Biden's transition formally begins

By Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 5:13 AM ET, Wed November 25, 2020
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1:16 p.m. ET, November 24, 2020

Trump loyalist connected to Biden conspiracy theories is leading Pentagon transition to new administration

From CNN's Barbara Starr

Senator Lindsey Graham (left) and National Security Council Senior Director of Counterterrorism Kashyap "Kash" Pramod Patel (right) listen as President Donald Trump makes a statement in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House October 27, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Senator Lindsey Graham (left) and National Security Council Senior Director of Counterterrorism Kashyap "Kash" Pramod Patel (right) listen as President Donald Trump makes a statement in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House October 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Kash Patel, a Trump loyalist who was connected to efforts to spread conspiracy theories about Joe Biden has been put in charge of the Pentagon transition effort with the incoming Biden-Harris administration, according to two US defense officials.  

Patel is the chief of staff to Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.  While its not unusual for a chief of staff to take a leading role in a transition effort, officials tell CNN that Patel is likely to come under scrutiny by many inside the Pentagon who are watching to see how cooperative he may be with the Biden team in providing critical information. 

Patel just recently came to the Pentagon after President Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and is viewed as an ardent Trump loyalist who will continue to do whatever he can to further the President’s political agenda in the time remaining in office.

The House impeachment inquiry uncovered evidence that Patel, who was then an aid to Rep. Devin Nunes was connected to the diplomatic back channel led by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, and the efforts to spread conspiracy theories about Joe Biden and coerce Ukraine into announcing an investigation of the former vice president.

Thomas Muir, the director of Washington Headquarters Services is providing the major Department of Defense support to the transition while Patel heads the overall effort another defense official said.Muir is expected to facilitate office space, communications and access to information. 

A senior defense official said that prior to Patel overseeing the transition process, his predecessor Jen Stewart who was chief of staff to Esper was leading the process.

Since coming to the Pentagon, Patel has overseen decisions to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan

The Pentagon said Monday night that the Biden-Harris team has been in touch with the Department of Defense team.

Barbara Starr reports:

11:46 a.m. ET, November 24, 2020

Health and Human Services held a key transition meeting this morning

From CNN's Kristen Holmes

As the nation continues to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic, Health and Human Services held a key meeting this morning following the ascertainment declaration from the General Services Administration.

“Given GSA’s ascertainment last night, HHS Chief of Staff Brian Harrison met this morning with HHS’s career transition lead, Deputy Surgeon General RADM Erica Schwartz, to receive an update and ensure smooth transition planning,” an HHS spokesperson told CNN in a statement.

HHS also says it will have a cooperative a professional transition. It also notes that the career people involved with the pandemic response and vaccine distribution will be the same after inauguration day.

Remember: The delay in ascertainment meant that President-elect Joe Biden's team was locked out from government data and could not make contact with federal agencies, nor could it spend $6.3 million in government funding now available for the transition.

A Biden official said the most urgent need was for the transition to be given access to Covid-19 data and the vaccine distribution plans.

11:35 a.m. ET, November 24, 2020

State Department transition team and Biden team are in touch and will meet virtually later today

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

The State Department transition team was contacted by President-elect Joe Biden’s State Department agency review team last night after the General Services Administration ascertained Biden’s victory, according to a senior State Department official with knowledge of the transition.

The outreach came from Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is the team lead and Biden’s pick for Ambassador to the UN, the official said.

Today there will be a virtual meeting with the State Department transition team, led by Ambassador Dan Smith, and the Biden transition team, the official said. This will be their first official meeting and comes more than two weeks after Biden gave a victory speech and was declared the winner of the election.

The meeting will begin to dig into logistical and substantive details, such as the pace of the process over the next few weeks and how much of the process will be done in person and how much will be done virtually, the official said.

While there is a scurry of activity in the transition offices at the State Department this morning, none of the Biden State Department team members have yet visited the offices, the official said.

Today Thomas-Greenfield is with Biden in Wilmington, Delaware, as he formally unveils a slew of high-profile Cabinet appointments, including his plan to send her to represent the US at the UN.

Traditionally the Cabinet picks don’t happen until after the transition has been in motion for at least a few weeks.

With the key Cabinet picks for State already done – with Tony Blinken chosen to be Biden’s Secretary of State – the transition process will operate a bit more quickly as the career transition team at State knows who they are working with and can prepare materials that they need with their input, the official said.

11:31 a.m. ET, November 24, 2020

Pennsylvania certifies 2020 presidential election results

From CNN's Kelly Mena

A county employee opens a mail in ballots at the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections in Pennsylvania on November 3.
A county employee opens a mail in ballots at the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections in Pennsylvania on November 3. Aimee Dilger/Sipa USA/AP

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf just announced that the Keystone state has certified its 2020 general election results. 

In a twitter post Tuesday morning, Wolf confirmed he'd signed the certificate for Ascertainment that formally acknowledges the state's recognition of Biden winning the election.  

The certification comes just one day after all of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, under law, had to receive precinct results and certify them to the Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar by the third Monday after the election. 

This will now officially award the state’s 20 electoral votes to President-elect Joe Biden. 

Wolf went onto thank election officials for their work. 

"Again, I want to thank the election officials who have administered a fair and free election during an incredibly challenging time in our commonwealth and country's history. Our election workers have been under constant attack and they have performed admirably and honorably," Wolf said in a news release. 

11:12 a.m. ET, November 24, 2020

Rising share of Trump's post-election fundraising going to his PAC

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond

President Trump's campaign is funneling an increasingly large share of its "Election Defense Fund" fundraising to Trump's political action committee, as his opportunities to legally challenge the election results fade. 

Even as fundraising emails tell supporters their donations will help "protect the integrity of the election," 75% of donations to the fund are now deposited into the coffers of Trump's fledgling leadership PAC, Save America.

That's up from the 60% share the PAC was receiving last week.

The campaign's "Recount Account" — arguably the account supporters believe they are donating to – only gets a piece of donations above $5,000.

The remaining quarter of any donation goes to the Republican National Committee's general fund, with donations over $35,500 steered to the RNC's legal fund.

The Trump campaign did not respond to CNN's requests for comment. 

11:03 a.m. ET, November 24, 2020

Biden will introduce his first Cabinet nominees today. Here are key things to know about his picks. 

From CNN's Gregory Krieg and Sarah Mucha 

Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images
Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will publicly announce their nominees and appointees to key national security and foreign policy posts today at 1:00 p.m. ET, according to a transition team news release.

Their six foreign policy and national security nominees and appointees, which were unveiled yesterday, are expected to join them and speak at the event in Wilmington, Delaware.

Here are some key takeaways from Biden's first wave of nominations and appointments:

  • Expertise over big names: As the first round of nominations come in, it's clear that Biden is choosing people who are, indisputably, experts in their fields over bigger names in Democratic politics. Some of that is a practical matter. Democrats didn't do well down-ballot on Election Day and there is little appetite within the party to risk its hold on power, even in blue states or districts, on any powerful office. Biden's nominees to lead the State Department, Antony Blinken, and the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, are not household names, but they both have extensive experience at the agencies they will be tasked with running.
  • Diversity is a priority: The first woman to oversee the Treasury Department. The first Latino and immigrant to run the Department of Homeland Security. The first woman to lead the intelligence community. Announcements and reports of these historic impending nominations came in the space of a few hours on Monday, as Biden announced that Cuban-born Mayorkas would head DHS and Avril Haines was Biden's pick to be the next director of national intelligence. Janet Yellen is poised to break the mold for a second time. The first woman to chair the Federal Reserve, she will, if confirmed, bear the same distinction as Treasury secretary.
  • The picks are a fundamental rejection of Trumpism: Bringing in former Secretary of State John Kerry as his special presidential envoy on climate -- and giving that position a seat on the National Security Council -- is a marked departure from climate change-denying Trump, who has called global warming a hoax and pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord. The simple act of hiring people qualified for their jobs is in itself a rejection of the Trump model, which installed donors, right-wing ideologues and inexperienced allies into positions of power, in some instances for the express purpose of undermining the institutions they were meant to lead.

Here's a look at which Cabinet nominations Biden has unveiled so far:

10:34 a.m. ET, November 24, 2020

CDC ready for Biden transition: "This is what we've been waiting for"

From CNN's Nick Valencia

Leadership at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, beset by a Trump White House that was harshly critical of the agency coronavirus response, are anticipating the Biden transition team and the change a new administration will bring, senior health officials tell CNN. 

“This is what we’ve been waiting for is for them to send their landing team here and set up shop,” a senior CDC official said.

The senior official added that while it is standard operating procedure during any transition of administration, the expectation is there will be some “rebuilding of the agency” under President-elect Joe Biden.

When asked if there was more enthusiasm among senior leaders at the CDC on Tuesday morning, the official said emphatically, “Yes!”

A federal health official official declined to say if they had spoken directly to anyone from the Biden transition team as of Tuesday morning, but did say having been through numerous administration transitions, “the CDC benefits when that happens quickly.”

“From experience, the faster you get through it the better,” the official said of the transition.

Speaking to the mood in the agency among senior leaders, the official said there did seem to be more enthusiasm that the CDC may be able to restart regular briefings, which were ordered to be stopped by the Trump Administration at the beginning of the pandemic. 

“Man oh man, I hope so,” the official said about the CDC returning to a more visible role. 

The federal health official with knowledge of operations said, that the CDC remains leading the public health response through its Emergency Operations Center. 

The official noted that the CDC has remained in daily contact with states regarding vaccine distribution and rollout. Also, as the nation grapples with record breaking infection and hospitalizations, schools continue to be front and center in the response, the official said.


10:18 a.m. ET, November 24, 2020

CNN's Jake Tapper acknowledges 4 GOP officials that "remained allegiant" to facts and truth

Following the General Services Administration’s formal beginning of the Biden transition and Michigan's certification of their election results, CNN's Jake Tapper took a moment on Twitter last night to acknowledge four Republican officials who "despite pressure" from President Trump and the Republican Party "remained allegiant" to facts, truth and math following the Trump campaign's challenge of the election results.

Tapper listed the following officials who played a key role in the certification of election results and combating misinformation:

  • Al Schmidt, Philadelphia City Commissioner 
  • Brad Raffensperger, Georgia Secretary of State
  • Chris Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency who was fired by Trump and had rejected the President's election conspiracy theories
  • Aaron Van Langevelde, one of the two Republican members of the Michigan state canvassing board who joined the two Democrats to vote to certify the election results

"And at the end of the day it came down to judges and election officials doing their jobs and sticking to facts while most GOP leaders kept silent," Tapper said.

Read Tapper's full Twitter thread here:

9:41 a.m. ET, November 24, 2020

Stock market rises as Biden transition formally begins

From CNN’s Matt Egan

US stocks raced higher Tuesday morning, leaving the Dow flirting with the 30,000 level for the first time ever.

The rally comes after the General Services Administration announced Monday evening it is ready to begin the formal transition to the Biden administration. That step should ease lingering investor concerns about a peaceful transfer of power. 

Here's how the market opened today:

  • The Dow gained 305 points, or 1%, to 29,895.
  • The S&P 500 climbed 0.8%.
  • The Nasdaq jumped 0.5%.

Markets also started the week on a strong note. The Dow gained 328 points, or 1.1%, Monday on growing vaccine optimism.