Nov 20, 2020
Joe Biden Team Press Briefing on Transition Transcript November 20
Joe Biden’s team held a press conference on November 20 to address their efforts to move forward with a transition of power despite the Trump administration’s unwillingness to participate. Read the transcript of the briefing with updates here.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
Jen Psaki: (00:47)
Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us for another fun Friday afternoon briefing from the Transition before I turn it over to my colleague Yohannes I just wanted to talk about a few of the things that happened this week. So, as you all know we are still waiting for the GSA administrator to ascertain the outcome of the election but we are still moving full steam ahead and so is of course President Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris.
Jen Psaki: (01:16)
So this week President Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris had a pretty busy week. They had a week full of meetings with congressional leaders, governors, national security experts, CEOs and labor leaders, frontline workers. Earlier this week on Monday they hosted a meeting that included both CEOs and labor leaders to discuss ways to begin to put people back to work. And this is just a reminder that he’s somebody who can bring people together and convene them at this time when we need people to come from all sides to come together and address the crisis we’re facing.
Jen Psaki: (01:54)
On Tuesday, the president elect and vice-president elect me with some of the country’s most experienced national security experts about the challenges facing our country and our institutions including the diplomatic defendence and intelligent challenges the administration will inherit on day one. And just as a reminder, these are meetings that of course he would probably have anyway, these are people that many of them he’s known for decades throughout his time and career working on foreign policy issues. But right now he is being shut out and the administration is being shut out of intelligence briefings and national security briefings that real-time information, threat assessments, data about the threats we’re facing around the world, our engagements around the world and information we need to get the pandemic under control.
Jen Psaki: (02:44)
On Wednesday the president elect met with frontline workers hearing firsthand accounts from healthcare workers and first responders who were bearing the high emotional toll of helping others recover from COVID. And just yesterday, the president elect and the vice-president elect met with Democratic and Republican governors from the National Governor’s Association in a meeting, I should say, convened by the National Governors Association, and they talked about the importance of working together as one country to beat COVID. Addressing COVID and getting the pandemic under control is not a partisan issue, it’s not an issue that’s going to be solved by one party. It needs to be a something that’s done together with health experts and scientists and certainly leaders from both parties.
Jen Psaki: (03:26)
And as you also may know today the president elect and vice president elect later this afternoon, I should say, will be meeting, will host Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer for a meeting in Wilmington. They’ll discuss emergency aid that families desperately need, small businesses need and state and local governments need at this critical point in time. Of course the president elect and he also named several members of his team, about a little more than a dozen including last week before we spoke of course he had named his White House chief of staff. And this week, including some this morning, they’ve announced several, a number of diverse, qualified and experienced individuals who will be filling important roles in the White House moving forward.
Jen Psaki: (04:10)
And as we look ahead to next week and approach the Thanksgiving holiday he’s going to be focusing on continuing to address, be briefed on, speak out about the crises facing our country. We know this isn’t a holiday season that most people would have envisioned and they will continue to do the work to ensure that during next year’s holiday we can celebrate with our loved ones. So with that, I will turn it over to you on Yohannes.
Yohannes Abraham: (04:37)
Thanks Jen and thanks everyone for making the time to be here. As Jen mentioned the GSA administrator has yet to ascertain the results of the election despite an overwhelming consensus that Joe Biden is the winner of the election and therefore the president elect. And as Jen also mentioned we continue to move forward in the absence of an ascertainment decision. However, the non-ascertainment does place limits on the resources available to the transition and most importantly our access to federal agencies. This isn’t a game, who gets to talk to whom, our inability to start our formal agency review process has the potential to have real impacts on families across the country. In fact, there’s a growing chorus of national leaders who are calling upon GSA to move forward with the transition and sounding the alarm about the potentially harmful impact of further delays.
Yohannes Abraham: (05:27)
Earlier this week Dr. Fauci said that the lack of ascertainment would delay vaccine distribution. Leading medical groups including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and the American Nurses Association also wrote a letter urging the Trump administration to coordinate with the Biden transition on COVID 19 planning. Public health experts around the country echo these sentiments and call for the GSA to stop delaying ascertainment and ensure a seamless transition as COVID-19 infection rates surge across the country.
Yohannes Abraham: (05:58)
Yesterday, numerous business leaders and groups released statements calling for the transition process to move forward, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Black Chamber of Commerce, the Business Round Table, the National Association of Manufacturers, Small Business for America’s Future and other leading business leaders. And finally, as Jen mentioned this week the president elect and the vice-president elect were briefed by former national security officials about the readiness of the diplomatic defense and intelligence agencies. As you know they are still not able to receive the critically important classified briefings that should be available to them.
Yohannes Abraham: (06:32)
And so, the GSA administrator’s inaction has the potential to have a real impact on families across the country. Now even in the face of that, the transition team continues to do the work it is able to including the continued rollout of senior white house officials. Last week, we announced during this briefing that the public jobs portal would be open on the website and the personnel team is making strong progress and getting us ready to hit the ground on inauguration day with a diverse, talented team. So with that, I’d love to turn it over to a Q and A.
Speaker 3: (07:05)
Great thank you both.
Speaker 4: (07:07)
We’ll go to Lisa for our first question, Lisa [inaudible 00:07:11].
Great. Thank you guys for doing this. I really appreciate it.
Jen Psaki: (07:14)
Hi guys. I’ve got a couple of questions. One, if generally you can talk about Vice-President Elect Harris’s role. She mentioned to reporters this week that she’s had a very tight role, an important role in the cabinet selections and just anything more on that would be great. And then also on the COVID relief bill that I know President Elect Biden’s talked a lot about. Is he lobbying members of Congress directly including today, Republicans and Democrats to pass something now? Talk to us about that. And would he be okay with something less than what Democrat leaders want because he needs something now?
Yohannes Abraham: (07:50)
I’ll take the first question and Jen maybe you take the second one. The answer to the first question is easy in so much as Vice-President Elect Harris has been an integral part of all personnel discussions that happened during the transition and will continue to play that role.
Jen Psaki: (08:09)
I will just add to your second question Lisa. So as you know, President Elect Biden and Vice-President Elect Harris will be meeting with Speaker Pelosi and Schumer later this afternoon. They are going to be working in lockstep and they’re in lockstep agreement that there needs to be emergency assistance and aid during the lame duck session to help families, to help small businesses. There’s no more room for delay and we need to move forward as quickly as possible. He of course is speaking with officials, elected officials from both sides of the aisle and will continue to do that. But it’s an important meeting this afternoon because they’re going to continue to work together on pushing that forward because they know how much that relief is needed especially as we look toward the Thanksgiving holiday.
Do you know if he’s speaking to Republicans in Congress on this, the president elect?
Jen Psaki: (09:03)
[inaudible 00:09:03] for you, but he’s been doing a range of calls. He has relationships of course that go back with people from both sides of the aisle and [inaudible 00:09:10] later this afternoon [inaudible 00:09:12]
Speaker 6: (09:13)
Great. We’ll go to our next question from Amen Jabers.
Amen Jabers: (09:17)
Yeah. Hey guys, thanks for doing this. I really appreciate the call. So earlier today a group called Demand Progress put out a list of democratic officials and veterans of previous administrations that it said, “We’re corporate Democrats and too close to oil and gas and other interests that they don’t like.” I’m wondering what effect that list which includes people like Bruce Reed and Steve Bruschetti is going to have on board decisions of how to staff up this White House. Are you going to take that into account in any way or are you going to ignore it?
Jen Psaki: (09:49)
Well Amen thanks for the question and as you can see by the number of announcements that we’ve already made to date and the decisions that have been made by President Elect Biden and Vice-President Elect Harris they’re eager to get their team in place. There remains a commitment and we’ve certainly seen this as they’ve had discussions and made decisions already and you’ll see this as more names come out in the weeks to come that they want the cabinet and also the White House team and the teams that will fill these important roles to look like America. And that means there will be people from diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences, and a diversity of political views including from all sides of the democratic party.
Jen Psaki: (10:29)
So we are certainly hearing from and listening to people and their thoughts and views but he’s made that commitment and I would encourage people to wait until we’ve made even one announcement about a cabinet member and certainly more than just a dozen White House names before they pass judgment. The last thing I would just say is that President Elect Biden is, he campaigned as somebody who would be governing for all of the country. That means Democrats, that means independents, that means Republicans, that means people from all political ideologies and his personnel decisions and his approach to how he’s going to fill those seats and fill the important roles will be reflective of that and that’s the approach he’ll continue to take.
Amen Jabers: (11:16)
And Jen, thanks for that. Just one quick followup specifically on Wall Street. Does the president elect see a Wall Street background as something that’s helpful for potential White House staffers and cabinet officials or does he see a Wall Street background as something that’s not great to have?
Jen Psaki: (11:33)
Well Amen I think from having lived through the Obama Biden, blissfully lived through, happily lived through the Obama Biden administration myself I think it’s pretty safe to thing to say that he’s not a fan of Wall Street policies or an advocate for a lot of the policies that some people would be in favor of or be pushing for from that end. His record speaks for itself and his advocacy and his words speak for themselves. And his team that he selects will be people who are implementing his policies, who are implementing the Biden agenda. They are people who are committed to putting Americans back to work, to ensuring there’s regulation where there needs to be, to ensuring that people have access to affordable healthcare. Those are the people who will be named to the cabinet and named to his team are there to implement his agenda. So, I would certainly point people to words he said and his own backgrounds over the last several years.
Amen Jabers: (12:34)
Okay. Thanks guys.
Speaker 6: (12:35)
Great. It looks like our next question is from Sabrina Sidiki.
Sabrina Sidiki: (12:39)
Thank you both so much for doing this today. I just wanted to ask if there has been any outreach to the transition team whatsoever from current Trump administration officials and if so what has their message been to the transition team? And just the second question is President Elect Biden he said yesterday that he’s not ruling out legal action. Can you just talk about at what point you will feel that all other options have been exhausted with respect to the GSA ascertainment and when it might come to pass that you would consider legal action?
Jen Psaki: (13:17)
Well, I’ll start and Yohannes may have some words of wisdom to add. So, on your second question the president elect has [inaudible 00:13:26] that and will certainly share this of course, given we all work for him that our preference would be for the GSA administrator to sign the ascertainment and we can all move forward. We can have access to intelligence briefings. We can have access to the information that’s necessary to have our team working on vaccine distribution, have access to the current information they need. We can ensure that there wouldn’t be a delay in Americans getting relief they need come January 20th. That’s our preference.
Jen Psaki: (13:56)
At the same time, I think there’s a shared view or shared running out of patience happening that that’s happening as we can see on Capitol Hill, that’s happening with business leaders, that’s happening with national security officials. Because a smooth transition and a period of transition where the president elect, the vice president elect, national security officials and experts, experts who are helping us get the pandemic under control, have access to the anything that they may need is essential for our democracy and for our country.
Jen Psaki: (14:27)
So, I would say we’ve seen that escalate externally and Yohannes started off mentioning a couple of the business leaders and business groups they want certainty in the economy. They know that if we have a delay in getting the information we need about vaccine distribution that could delay that moving forward. The Biden administration is going to be responsible for the distribution of the majority of 300 million vaccines. If that is delayed that could impact small businesses, that could impact the economy reopening. Everybody’s looking for certainty at this point. And the last thing I’ll just say is, no presidential transition would take options off the table and we certainly aren’t but we would love it if this afternoon or even during this call, during this briefing, if we learned that the GSA administrator signed the ascertainment and we could all move forward with continuing to prepare to govern.
Speaker 6: (15:21)
Great and we’ll take… Sorry Yohannes.
Yohannes Abraham: (15:24)
The only thing I’d add there is we’re consulting with a broad range of stakeholders outside of the government that have expertise in various lanes that will be critical to governing. But at the end of the day exactly as Jen said there’s no replacing the real-time information that can only come from the post ascertainment environment that we should be in right now in terms of regularized contact and regular contact with folks inside of the agencies who have information that would be vital to everything from our national security to as Jen said vaccine distribution.
Sabrina Sidiki: (15:55)
Sorry, just to be clear have you not had any outreach then from current Trump administration officials?
Jen Psaki: (16:00)
So Sabrina it’s a great question and I know there’s been some confusion about this. Our teams can’t speak with or engage with current administration officials because the ascertainment has been delayed. And we would certainly love to have that engagement and love to be discussing with [inaudible 00:16:20] and people who have been experts on a range of issues from foreign policy to health policy preparations to take over January [inaudible 00:16:29] But our team has been very careful of course about following those rules and guidelines and we’ll have to abide by that until ascertainment happens.
Speaker 6: (16:39)
Great and we’ll take two more. We’ll move on to Arlette [inaudible 00:16:44].
Hi there. Yesterday, the president elect talked a little bit about his cabinet selections and I was wondering if you’d be able to provide a target date for when you are planning to roll out that first cabinet nominee. And then also I know you’ll say that every cabinet position is important but is there a certain priority that you guys have in mind for certain positions and getting those out first?
Jen Psaki: (17:08)
Sure well Arlette thank you for the question. So, I’ve been doing this long enough to know not to get ahead of the president elect and certainly when he’s ready to make his announcements about a cabinet he’ll do that. He indicated yesterday that that will be around Thanksgiving so that’s aligned with the timing of the announcement of cabinet nominees back in 2008 when I was working on the Obama transition. And I expect you’ll hear more from him on that soon. But since you gave us the opportunity I just wanted to say one thing about the cabinet and the nominees. He is committed to selecting [inaudible 00:17:44] and as the indicated selected some people who are qualified, who are experienced, who are going to be prepared on day one to address the crisis that our country is facing. And he will also put together a team that looks like America, that is diverse in terms of ideology and background as well.
Jen Psaki: (18:01)
So, that’s how he’s looking at putting together his team. And we certainly saw today that there were a number of Republicans who have indicated they’d be open to supporting nominees. That feels like a positive sign because we know that the American people are not expecting an obstruction, they’re expecting members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to come together and help put qualified and experienced people in place to address the various crises that our country is facing. And I expect you’ll know more in the coming weeks.
Speaker 6: (18:38)
Thanks. And we’ll take our last question from Sam Stein.
Sam Stein: (18:41)
Hi guys. Thanks for doing this, much appreciated. This is a bit of a weird question but obviously as you’re planning for the transition this is happening during a spike in COVID and there’s articles about the difficulties in actually laying out the physical space of the White House and how to use it. I am wondering if you can walk us through what type of decisions are being made, plans are being implemented to actually physically staff the premises of the White House come January 21st when you expect to be there?
Yohannes Abraham: (19:14)
So, our top priority as you saw in the campaign and certainly as you’ve seen throughout the transition is following the science and keeping the safety of our team top of mind. And it’s a dynamic situation with the pandemic but I think we’ll do the exact same adherence to and commitment to the science of keeping the team safe that you saw on the campaign, that you see during the transition. You’ll see that as we enter into the White House physical space.
Sam Stein: (19:43)
How does that manifest itself? Are we talking about fewer people actually working from the West Wing?
Yohannes Abraham: (19:49)
We don’t have anything to share on that at this moment but I think you can rest assured that we will follow the science and we’ll put procedures in place to keep our team safe.
Jen Psaki: (19:57)
And as you can see Sam we are obviously not working in a transition office. I have children’s art and such things. And Yohannes obviously needs more pictures on his wall. But we also, president elect and the vice-president elect have conveyed to all of us that we should do our best to be model citizens as well which means being safe and I know this is about this moment of time being safe, of course wearing masks. Most of us are of course, the vast majority are working remotely because we want to be models for the country too.
Sam Stein: (20:31)
Jen Psaki: (20:37)
Great. Well, thank you everybody for joining us and we’ll have plenty of news in the coming weeks that we’ll discuss with all of you.