Biden begins transition plans as Trump refuses to concede

By Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 8:09 a.m. ET, November 20, 2020
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12:21 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Biden will participate in a coronavirus call with a group of bipartisan governors Thursday

From CNN's Betsy Klein and Dan Merica

President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks during a press briefing at the Queen Theater on November 16 in Wilmington, Delaware.
President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks during a press briefing at the Queen Theater on November 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to participate in a call on the coronavirus pandemic with a bipartisan group of the nation’s governors on Thursday. 

The call between Biden and members of the National Governors’ Association (NGA) executive committee will be facilitated by the NGA in conjunction with the Biden transition team, an NGA spokesperson and Biden transition official said. 

“Joe Biden is going to be talking to the governors on Thursday. We're arranging a call. The governors are the ones who have been handling this war, frankly. Joe Biden wants to engage with them right away and I think that's smart,” NGA chairman and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday during an appearance on MSNBC. 

The call is expected to be closed to press and details on an agenda were not immediately available.

The executive committee group is made up of: Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama, Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah.

The call comes as the Trump administration continues to block the Biden transition, with the Biden team, public health, and national security experts sounding the alarm on the potential consequences.

White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci stressed the need for a smooth transition during an appearance on CNN Tuesday morning, specifically noting the importance of “communication with health groups in different states” and “getting interaction at a formal level with the governors.”

Vice President Mike Pence, who has hosted 41 conference calls with governors since the onset of the pandemic, led a briefing call on Monday, the first such call he participated in since Sept. 29. 

While Monday’s call addressed granular detail of vaccine deployment, officials also discussed the worsening pandemic. There was, however, no mention of the transition.

1:22 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

House Republicans will hold leadership votes today

From CNN's Phil Mattingly, Daniella Diaz and Kristin Wilson

House Republicans will meet in-person at a hotel near Capitol Hill — with a waiver from the DC government amid an uptick in Covid-19 cases — to hold their leadership votes. 

The top tier of the leadership is expected to be re-elected, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, his top deputy Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the GOP conference chair, on a glide path to hold onto their roles.

The leadership team, on the heels of an election performance that surprised even some if the conference’s own members, is newly ascendant in its power, both inside the conference and in the chamber writ large.

McCarthy, who has to this point successfully bridged the gap between restive hardline conservatives inside the conference and more traditional GOP members, heads a unified operation that has already started turning its attention toward winning back the majority in 2022.

House Democrats, even with races are still outstanding, are on track to hold the slimmest majority for either party in nearly two decades. Republicans leaders can already point to an incoming freshman class that is more diverse than any in recent memory for the party, after a recruiting emphasis on women, minority candidates and veterans led to at least nine pickups for the party.

That number is expected to grow in the days and weeks ahead, with GOP challengers in position to pick up a handful of outstanding seats.

Rep. Tom Emmer is also set to be reelected to lead another two-year term as the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

GOP leaders will hold a news conference at 5 p.m. ET after the election to discuss the outcome. 

3:45 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

President-elect Biden announces 9 key members of White House senior staff

From CNN’s Sarah Mucha

President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks about the U.S. economy during a press briefing at the Queen Theater on November 16 in Wilmington, Delaware.
President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks about the U.S. economy during a press briefing at the Queen Theater on November 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has announced new members of the White House staff Tuesday, filling nine new senior-level positions in his administration mainly with loyal advisors and staffers who served on his presidential campaign. 

Campaign chief strategist Mike Donilon will be a senior advisor, along with former Black Caucus Chair Cedric Richmond, who will also serve as Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.  

CNN previously reported that Richmond, who acted as a national co-chair of Biden's campaign, would leave Congress to join the White House in a senior advisor role. 

Longtime Biden aide Steve Ricchetti, who served as Chairman of Biden's campaign and once acted as Biden's Chief of Staff while he was vice president, will serve as Counselor to the President. 

Dana Remus, who served as General Counsel of the Biden-Harris campaign, will be Counsel to the President, and Annie Tomasini, who was seen on the road with Biden as his traveling Chief of Staff, will become Director of Oval Office Operations.

Julie Rodriguez will be the Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Rodriguez served as National Political Director and traveling Chief of Staff for Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign before joining Biden's campaign as a deputy campaign manager.

Some key members of Jill Biden's staff were also announced Tuesday: Anthony Bernal, who acted as deputy campaign manager and Jill Biden's chief of staff during the campaign, will serve as senior advisor to the future first lady, and Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon will be her chief of staff. 

The transition team also tweeted the announcement:

10:47 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

The first woman to lead a winning Democratic presidential race will now be joining Biden's administration 

From CNN's Dan Merica and Jeff Zeleny

Jen O'Malley Dillon was President-elect Joe Biden's campaign manager.
Jen O'Malley Dillon was President-elect Joe Biden's campaign manager. Andre Chung/The Washington Post/Getty Images

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

The expected move, first reported by NBC News, is the latest in a long line of expected senior White House hires as Biden moves to fill out his administration.

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 is expected to leave Congress and join the Biden White House in a senior role.

Here are some things to know about O'Malley Dillon:

  • She was Biden's campaign manager, joining his team in March after he consolidated support among most of his primary rivals.
  • She helped transform a shoestring primary organization, which struggled to raise money, into a general election juggernaut that ultimately made Donald Trump a one-term president.
  • She was the first woman to lead a winning Democratic presidential race.
  • She 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.

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 the White House.

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

Read up here on who else could serve in top roles of the Biden administration.

10:18 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Rudy Giuliani has filed to appear in Pennsylvania election case scheduled for today

From CNN’s Katelyn Polantz

Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal lawyer, speaks at a news conference in the parking lot of a landscaping company on November 7 in Philadelphia.
Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal lawyer, speaks at a news conference in the parking lot of a landscaping company on November 7 in Philadelphia. Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images

Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal lawyer, formally told the court that he will represent the Trump campaign in its long shot case to block Pennsylvania from certifying votes. 

The case and whether it should be dismissed will be argued in federal court on Tuesday. 

The hearing will take place before Judge Matthew Brann in Williamsport in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Brann is an Obama appointee, but is a longtime Republican.

Some context: Trump has refused to concede the election and continues to make false claims of widespread voter fraud with no evidence.

On top of the fraud claims, his campaign and GOP allies have filed numerous and flimsy legal challenges in the days following the Nov. 3 election, with some attempting to deprive Biden of the Electoral College votes he's set to receive to become president.

On Friday, nine cases meant to attack Biden's win in key states were denied or dropped. 

9:44 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Trump agency official tasked with transition process had pre-election talk with predecessor who handled 2000

From CNN's Kristen Holmes

General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy speaks at the Department of Homeland Security's St. Elizabeths Campus Center Building in Washington, DC on June 21, 2019. 
General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy speaks at the Department of Homeland Security's St. Elizabeths Campus Center Building in Washington, DC on June 21, 2019.  Susan Walsh/AP

General Services Administrator Emily Murphy had a call with David Barram, the GSA administrator during the 2000 election, before this year’s election, according to a source with direct knowledge of the call. 

As administrator, Murphy is the person tasked with officially affirming President-elect Joe Biden has won the election on behalf of the Trump administration — something Trump hasn't done himself.

She needs to sign a letter to release funds to the Biden transition team through a process called ascertainment. This would mark the first formal acknowledgment from the Trump administration that Biden has in fact won the election, but it would also unlock access to national security tools to streamline background checks and additional funds to pay for training and incoming staff.

Barram, a Bill Clinton political appointee, ascertained Bush as then winner of the 2000 election following the historic Bush v Gore recounted that ended up in the Supreme Court.

The call between Barram and Murphy was set up by mutual associates as a way for him to discuss his experience with her, the source said. 

Recently, post-election, Barram said that this year’s election is “dramatically different,” than what happened in 2000. “It was all about Florida. One state, and something like 537 votes. Everyone knew that once Florida was settled, the winner would become clear,” Barram has said. 

Murphy has still not issued an ascertainment letter that would officially trigger the transition period for the federal government.  

AP first reported on the call between Barram and Murphy. 

9:32 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Fauci: "It's important at every level to have a smooth transition"

Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies during a US Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, DC, on September 23.
Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies during a US Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, DC, on September 23. Graeme Jennings/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN's Jim Sciutto that he has not yet had contact with President-elect Joe Biden and called the smooth transition of power "important" to fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

"Transitions are important and if you don't have a smooth transition, you would not optimize whatever efforts you're doing right now," Fauci said.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases noted that he has served six administrations which amounted to five transitions of power.

"I have been involved as a health person in the transition. It is really quite important as I used the metaphor the other day, it's like a relay race in which you're passing the baton and you don't want to slow down what you're doing but you want the person to whom you're giving the baton to be running with it as opposed to stopping and starting all over again," Fauci said, adding that's the "reason why it's important at every level to have a smooth transition."

Fauci said the level of communication needed to pass the baton would include communicating to the incoming administration what the level of supply is, getting interaction at "a formal level" with the governors and understanding "every detail" of the vaccine program.

"Not only the two vaccines that have fortunately been shown to be very effective but where we are in Operation Warp Speed with regard to the other candidates which are coming into their own in the sense of clinical trial, accumulating data. All of those things can be done in partnership," the nation's top infectious disease expert said.

Biden warned yesterday that President Trump's unwillingness to accept the outcome of the 2020 election could hamper the incoming Biden administration's ability to rapidly distribute a coronavirus vaccine.

"More people may die if we don't coordinate," Biden told reporters Monday in Delaware.

Biden's comment comes as Trump refuses to acknowledge the reality that he lost the presidential election.

9:17 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Americans deserve "smooth transition so we can make sure to save their lives" from Covid-19, Bright says

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

Dr. Richard Bright testifies during a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing on May 14 in Washington, DC.
Dr. Richard Bright testifies during a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing on May 14 in Washington, DC. Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images

Americans deserve a smooth transition between administrations and not coordinating now could lead to problems in the vaccine rollout process, according to Rick Bright, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus taskforce, on “Good Morning America” on Tuesday. 

Biden told reporters on Monday that “more people may die if we don’t coordinate,” during a news conference in Delaware. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Bright what isn’t getting done now that needs to happen between the Trump administration and the Biden transition team. 

“It’s very important that in light of the good news we’re hearing about the information coming from these new vaccines and the promising efficacy and safety data that we’re hearing about, it’s really important to understand that there’s a lot of work still in front of us to make sure that these vaccines are available for all Americans,” Bright said. 

Bright told Stephanopoulos that there was a lot of coordination that goes into putting the vaccines into vials, shipping them across the country, getting them to doctors and nurses who can administer them and tracking to make sure that people get all the doses that they need at the right time. 

 “There’s a lot of activity that must happen, and we need to coordinate that,” Bright said. “You know that after January 20, a new administration will come in and a new team will take over that responsibility, so it’s important that that new team has all of the information that the current team has so there’s a smooth transition.” 

“Lives are at stake here, if we miss this opportunity to coordinate now, we could experience hiccups or delays that really we don’t need to see,” he continued. “Americans deserve a smooth transition so we can make sure to save their lives from this pandemic.” 

9:10 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Federal judge in Michigan points out Trump campaign hiccups in election lawsuit filed in the state

From CNN’s Katelyn Polantz

President Donald Trump listens during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on November 13.
President Donald Trump listens during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on November 13. Evan Vucci/AP

In a last-ditch lawsuit from the Trump campaign to block the certification of election results in Michigan, a federal judge on Tuesday morning pointed out that the Trump campaign’s lawyers had not taken steps to move their case along quickly.

Judge Janet Neff wrote in a court order that the Trump campaign didn’t serve the lawsuit to the defendants, Michigan’s Secretary of State and Wayne County election officials, nor had it asked for the court to consider its case an emergency.

The lawsuit is part of a long shot court effort in Michigan and Pennsylvania from the Trump campaign as it so far fruitlessly trues to block election results in an unlikely play to grab electoral votes from President-elect Joe Biden.

The hiccup Neff points out comes after the Trump campaign has faced ridicule from the legal community for bringing meritless lawsuits to challenge the election, and after the campaign’s case in Pennsylvania faces its own series of setbacks including swapping the legal team there twice and being cut off from making some constitutional arguments.

The Trump campaign lawyers had outlined that they would need intervention to stop the election results in Michigan in the next few weeks because of an initial Electoral College deadline to finalize popular vote results on Dec. 8.  

“Despite setting forth these looming deadlines and despite having characterized their pleading as one requiring ‘emergency’ relief, Plaintiffs have, to date, neither Plaintiffs have, to date, neither served their Complaint on Defendants nor filed any motions for immediate injunctive relief,” Neff wrote.

 If the lawsuit is to continue at all, the Trump campaign has to serve the suit to the Michigan officials by 5 p.m. local time today, she added.