Nov 13, 2020
Joe Biden Officials Briefing on White House Transition Transcript November 13
Joe Biden campaign officials held a briefing to discuss the President-elect’s transition on November 13. The team addressed questions about coordination with the Trump administration and congressional leaders. Read the transcript of the press conference here.
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… plans for putting personnel in place. As you all know, because many of you covered the campaign, it was a very busy period of time. And there wasn’t a lot of time to spend on planning cabinet picks or key senior staff picks during that time. He was able to spend some time doing that and having those conversations this week. And as we look ahead to this weekend, I think he’s earned certainly a couple of days off and he will be spending some time with family this weekend. And so, you can rest easy that there won’t be public events.
As we look to next week, you can anticipate that he will be using his convening power and his relationships that he has with people from across the spectrum to engage with Democrats and Republicans, leaders of both parties, inside and outside of Washington. You can also anticipate that he will be bringing people together who are committed to putting Americans back to work, and that he’ll also be hearing from and being briefed by some national security experts. So that’s what there is to look forward to next week. At this point, I’m going to turn it over to Yohannes Abraham, who is running the transition, to give us a couple of updates on the transition and the work behind the scenes.
Yohannes Abraham: (01:22)
Thanks, Jen. And first of all, I just want to thank everybody for being here. I wanted to give a few updates on our operations. As you all know, we took a significant step forward in terms of preparing for a new administration with the announcement of our agency review teams this week. These teams are a diverse group of experts that are responsible for evaluating the operations and the state of the federal agencies so that an incoming Biden Harris administration is prepared to lead our country on day one. Next, just to give you an update, we will soon be launching a new feature in the coming days on our website, buildbackbetter.com, that will encourage the American people to apply for roles in the Biden Harris administration. President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris want an administration that looks like America. And that means finding diverse, experienced talent from across the country.
Yohannes Abraham: (02:10)
Next, we have been hard at work for the last few months of the transition beginning to identify experienced talent to fill the nearly 4,000 political appointee roles in government. Just to give you a little bit of a frame of reference, the prior two administrations filled roughly 600 of those roles by day 100. And we’re ahead of that schedule. Finally, there’ve been a number of smart questions about the timeline for cabinet announcements. For some historical context, during the 2008 transition, most of the Obama Biden cabinet picks were announced in December. Our priority right now is supporting the president-elect and the vice president-elect as they seek to build a diverse team of experts that can confront the crises facing the country on day one of a new administration. So with that, I think we’d love to open it up to some questions.
Speaker 3: (03:04)
Asma Khalid has a question.
Asma Khalid: (03:08)
Yes. Hi. I had muted myself. Can y’all hear me?
We can. Hi, Asma.
Asma Khalid: (03:12)
Yes, great. Thank you. Hey there. So yesterday, the incoming chief of staff made some comments on MSNBC suggesting that while the lack of cooperation from the GSA has not yet become a problem, he acknowledged it could be a problem, specifically as you look into vaccine implementation in January and February around COVID. So could you talk to us at all about ways that you guys are thinking or planning to mitigate some of that, given that he’s already been thinking it could be a problem?
Absolutely. And thanks for the question, Asma, and for joining us as well. So a couple things. As Yo, or Yohannes, but you can call him Yo as I do, as he previewed, there’s been a lot of work going on behind the scenes for months, including preparing for a number of policy issues, preparing memos and preparing documents and decisions and things to tee up for decision-making by the president-elect and the vice president-elect. And there’s also been a lot of work on personnel. So those areas are ongoing. And I think that’s what Ron Klain was referring to in part yesterday, that we’re charging ahead with the transition.
At the same time, as he also touched on, there are areas where as much as President-elect Biden has been working on policy issues from national security to health for decades, you need real time information to deal with crises of the moment. So there are areas, so on the COVID front, like access to ongoing work on distribution plans, vaccine development, that engagement directly with the agencies would significantly help our preparations to govern. And obviously, at this pivotal time, when as we’ve seen this week, thousands of Americans have lost their lives to COVID, the current president is absent from that conversation. And it’s imperative that our team and our experts have that access.
I will also, though, add, at the COVID advisory board, one of the roles they can play is providing medical public health expertise and counsel to the president-elect and the vice president-elect as well as his team on all of these areas, whether it’s distribution or testing mechanisms. These are talented, experienced, some of the foremost experts in the country. Their role was never going to be to directly engage with federal officials, so they can continue providing advice just as we had planned. But certainly we would prefer, and I think the American people would prefer, if the incoming administration, the incoming president could have access to the real-time current information and plans.
Eamon Javers: (05:54)
Hey, guys. It’s Eamon Javers. I don’t know if you can hear me, but-
Eamon Javers: (05:58)
Great. Great to see you virtually. Thanks for doing this. Appreciate it. I have a question about the stimulus between now and January 20th for the president-elect. Does he support a new stimulus bill moving forward in the sense of COVID relief? How big does he think that should be? And is he prepared to push lawmakers on Capitol Hill to move forward with that during the next month or so?
Sure. Well, Eamon, as you know, he’s been the president-elect for five days, or six days. Sorry, my math is a little off there. And he has been engaging with and I expect he will continue to engage with in the coming days, with leaders in Congress about the stimulus and about a range of priority issues. We don’t have anything to preview for you or outline for you at this point, but you should expect that he will continue to be engaged in those discussions and certainly wants to see the American people receive the relief they need.
Eamon Javers: (07:01)
Do you have a sense of where that’s going to end up in terms of dollar amounts? I know you’re saying you can’t preview it, but just give us a ballpark in terms of scale of what he’s thinking about.
Eamon, we’re not here to preview the discussions that will happen with members of Congress or to give you a ballpark. I wish we could, but I would expect those conversations will be ongoing in the coming days and weeks. And as there’s more to share, I’m sure we hope we will do our best to share it with you.
Eamon Javers: (07:29)
Jen, it’s Kristen. Can I ask a question?
Hi. Hope you’re all well. Thanks for doing this. Couple of questions. You had talked about and Ron Klain had talked about last night on MSNBC the fact that President-elect Biden has had conversations with Republicans. Can you tell us specifically, who are those Republicans with whom he has spoken? And has he spoken to Leader McConnell? If not, are there plans for him to do so?
So thank you, Kristen. And I think as Ron Klain said last night, he has spoken with Democrats and Republicans. I will remind everyone that all Democrats and Republicans also don’t live in Washington DC. So he’ll also continue to talk with Democrats and Republicans all around the country, including elected officials. But we don’t have anything more to read out for you in terms of his calls. As you know, and as I think Ron Klain talked about a little bit last night, he and Speaker McConnell, I mean Leader McConnell, sorry, have a longstanding relationship. Whenever they do engage, they won’t have to play a lot of catch-up. They’d probably know each other’s family members names and all of that. And I think President-elect Biden is certainly eager to work with Democrats, but also Republicans and certainly Leader McConnell on putting the American people back to work, getting the pandemic under control, and all the various crises that the country face. But I don’t an additional, specific update for you on a call.
Quick follow, Jen. And just to be clear, so no plans that you can preview that he’s preparing to or has any specific time to speak with Leader McConnell? And as a part of that, obviously James Langford said he would step in if President-elect Biden was not receiving intelligence briefings by today. We have our Hill team working on that, but I would ask you, have you been in contact with Langford at all as he’s made that promise? And what is your understanding of what that would look like?
Well, I don’t want to speak for Senator Langford. I certainly bet he doesn’t want me to speak for him either. So I will say I’m sure your Hill folks are going to talk to him and his office, but I will say he’s not the only Republican who has highlighted the importance and the need for President-elect Biden to have access to intelligence briefings. And while an earlier question was about COVID, I would say intelligence briefings and access to real time threat assessments, real time information about our engagements around the world and the threats that we’re facing, I think that the fact that the incoming president and his incoming national security team doesn’t have access to that, it’s extremely [inaudible 00:10:10] to anyone that Langford, but also many other Republicans, a number of other Republicans have raised concerns about that.
So I would certainly point you to him and his office on what the next step is there, but we think that’s one of the biggest important reasons why ascertainment is essential. Also, just because many of you know this, but in the 9/11 Commission Report, one of the things they talked about was the impact on the delay of the transition period on our national security. And so I’m sure many Republicans in the Senate have seen and read that with interest. But hopefully we’ll hear more and see more coming out in the coming days.
Thanks, Jen. Thanks, everyone.
Hey, Jen. It’s Megan [inaudible 00:10:56].
I had one quick follow-up on stimulus first and just was wondering what the thinking was or if there were concerns that passing anything before inauguration day might limit the president-elect’s chances to pass his own package in early 2021? Especially if something that does pass isn’t as large as he might like to see.
Sure, Megan. Well, I will just reiterate that we’re six days into the transition here. And as we noted in and as you’ve seen in readouts from the transition and also from leaders on the Hill, there have been conversations started that he’s engaged with. We expect that will continue in the coming weeks, but I don’t have anything to really update you on on that front today.
Okay. And on one other note, Ron Klain mentioned last night that [inaudible 00:11:47], sorry, that reversing some of Trump’s Obamacare changes would happen on day one. Can you offer any specifics on what that might include?
There are a number of ways, a number of steps that incoming President Biden can take to reinstate or re-support the Affordable Care Act. We can circle back with you, Megan, on the specifics on that after the call, if that works for you.
Great. Thank you.
Yamiche Alcindor: (12:15)
Hi, it’s Yamiche Alcindor with PBS Newshour. Thanks for taking my question. I have a two part question. You touched on it, the 9/11 Condition saying that the delay imperiled the country’s response to 9/11. How high of a concern is it for national security at this point? Or is there something else, obviously COVID, on your mind when you think about what the delay is actually imperiling in that way? And then the second question I have is what would it take to go to court? I’ve heard from some sources that December 14th and the vote being certified seems like the time that you would be ready to go to court. But I’m wondering if that’s actually the sense there.
Sure. Well, let me take the second part first. One, I think you’ll be hearing more updates from the campaign side today on the litigation around the country. And we’ll certainly defer to them on speaking to that. But I will say that while no presidential transition would take any options off the table, that’s certainly not our preference. Our priority would be or our preference, I should say, would be that the GSA, the ascertainment happens, that the letter is signed, and we all move forward in preparing President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to govern. We’re not interested in having a food fight with the GSA administrator or anyone, really. We just want to get access to intelligence information, to threat assessments, to the ongoing work on COVID so that we can prepare to govern, bring the American people to together, and get the pandemic under control.
And I think that objective, I think, rings with a lot of people around the country too. And is starting to ring with some Republicans. So I would say we’ve talked a bit about COVID. It’s been six days, but with every day that passes, it becomes more concerning that our national security team and the president-elect and the vice president-elect don’t have access to those threat assessments, intelligence briefings, real-time information about our engagements around the world because you don’t know what you don’t know. And in order to prepare to govern, it’s important that they have access to that information.
Yohannes Abraham: (14:41)
Jen, I would just add I think all that’s right. I’d add President-elect Biden has a wealth of experience spanning decades as it relates to national security and foreign policy issues. And he surrounded himself with a team that is similarly seasoned and experienced. But exactly as Jen said, each passing day, lack of access to current classified operations or back channel conversations that are happening really put the American people’s interests as it relates to their national security at risk.
Yeah, that’s the issue. He knows his way around the situation room. He doesn’t need a briefing on where to go to get things on a national security team. It’s the real time threat assessment information, intelligence briefings, that we would like to see him have access to.
Yamiche Alcindor: (15:29)
If I could do a quick followup, I just wonder if you could also talk through it sounds like you’re not back-channeling with agencies and it seems like maybe it’s because you don’t want to put them in a tough situation, but could you talk a bit about that and the decision to work with former officials, but not kind of informally have conversations?
Yohannes Abraham: (15:51)
So I’ll take that one. Throughout the course of the transition, we’ve been in regular contact with federal career officials who are tasked with administering transitions, who are nonpartisan career experts on transitions, including at GSA. There have been regular meetings of something called the Agency Transition Directors Council, which many of you are familiar with, that is comprised of representatives from the various federal agencies who are tasked with the nuts and bolts of executing on a transition. And so we’ve been in regular contact with those career officials.
Yohannes Abraham: (16:27)
Now, in terms of the work of the agency review teams, obviously pre-ascertainment, they do not have access to officials inside of the federal executive. But in order to move forward in this time period before ascertainment, we’ve planned for every scenario pre-election, and one of them is the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in where, despite the clear and convincing win, we have not been ascertained yet. And so the agency review teams are embarking on a program of working with people who are similarly familiar with the federal executive to make sure that we have a running start into the period of time post-ascertainment. And then most importantly, a running start into day one of an administration.
Tara Copp: (17:05)
If I could follow up on that, this is Tara Copp with McClatchy, does the upheaval at the Pentagon concern President-elect Biden and the transition team? And has any member of the transition team been able to reach out to some of the senior uniformed military officials at the Pentagon to get some of those wheels in motion that you’re talking about, the intelligence, the knowledge of what they’re dealing with at present time?
Do you want me to start, Yo?
Yohannes Abraham: (17:32)
Okay. So as Yohannes just previewed, I mean, until there’s ascertainment, there isn’t going to be official engagement between personnel, members of our agency review teams, many of whom have served for decades in national security agencies, with current officials. So of course it’s of concern to see the upheaval. It should be of concern to anybody because there shouldn’t be a politicization of the military.
But I would just go back to something Yohannes mentioned earlier. And I think you’ll see more of this in the time between now and Thanksgiving is President-elect Biden has a wealth of not just experience, but contacts, people he’s worked with in the past, people who he can engage with to get briefings, have discussions with in the national security field. And he’ll certainly be doing that. And while our agency review team can’t be engaging directly with the agency, many of them have served relatively recently and also have an understanding of what the needs are and how we can work together to address the threats to the degree we have the information we need. And obviously, I’ve touched on how we need current information. But also how we [inaudible 00:18:50] President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris.
Tara Copp: (18:56)
And just to follow up on that, have there been any discussions as to why you think he did replace Esper, replace a lot of the top officials at the Pentagon? Is there a concern that Trump may make some sort of domestic use of the military if he continues to contest the election? Or that maybe it’s to deal with some sort of foreign concern such as withdrawing troops from Afghanistan?
I think from the transition side, our objective is to follow the lead of President-elect Biden, which is to encourage calm and to reassure the American people that not only is the outcome of the election clear, not only was there not fraud, as officials from DHS put out a statement saying just yesterday or this morning, it’s all running together, but part of his objective is also rebuilding those institutions.
And so, I would say, from our perspective, I can’t get into the mind, none of us can on this end, of President Trump or anyone around him on the decisions they make. All we can do is project how he would govern and how he and Vice-President-elect Harris will govern, which certainly is in stark contrast in a number of ways. But one of them is respect for the civil servants who have served the country, many for decades, respect for the military. And that’s what they both can expect when they’re inaugurated. And between now and then, his objective is to get advice where he can. Obviously, we would like to have access to real-time threat assessment and real-time intelligence briefings, but also to tap into his wealth of experiences, wealth of contacts on these issues so he can be as up to speed as possible.
Alexi McCammond: (20:43)
Hey, guys. Alexi McCammond with Axios. Thank you so much for doing this and happy Friday. So just to be clear, there are no plans to track these folks with plans to then rehire them, the folks who are being fired by President Trump? And then separately, I’m curious if there are other agencies that you’re worried about based on public reporting and otherwise that you’re tracking in the coming months. And finally, will family members be barred from serving in the White House or administration in any official way?
Sure. All great questions. Let me take the ones we can. And some of the pieces, it’s hard to preview on day six of the transition. But I will say that, wait, go back to your first question. Sorry, I need a little bit more coffee. And you asked a couple so I didn’t [crosstalk 00:21:27].
Alexi McCammond: (21:27)
Any plans to sort of track the folks who are being fired by President Trump with eventful plans to rehire them?
Sure. Well, look, I will say, just as a principle, that rebuilding the institutions of government that have been hollowed by this administration, finding ways to engage with the civil servants, the career officials who are, frankly, the heart and soul of government, and I served in the State Department for two and a half years, those agencies wouldn’t function without the thousands of people who have served for decades, is a priority for President-elect Biden and Vic President-elect Harris. Exactly how that happens or which personnel will be brought back or asked to come back or the process, I don’t have more to preview. I don’t know, Yohannes, if there’s anything more from your end on that particular-
Yohannes Abraham: (22:17)
No. What I’d say there is, to Jen’s point, the state or the federal executive is something that obviously we all have concern about. And what our team has done is take a look agency by agency. And from really from the bottoms up, do an assessment as to what are the priority positions that need to be filled within the 4,000 that a president has the ability to fill in order to do the job of building back better on day one, in order to meet the demands of president-elect and vice president-elect’s agenda?
Yohannes Abraham: (22:48)
And in terms of thinking through the actual personnel for those positions, it goes back to something we said at the top. We’re on pace to have a robust personnel effort early on in the administration because we know that there are so many places in the executive that need capacity. And we are prioritizing the same things that we prioritized in terms of hiring for the transition, which is a diverse group of experts that know the jobs that need to be done and are ready to start leading on day one. And that are, in many ways, embodied, not in terms of specific people, but embodied as a group by the type of people you saw in the agency review teams, folks who really understand these agencies and are able to effectively administer them once they’re given the chance.
Speaker 3: (23:33)
Our last question goes to Jen Epstein.
Jen Epstein: (23:36)
This is sort of a piece of what Alexi asked, but are you going to be putting out rules around ethics for the administration, for the White House staff, for members of the president-elect and vice president-elect’s family sometime soon? And will those look like the transition rules or will they be different? And should we anticipate that we will see the senior staff of the White House being built out in the coming days? Or is that going to take longer since obviously I think a lot of the reporters on this call understand who a lot of those people are, but are waiting to hear what their titles would be?
You’re eager for some personnel announcements. So I will say that, as I mentioned at the top of this call, there was a little bit of time this week, in addition to getting national security briefings and COVID briefings and announcing his advisory board and having some public events for the president-elect to spend some time with close advisors, having discussions about personnel, obviously that’s always a focus of any transition. As you saw yesterday, was it yesterday? Ron Klain. The day before? Ron Klain was announced as the chief of staff. And he and the president-elect are eager to get a senior team and a senior staff finalized and certainly announced in the coming weeks because they know they have a lot of work to do. I can’t give you an exact date or anything. I can just reiterate for you that it’s a priority. And we hope to have some updates on that for you soon.
And on the ethics piece, we have a robust ethics pledge that is signed by anyone who’s working on the transition. And certainly, as we get closer to announcements about personnel for an administration, I would expect [inaudible 00:25:39] information on that. I don’t know if Yohannes has anything to add. Any parting thoughts, wisdom for the weekend?
Yohannes Abraham: (25:50)
Just appreciate everybody making time, and we’ll be in touch.
Yeah. Thanks, everyone, for joining.
Speaker 3: (25:58)