Biden begins transition plans as Trump refuses to concede

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 8:07 p.m. ET, November 16, 2020
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8:04 p.m. ET, November 16, 2020

Biden transition team hoping to work with Trump administration on coronavirus, top adviser says

From CNN's Laura Ly

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith CT-N

President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force has yet to talk to the current administration about the transition, but is “very open” to doing so, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, co-chair of the task force and associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine, said Monday.

“It hasn’t happened yet, but we’re very open to that. We would appreciate a chance to work together,” Nunez-Smith said at a news conference with Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont.

Nunez-Smith said the task force is working very closely with policy teams and that the work of the transition is “driven by the data, by evidence, by science.”

Her planning work is also guided by examining differential impacts on groups disproportionally affected by Covid-19, such as on people of color, and on those who work in medical settings, nursing homes, and prisons, Nunez-Smith said. She added that their goal is to optimize equity and efficiency for all.

Nunez-Smith was also part of Connecticut’s “re-open committee,” which advised state officials on safe reopening practices during the pandemic, Lamont said. Nunez-Smith said she believed the incoming Covid-19 task force could learn a lot from states’ individual responses, and praised the work of Connecticut officials in keeping numbers down relative to the rest of the country.

“At our core, we are committed to ... learning from states ... to really best inform how this transition plan becomes a successful implementation blueprint,” Nunez-Smith said. “We take a posture that there’s a lot to learn from states such as ours.”

As far as full scale distribution of a vaccine, Nunez-Smith said the US is still many months away and that it’s important to continue to wear masks and keep current social bubbles in place. She maintained that it’s imperative to keep hospitalization numbers down to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

“Our most precious and valuable resource right now is our health care system” of medical professionals, Nunez-Smith said.

When asked whether she would support a national lockdown, Nunez-Smith used what’s become the Biden campaign’s talking point of “dialing up and dialing down” of responses depending on local conditions, rather than widespread restrictions. 

“I tend to very much agree with notion of precision and that we can in fact, when we sort of focus on task, can keep in mind safety and economic recovery,” Nunez-Smith said. “It’s got to be a precise adjustment of the dial up and down. It’s not a light switch.”

CNN’s Maggie Fox and Kelly Christ contributed to this report.

7:53 p.m. ET, November 16, 2020

Republican senator says he did "step in" and talked to Trump agency about Biden transition

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ted Barrett

Sen. James Lankford
Sen. James Lankford Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images/FILE

GOP Sen. James Lankford said Monday that he did "step in" with the General Services Administration late last week over the Biden transition process – and seemed satisfied with the agency's handling of the matter so far.

"I did step in, I did talk to them on Friday," Lankford said, declining to provide details about who he spoke with and what they said. "My staff has been involved, I've been involved."

"We talked through the process, where they're coming from, I talked through what I see is a good process, but I'm just not going to go into all the details," said Lankford, who chairs a Senate subcommittee that oversees GSA.

Lankford defended the decision by the GSA to not ascertain that Joe Biden is the President-elect, arguing the agency cannot make such a determination with one of the candidates disputing the election and before results are certified by the states.

"There's no way they can ascertain," Lankford said. "GSA is not the electors."

Some background: The comments come after Lankford drew attention last week when he said that Biden should be getting briefed on national security matters.

“If that’s not occurring by Friday, I will step in,” Lankford told a local radio station last week. 

Lankford said Monday that Biden should get regular classified intelligence briefings that he received as a candidate. But he argued that Biden should not have access to the Presidential Daily Brief – or daily summary of high-level intelligence – until he's officially declared President-elect.

On Saturday, Lankford told Newsmax, “I’m not in a hurry, necessarily, to get Joe Biden these briefings. It's been interesting how the media – national media, not this network but others – have twisted this term 'step in.'"

Lankford claimed Monday he was not being inconsistent.

"Nothing changed for me," he said adding that he's "concerned" about the shortened transition process and wants to make sure that Biden gets some level of briefings as Trump disputes the election results.

7:52 p.m. ET, November 16, 2020

Georgia's secretary of state says Sen. Graham asked him to "look hard" for ballots to throw out

From CNN's Kay Jones and Josiah Ryan

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger CNN

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told CNN Monday that Sen. Lindsay Graham suggested that he "look hard and see how many ballots could be thrown out” to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state.

Raffensperger said he spoke this past Friday with Graham, who asked if the "ballots could be matched back to the voters.” Raffensberger told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the impression he got was that Graham wanted those ballots thrown out. President Trump and Graham, a South Carolina Republican and a staunch ally of the President, have both pushed baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud.

"He asked if the ballots could be matched back to the voters," Raffensperger told Blitzer, recounting the conversation he had with Graham. "I got the sense it implied that then you could throw those out ... So that's the impression that I got." 

Raffensberger said Georgia’s election systems already require signature matches when voters request a mail ballot and when completed ballots are returned to election systems. He also said the online absentee portal has a photo ID. 

"We feel confident the election officials did their job," he said. 

Graham today dismissed the report, first published in the Washington Post, telling reporters it was "ridiculous" and saying he'd had a conversation with Raffensperger about voting machines and signatures but had not asked that votes be discarded. 

“What I'm trying to find out was, how do you verify signatures on mail-in ballots in these states," he said. "So when you mail in a ballot, you got to have some way to verify that the signature on the envelope actually matches the person who requested the ballot."

"If he feels threatened by that conversation, he's got a problem," said Graham. "I actually thought it was a good conversation."

Raffensperger also told Blitzer that he and his wife have received death threats, mostly on her cell phone, over the past two weeks. The first ones were subtle, he said, and got more graphic and “vulgar” over time. He said it's "unsettling" for his wife. Trump has attacked Raffensberger on Twitter this past week.

Raffensperger, a Republican, said that he understands how contentious this election was and he will be disappointed because he was "rooting for the Republicans to win.” 

"We're going to follow the process, follow the law. The results will be what they are," he said. "Integrity in this office matters."

CNN's Manu Raju and Sarah Fortinksky contributed to this report.

7:17 p.m. ET, November 16, 2020

Rep. Cedric Richmond expected to leave Congress to join Biden administration

From CNN's Sarah Mucha, Greg Krieg and Dan Merica 

Joe Biden is greeted by Rep. Cedric Richmond, as he arrives in Columbus, Georgia, on October 27.
Joe Biden is greeted by Rep. Cedric Richmond, as he arrives in Columbus, Georgia, on October 27. Jim Watso/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond is expected to leave Congress to join President-elect Joe Biden's administration in a senior White House role, three sources familiar with the plan tell CNN.

Richmond served as a national co-chair of Biden's campaign, and he's also a member of the Biden-Harris transition team. 

He is expected to hold a news conference tomorrow morning in New Orleans "to address the future of the 2nd Congressional District seat," according to a news release. 

7:15 p.m. ET, November 16, 2020

Biden names campaign manager as deputy chief of staff

From CNN's Dan Merica and Jeff Zeleny

Jen O’Malley Dillon
Jen O’Malley Dillon Andre Chung/The Washington Post/Getty Images/FILE

Jen O’Malley Dillon will join President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration as deputy chief of staff, a source familiar with the matter tells CNN.

The planned move is the latest in a long line of expected senior White House hires as Biden moves to fill out his administration. 

O’Malley Dillon was Biden’s campaign manager, helping vault the former vice president’s struggling primary campaign into a general election juggernaut that made Donald Trump a one-term president.

O’Malley Dillon will be joining Ron Klain, who was announced as Biden’s incoming chief of staff last week, and Rep. Cedric Richmond, who sources tell CNN will leave Congress and join the Biden White House in a senior role.

O’Malley Dillon has long told friends that she had no interest in working in the West Wing after the campaign, but after working in top jobs on numerous political campaigns – including former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s failed 2020 primary campaign and both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns – the Democratic operative has never served in a White House. 

That historical pull, said a person familiar with her decision, proved too much to turn down and O’Malley Dillon is expected to have the operations portfolio in the White House – a role Jim Messina played in Obama’s first term.

O'Malley Dillon has held a number of top jobs within the universe of Democratic organizations, including executive director of the Democratic National Committee and the founding partner at Precision Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm.

6:48 p.m. ET, November 16, 2020

Three attorneys pull out of representing the Trump campaign in Pennsylvania lawsuit

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz

There’s been yet another shakeup in the Trump campaign’s case to block votes in Pennsylvania.

Three attorneys who were representing the campaign— Linda Kerns, the Philadelphia lawyer who has spearheaded several cases on Trump’s behalf in Pennsylvania, and Texans John Scott and Douglas Bryan Hughes—are withdrawing. 

They say a new lawyer, Marc Scaringi, a Republican who runs a small firm in Harrisburg, will be stepping in. 

This comes a day before arguments in the case over whether it should be dismissed, and shortly after several of President Trump’s legal avenues were shut down.

Last week, a midsized law firm named Porter Wright pulled out of representing the Trump campaign in the case, prompting the Texas duo to step up next to Kerns. The President announced his own shakeup of his legal team over the weekend, putting Rudy Giuliani in charge. 

6:32 p.m. ET, November 16, 2020

Ballots found during Georgia audit so far won't change outcome, official says

From CNN's Wes Bruer and Marshall Cohen 

Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling
Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling CNN

About 2,600 uncounted ballots were found in Floyd County, Georgia, during the ongoing statewide recount, netting more votes for President Trump, but not nearly enough to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, according to Gabriel Sterling, who manages the state’s election system. 

Floyd County is a GOP stronghold that Trump won with 70% of the vote. He’ll net about 800 votes from the new batch of ballots, Sterling said. Before the audit, Biden led the state by more than 14,000 votes. 

“It doesn't change the final outcome, but it does change the percentages slightly,” Sterling said. 

An investigation is underway, but it’s already clear that the ballots went missing because of “human error” and were not part of any systematic effort to undermine the election, Sterling said. The 2,600 new ballots weren’t scanned when Floyd County was tabulating its in-person early votes, Sterling said. 

Sterling said state officials have “zero concern (that) this is an issue with Dominion software,” referring to the election technology company that Trump has falsely accused of committing nationwide fraud. 

Earlier on Monday, local GOP officials Floyd County spread false claims that the issue there was caused by Dominion Voting Systems. The Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly debunked the Trump-backed conspiracy theory that Dominion software allegedly deleted millions of Trump votes. 

Despite the issue in Floyd County, Sterling said a majority of counties are finished with their audits and that "the majority of the counties are finding zero deviations" from the originally reported results. As of Monday afternoon, local officials had audited 4.3 million of the nearly 5 million ballots cast in the state. 

Sterling and other Republican officials have repeatedly defended the integrity of the presidential election in Georgia, even while Trump and his allies push baseless accusations of widespread fraud.

6:07 p.m. ET, November 16, 2020

White House coronavirus task force briefings are not addressing transition, governor says

From CNN’s Andy Rose

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown CNN

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the latest White House coronavirus task force telebriefing with governors completely ignored the results of the November election.

“The conversation was extremely disingenuous when we have a new administration coming in, in a matter of weeks,” Brown told CNN on Monday. 

The Trump administration has refused to publicly acknowledge the projected victory of President-elect Joe Biden, and Brown said that intransigence is spilling over into the health briefings.

“There was no conversation about what the handoff was going to be and how they were going to ensure that the Biden-Harris administration will be fully prepared and ready to accept the baton,” said Brown.
5:37 p.m. ET, November 16, 2020

GOP leaders continue to downplay Trump's election lies

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ali Zaslav

Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees elections, downplayed President Trump's claims that the election was rigged.

“I'm not overly concerned,” Blunt said.

Asked if he thinks Trump won the election, Blunt said, “There’s a process for that. We are about at the end of the time period where you can make your case in court. Let’s let him do that.” 

Asked if Trump should have tweeted he won, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker said, “I would have advised against that.” 

Wicker, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he supported Biden getting intelligence briefings but also said that Trump is "entitled to have his day in court, and I support that."

Asked if the elections were rigged, as Trump said, Sen. John Cornyn, who won his race this fall, said, "I don't know if he's referring to a specific incident or generally."

Cornyn seemed to think that Trump's claims of fraud won't change the election.

"I haven't seen anything that would change the outcome," he said.

Asked if he had a reaction to Trump falsely claiming he “won the election,” GOP Sen. John Barrasso said he had “nothing new” to say about it. 

“Oh, nothing new from what I've been saying,” Barrasso replied, then pointed to how it’s important to count every legal vote, and that Trump is within his legal rights to pursue recounts where it’s called for. 

The Wyoming senator also dodged a question on whether he agrees with Trump that the election was “rigged.” 

“There have been a number of tweets that have been back and forth, so I'm not sure what the most recent one was,” Barrasso said in response.