Biden begins transition plans as Trump refuses to concede

By Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 2:30 p.m. ET, November 23, 2020
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7:48 p.m. ET, November 19, 2020

Biden poised to make first Cabinet announcements next week

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden addresses the media at the Queen Theater on November 19, in Wilmington, Delaware.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden addresses the media at the Queen Theater on November 19, in Wilmington, Delaware. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has expedited the selection of his Cabinet and is planning to make the first of several key announcements next week, an official said, as part of a concerted effort to show that he is moving forward despite President Trump’s increasingly brazen attempts to sabotage the election.

Today, Biden said he has settled on his choice for Treasury secretary, but officials said he’s also reached a decision – or on the cusp of doing so – on other critical Cabinet posts, a few of which are expected to be announced before Thanksgiving. Monday and Tuesday are being eyed as tentative days for the first introductions of members of Biden’s Cabinet, an official said, with others coming later.

Lael Brainard, a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, is seen as the top contender to lead the Treasury Department. If selected, she would become the first woman Treasury secretary, a move that would help Biden to start to deliver on his pledge to name a diverse Cabinet. But three officials close to the Biden transition declined to say whether Brainard was the final choice, saying it is a closely-held decision that Biden would likely reveal right after Thanksgiving.

But Biden could announce his choice for Secretary of State as soon as next week, officials said, along with another Cabinet post.

While Biden is well-known for his deliberate and often slow decision-making, particularly on personnel matters, the timeline of some Cabinet decisions is being accelerated because of a desire to move quickly to form a new government in the wake of Trump’s intransigence about the election. Biden had talked with his advisers about taking a far slower approach, including waiting for the outcome of the Georgia Senate run-offs that will determine control of the Senate, but Trump’s actions have motivated Biden to move without delay.

“There is a desire to convey that we are governing, operating and up and running,” an official close to the transition said, explaining the urgency facing Biden’s team in the wake of Trump’s antics.

It’s been only a week since Ron Klain was named White House chief of staff, but that decision jumpstarted movement inside the Biden team. And Jeff Zients, a co-chair of the transition, has been working for months on a variety of options for Biden to make about top personnel decisions.

Biden has been interviewing prospective Cabinet members virtually, with one or two exceptions, officials said, as serious steps are being taken to safeguard his health in light of the surging cases of coronavirus.

In an interview on The Situation Room on Thursday night, Klain said that more White House staff announcements would be made on Friday. Those posts are expected to be for the Office of Legislative Affairs and the Presidential Personnel Office, CNN has learned, in addition to White House social secretary.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, is under consideration to lead the Department of Defense, officials said, a decision that would be historic. Not only is Duckworth a decorated veteran, but also would be the first woman to serve as Defense secretary. Michèle Flournoy, who served in key defense roles in the Clinton and Obama administrations, is also a leading contender for the post.

“This is all expedited more than we thought it would be,” an official said, noting that Biden was projected as the winner less than two weeks ago.

6:17 p.m. ET, November 19, 2020

Judge tosses Republican elector case in Georgia

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz

Political party representatives monitor people hand counting 2020 Presidential election ballots during an audit at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration office in Lawrenceville, Georgia, on Friday, November 13, 2020.
Political party representatives monitor people hand counting 2020 Presidential election ballots during an audit at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration office in Lawrenceville, Georgia, on Friday, November 13, 2020. Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Georgia has rejected a bold election lawsuit of a Republican elector, Lin Wood, who had alleged in court constitutional violations, perceived fraud in the presidential election, and sought to block the certification of election results. 

"There's no doubt an individual's right to vote is sacrosanct," Steven Grimberg in the Northern District of Georgia said Thursday evening. But, that "does not mean individual voters have the right to dictate" how votes are cast or decided to be counted. "It's not for the courts to meddle with" processes set by the states.

The Georgia decision was the third against Republicans just on Thursday with judges in Arizona and Pennsylvania also rejecting election-related lawsuits from Republicans and the Trump campaign.

Wood's attorney indicated earlier today he may want to try for a second round before the judge, representing the Trump campaign as it seeks to block a Biden win. But Grimberg's ruling on Thursday, spoken from the bench, shuts down new rounds of lawsuits in multiple ways.

Grimberg decided that the elector in Georgia didn't have the ability to show he could bring a case, didn't have an avenue in court under the law, and had sued far too late to affect the election.

"I didn't hear any justification for why the plaintiff delayed bringing this claim until two weeks after this election and on the cusp of these election results being certified," Grimberg, a Trump appointee, said Thursday evening. Absentee ballot counting in Georgia, that Republicans were challenging in the lawsuit, started months ago, he noted.

6:06 p.m. ET, November 19, 2020

Pennsylvania judge rejects attempt by Trump campaign to throw out absentee ballots

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz

Election workers count ballots at the Philadelphia Convention Center on November 6, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Election workers count ballots at the Philadelphia Convention Center on November 6, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

A state judge in Pennsylvania has rejected an attempt by the Trump campaign to throw out more than 2,000 absentee ballots for technical reasons, adding to several losses the campaign has faced in the last week as it tries to contest votes in heavily Democratic counties.

The Trump campaign has made several attempts to do throw out absentee ballots in Pennsylvania courts and Judge Robert Baldi of the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas on Thursday ruled that throwing out the absentee ballots would disenfranchise voters. 

The case was not among those where the Trump campaign has alleged fraud. Instead, the campaign had argued the state should enforce rules about when absentee ballots should or should not be counted, taking issue with 2,177 ballots in Bucks County that were in an unsealed privacy envelop or lacked handwritten dates, names or addresses on their outer envelopes

Those ballots will be counted, Baldi ordered.

The Trump campaign has lost several similar bids attacking small numbers of absentee ballots in two other counties.

Baldi, in his opinion on Thursday, made clear fraud was not an issue. 

"It must be noted that the parties specifically stipulated in their comprehensive stipulation of facts that there exists no evidence of any fraud, misconduct, or any impropriety with respect to the challenged ballots," he said.

"There is nothing in the record and nothing alleged that would lead to the conclusion that any of the challenged ballots were submitted by someone not qualified or entitled to vote in this election," he wrote. "At no time did Petitioners present evidence or argument to the contrary."

5:26 p.m. ET, November 19, 2020

Georgia official estimates audit results to be released this evening

From CNN's Jason Morris

Election workers in Fulton County process ballots as part of the hand recount on November 14 in Atlanta.
Election workers in Fulton County process ballots as part of the hand recount on November 14 in Atlanta. Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP

Georgia’s Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs tells CNN that their office estimates that they will be ready to share the results of their statewide audit before 6 p.m. tonight. 

That is the state’s latest estimate, but as today has shown, this process can be prone to delays.  

The audit results were expected to come out earlier today. Fuchs said the delay today was caused by one county that realized they had some ballots that still hadn’t been audited yet.

“They are hand-tallying it now and for accuracy’s sake we are letting them complete that process, so we can issue the most up-to-date and accurate audit report,” Fuchs told CNN. 

Fuchs added, “we estimate it will be before 6 p.m.”

Two of Georgia’s largest counties outside of Atlanta — Cobb and Gwinnett counties — both uploaded their results of the hand-recount before noon today, as planned, officials told CNN. 

5:03 p.m. ET, November 19, 2020

Michigan's secretary of state blasts Trump's "improper" calls to election officials

From CNN's Annie Grayer

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson speaks with CNN on Thursday, November 19.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson speaks with CNN on Thursday, November 19. CNN

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Thursday that President Trump’s calls to the Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers was “improper.”

“I do think it’s certainly improper for any candidate on either side of the aisle to try to interfere with which is a very proper but administrative function of the Board of Canvassers,” Benson told CNN. “There’s no legal or factual basis to question their choice.”

Benson, a Democrat, suggested that Trump’s call influenced the Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, saying after the call, “I think we certainly saw a reversal of change of course.” After the phone calls, the two Republicans announced that they wanted to rescind their votes to certify the results

Benson called Trump’s invitation to Michigan Republican legislators “at the very least improper,” but added, “I also have a lot of faith in those on both sides of the aisle of our leaders here in Michigan to fulfill the role, the role that they’ve already said they will fulfill under the law to affirm the will of the people and ensure that the votes that have been counted as valid will be in our official canvass that is approved by the State Board of Canvassers on Monday.”

When presented with Trump’s latest tweet stating that he won Michigan by CNN’s Brooke Baldwin, Benson strayed from saying directly that Trump lost but did say, “that’s certainly what the data shows.”

“Candidates don’t get to decide who wins elections, voters do and in this case the voters of the state of Michigan have spoken,” outlining Biden’s at least 150,000 lead over Trump in the state.

Watch:

4:59 p.m. ET, November 19, 2020

Biden: "I am not going to shut down the economy, period"

President-elect Joe Biden speaks on November 19 in Wilmington, Delaware
President-elect Joe Biden speaks on November 19 in Wilmington, Delaware Andrew Harnik/AP

President-elect Joe Biden vowed today that he would not shut down the economy as the US continues to struggle under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I am not going to shut down the economy, period. I'm going to shut down the virus. That's what I'm going to shut down," Biden said.

Biden added: "No national shutdown, because every region, every area, every community can be different. And so there's no circumstance which I can see that would require total national shutdown. I think that would be counterproductive."

Watch the moment:

4:34 p.m. ET, November 19, 2020

Biden says he's made a decision on Treasury secretary

From CNN's Sarah Mucha

Joe Biden said that he and his team have made the decision about who will serve as Treasury secretary in his administration, telling reporters that they'll hear his choice "soon" — either before or shortly after Thanksgiving. 

"You’ll find it is someone that will be accepted by all elements of the Democratic party — from the progressive and the moderate coalitions," he said. 

Read more about who could serve in top roles of the Biden-Harris administration here.

5:00 p.m. ET, November 19, 2020

National mask mandate and vaccine distribution among topics Biden discussed with governors

President-elect Joe Biden speaks on November 19 in Wilmington, Delaware
President-elect Joe Biden speaks on November 19 in Wilmington, Delaware Andrew Harnik/AP

President-elect Joe Biden met with a group of 10 different governors today to discuss a litany of issues they are facing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the issues discussed was getting governors economic relief because the pandemic has been "devastating" to state budgets, Biden said this afternoon during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware.

"States and communities shouldn't have to lay off teachers, cops, firefighters, cut vital services," Biden added.

Biden also discussed the need to provide a safe and free coronavirus vaccine, which will also require a "massive public education campaign," he added.

The third and fourth items discussed with the governors was National Guard funding and the implementation of a national mask mandate.

"Ten governors, Democrat and Republican, have imposed masking requirements and recognized the need for universal masking, north, south, east and west. It's not a political statement. It's a patriotic duty," Biden said.

The last area of discussion was on Covid-19 testing, which needs to be more available and accessible, Biden added.

"The bottom line, we can do this. There's nothing beyond our capacity, but we have to come together as a country," he added.

Watch Biden describe the meeting held with governors:

##Transition#

4:26 p.m. ET, November 19, 2020

Biden on the pandemic: "There's a dark winter still ahead"

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a press conference on Thursday, November 19 in Wilmington, Delaware.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a press conference on Thursday, November 19 in Wilmington, Delaware. CNN

President-elect Joe Biden kept the coronavirus pandemic front and center during a news conference this afternoon from Wilmington, Delaware.

"The country is still in a crisis, and there's a dark winter still ahead," Biden said. "Yesterday, America reached another tragic milestone; 250,000 deaths, a quarter of a million people died due to Covid-19. And there are empty chairs at dining room tables that were filled just days and weeks ago with loved ones, family and friends, who laughed and talked together. To those families and friends that are left behind, Jill and I send our love and our prayers."

Some context: Biden's remarks come just hours after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that Americans should not travel for Thanksgiving.

"CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving Day period," Dr. Henry Walke, Covid-19 incident manager for the CDC, told reporters in a conference call.

Biden held a virtual meeting with a bipartisan group of governors earlier today to talk about the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the pool, the list of governors that attended the virtual meeting included: 

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Democrat)
  • Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (Democrat)
  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (Democrat)
  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (Republican)
  • New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (Democrat)
  • Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (Republican)
  • Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (Republican)
  • Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (Republican)
  • Delaware Gov. John Carney (Democrat)
  • Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (Republican)

Watch: