on the economy, it’s the first ever time that a climate policy expert will be leading coordination of economic policy.
Jen Psaki: (08:01)
And that certainly indicates a prioritization of that as an issue that’s not just economic, but it’s a crisis we’re facing. Finally, I just wanted to highlight a couple of the people we have recently announced given, there has been so many. Javier Bissera who, of course we announced as our nominee to serve as the secretary of Health and Human Services. He spent his career fighting for access to affordable healthcare. He was not only involved in of course, the passing of the Affordable Care Act, but he has been on the front lines of that fight as the attorney general of California. He’s also been leading on efforts to take on the tobacco use, opioids, mental health, and he will be covering all of those issues, of course, once he’s confirmed. And then secretary designate Austin who worked with the vice president Joe Biden to bring 150,000 troops home from Iraq.
Jen Psaki: (08:51)
He’s somebody who has known the president-elect for more than a decade. They’ve sat in the situation room together, but also they’ve been in war zones together and have had conversations about a range of topics over the year. And again, he would be the first African-American to lead the department. He’s obviously also making an announcement today. I told you all last week, you have to eat your spinach and drink your coffee. So I hope you did all that to announce a number of additional members of our cabinet that get us to 14. So with that, I will stop there and let’s take some of your questions.
Speaker 4: (09:30)
Thanks. We’ll take our first question from Amy Wang.
Jen Psaki: (09:35)
Speaker 5: (09:40)
Amy messaged. It looks like she’s having audio issues. So she messaged me her question, which I will read out loud.
Jen Psaki: (09:46)
Speaker 5: (09:46)
Her question is what is the Biden transition doing or planning to do to smooth the process ahead for its nominees who require Senate confirmation? What is the expected timeline for some of those hearings to begin taking place?
Jen Psaki: (09:58)
Sure. Well, I can start there. I will say that we’ve obviously had a flurry of announcements over the course of the last week. So as you all have been covering and living with us, once we get to January, our hope and expectation is that the dozens of meetings that have already occurred and the hundreds of engagements that have happened between our staff and the staff on the Hill will expand and lead into more meetings and hearings. And just to give you some sense of historical precedent, there are nominees who in the past have been confirmed right around Inauguration Day. And the crisis we are facing today require that kind of prioritization and that kind of bipartisan work to get qualified nominees in place, leading agencies to that they can work with the president-elect and the vice president-elect shortly after inauguration to address these crises.
Jen Psaki: (10:54)
I’ll also just note that next week, as you all know, we are expected to hit certification and that fully confirms what we’ve known for weeks and what I think you all have been reporting for weeks, which is that president-elect Biden will be sworn in on January 20th. And that is a moment in our view where it should be a time where Republicans can move forward with expediting meetings with nominees and engagement with our team. This has already been happening behind the scenes, but to ensure we have the team in place leading these agencies as quickly as possible.
Speaker 4: (11:31)
Great. We’ll take our next question from Jessica Dean.
Jen Psaki: (11:36)
Hi Jessica. We can hear you Jessica. We can’t hear you, Jessica, I should say. Do you want to read her question?
Speaker 4: (12:05)
We can actually move on. Always can come back. Why don’t we move on to move on [inaudible 00:12:12].
Speaker 6: (12:17)
Hi. Can you hear me?
Jen Psaki: (12:18)
Yeah. We can hear you.
Speaker 6: (12:23)
Thank you. Afternoon. So two quick questions. The first one is president-elect Biden recently told the New York Times that he wasn’t going to embark immediately on any big trade deals. And my question is, does that also include a US UK trade deal? And secondly, just very briefly, what’s his view on whether the Nord Stream 2 pipeline should go ahead or whether the Europeans should stop supporting that? Thank you.
Jen Psaki: (12:48)
Sure. Thank you for your question. Well, I certainly would refer to the president-elect’s comments on that particular issue. Of course, we have just announced plans to nominate someone to lead USTR who is qualified and talented and well-respected by members of both parties. And I expect she will be engaged in those discussions as we determine the path forward. At this point in time, I haven’t had that discussion with the national security team and we also do our best to respect the one president at a time when it comes to international and foreign policy. If there’s anything we can give to you on that, we’ll circle back with you after the call.
Speaker 4: (13:30)
Great. I think we’re going to try to go back to Jessica Dean’s question, who I think has some audio issues.
Jessica Dean: (13:35)
Hi guys, can you hear me now?
Jen Psaki: (13:37)
Jessica Dean: (13:38)
Oh, wonderful. So sorry about that. Okay. Thanks so much for doing this. My question is when will the president-elect be getting the COVID vaccine? Will he be one of the first once it is officially approved? And what can we expect in terms of, will it be televised or anything like that?
Jen Psaki: (13:57)
Well, I know Jessica, we’ve talked about this a little bit in the past couple of weeks. I don’t have anything new for you in terms of our plans. I will say that right now on the COVID front, we’ve obviously announced our team on Monday. It seems like it was several weeks ago, but it was just a few days ago. And our focus at this point in time is on how we can work of course, in coordination with career officials in the administration to determine the most efficient and effective and safe means of distributing the vaccine as soon as the president-elect and vice president-elect take office.
Jen Psaki: (14:33)
We’re obviously planning for a range of broad scenarios, and we had a meeting as you know, some of our officials with the members of operation Warp Speed, we expect that engagement will certainly continue. But our focus at this point is really on what we can do to ensure that the vaccine is distributed, that it’s safe, that we are planning for all scenarios. We know this challenge is unprecedented in order to help the American people, but we don’t have anything more for you on the timing for the president-elect or how that would happen or whether it would be televised.
Jessica Dean: (15:08)
Got it. And one quick follow-up on the vaccine distribution. I know the president-elect said last week, he had yet to see a detailed plan. I know you all, as you mentioned, have been meeting with operational Warp Speed, do you feel like you’ve gotten access to that plan or are going to be briefed more on the detailed plan that he wants to see?
Jen Psaki: (15:26)
Sure. It’s a great question. And we’re really in the information, or I should say our team is really in the information gathering stage. They’ve just been announced just a couple of days ago and they’re digging in deep immediately and having meetings and engagements, and I mentioned the meeting that you all know happened just yesterday and those will continue,. but I think at this point, we’re particularly focused on how we can get 100 million vaccines in people’s arms, I should say in 100 days, I sort of butchered that saying which is real well phrased normally. And we are focused on planning for all the scenarios. So, it’s early days, Jessica and we are engaging. We’re talking to members of the civil service, officials who have been in government. We’re obviously engaged with the companies who have been developing the vaccines, but at this point we’re in the information gathering stage. We’re planning for all scenarios and we just want to make sure we can do it as safely and effectively and efficiently as possible.
Jessica Dean: (16:29)
Thanks so much.
Speaker 4: (16:32)
Great. We’ll take two more questions. We’ll next move on to Kevin [inaudible 00:16:36].
Hi, thanks for doing this guys. I was just wondering the congressional Asian Pacific Islander caucus today came out with this statement, specifically requesting that one of the remaining cabinet picks be Asian American or Pacific Islander. And basically I think that’s been the standard for, I think, administration side, going back two decades. Are you guys willing to pledge that that will be met or are you not willing to sort of go there at this time?
Yohannes Abraham: (17:13)
I think I’ll sort of go back to where I started a couple of points. The president-elect and the vice president-elect are committed to building the most effective, most diverse cabinet in history. They’re well on their way to doing that, including in the APAC community, as it relates to our recent announcement of Catherine Tai at USTR and Neera Tanden in ONB.
Jen Psaki: (17:34)
And I’ll just add that, we have not only the most qualified and experienced cabinet, but also we’re already on track to have the most diverse in American history. And that is a value that will continue to be important to the president-elect, to the vice president-elect and the entire team as further decisions are made.
Speaker 4: (17:55)
We’ll take our last question from Alice Holsteen.
Alice Holsteen: (18:07)
Hi, thank you so much. Just given the impending authorization of vaccine. Is there any more you can say about conversations with the outgoing administration on that? One of the taskforce members Zika Manuel said this morning in an interview that the team hasn’t been able to get adequate information about distribution plans. Has that been remedied? What are the concerns?
Jen Psaki: (18:33)
Well, I appreciate your question. And I would just say that we have begun engaging. We’ve been engaged on some level for a couple of weeks since ascertainment, but we are in the information gathering stage. And so I don’t want to get ahead of where we are now.
Jen Psaki: (18:50)
Obviously we are eager to get access to as much information as possible and as quickly as possible. But regardless, we are addressing a pandemic where there is no playbook. This is a crisis where there is no model that we can build on. So our team of course wants access to as much information as they can gain. They have begun those discussions, they’re in touch with companies about vaccine distribution. They are doing a great deal of planning behind the scenes. Those will continue. But at this point, we’re information gathering. We’re determining where we need to scenario plan for ensuring that we are prepared as soon as the president-elect and the vice president-elect take office.
Jen Psaki: (19:41)
All right. Well, thank you everybody for your time this afternoon. I’m sorry we were a few minutes late and we’ll look forward to engaging with all of you afterwards and in the weeks ahead.