Democratic nominee Joe Biden is expanding his transition team, adding a former presidential rival, vice presidential contenders and top Obama administration policy hands in new leadership and advisory roles.
Biden is adding four co-chairs alongside his long-time confidant and former Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman: Jeffrey Zients, the top Obama economic adviser who was tasked with rescuing the floundering HealthCare.gov website; New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who Biden considered for the vice presidential nomination; Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, a top Biden surrogate and national co-chair of his campaign; and Anita Dunn, a senior campaign adviser.
He has also tapped a 15-person advisory board, which includes a one-time 2020 Democratic presidential rival, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
That board also includes a once vice presidential contender, former national security adviser Susan Rice; Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general under former President Barack Obama who has advised Biden’s campaign on policy and campaign tactics amid the coronavirus pandemic; and Sally Yates, the former deputy attorney general.
The moves come as Biden’s transition team lays groundwork – if Biden defeats President Donald Trump this fall – for government appointments and actions nearly five months away amid rapidly evolving health and economic crises and a national reckoning over racial injustice.
“There’s no precedent for the challenges. It’s 1918, 1932 and 1968 combined, and that’s why having a serious effort to prepare in case they win is exactly the right approach,” said David Marchick, who has worked with presidential transition teams in both parties as the director of the Center for Presidential Transition at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.
Adding to the degree of difficulty, he said, is that “this will be the first virtual transition in the history of the United States.”
Biden’s transition team this week signed a memorandum of understanding with Trump’s General Services Administration, a document required by law that formalizes how the federal government will assist Biden’s team in the lead-up to the election and, if he wins, afterward.
Transition teams’ work ramps up at the conclusion of the political parties’ conventions, when they gain access to government infrastructure support and can request security clearances.
“We are preparing for this transition amid the backdrop of a global health crisis and struggling economy. This is a transition like no other, and the team being assembled will help Joe Biden meet the urgent challenges facing our country on day one,” Kaufman said in a statement. “The co-chairs, advisory board, and senior staff are a diverse group of experts who are committed to helping a possible Biden-Harris administration beat the public health crisis and put Americans back to work in good-paying jobs.”
Others on the advisory board are Tony Allen, the president of the historically Black Delaware State University; veteran Biden economic adviser Jared Bernstein; former assistant attorney general Leslie Caldwell; former US ambassador to Romania Mark Gitenstein; environmentalist Cecilia Martinez; former Veterans Affairs secretary Bob McDonald; veteran Democratic operative Minyon Moore; labor leaders Teresa Romero of the United Farm Workers and Lonnie Stephenson of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Cathy Russell, a former Jill Biden chief of staff who Obama named to a new position: ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues; and Felicia Wong, the president of the Roosevelt Institute.
Biden’s transition team is also building out its day-to-day staff, which is managed by Yohannes Abraham.
Cynthia Hogan, a long-time Biden aide and former Apple lobbyist who helped lead his vice presidential search process, is among a group of eight new senior hires being added to that staff. Other additions include Cecilia Muñoz, the head of the Obama White House’s Domestic Policy Council; as well as Democratic political and policy veterans Tanya Bradsher, Suzy George, Don Graves, Jessica Hertz, Tara McGuinness and Darla Pomeroy. Graves and Pomeroy are also former Biden staffers.
The presence of long-time Biden allies like Kaufman and Hogan and veteran Democratic policy hands like Zients, Rice, Murthy and Muñoz could help Biden’s transition team develop plans that would remain in place if Biden defeats Trump.
In 2016, Trump’s transition team faced turmoil almost immediately after the election, when former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – who had helmed the effort – was dropped as Trump campaign advisers took over the effort.
Marchick said Biden was wise to select Richmond and Dunn, who are deeply involved in his campaign, and others who have advised his campaign.
“They’ve learned from previous pain points in previous transitions and have planned to address all those pain points to avoid them in the future,” he said.