Biden's transition moves ahead

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:01 p.m. ET, December 4, 2020
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11:20 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Here's what is prompting Biden's hold-up on several top Cabinet positions

From CNN’s MJ Lee

President-elect Joe Biden’s first round of personnel announcements last month featured some members of his national security team, but notably missing were his picks for defense secretary and CIA director. 

The Biden transition team had also made clear to allies early on that they hoped to roll out an economic team along with the public health team with the most urgency.

But while Biden did name key members of his economic team earlier this week including Janet Yellen for Treasury secretary, announcements regarding his public health team – including his choice to lead the Health and Human Services Department, a position that will be hugely important as the Biden administration tries to contain Covid-19 – are still outstanding.

Another other top appointment still to come is that of attorney general. 

Multiple people familiar with transition discussions said in recent days that all of these yet-to-be-announced positions are being held up, at least in part, by furious discussions – and lobbying – taking place about racial diversity in the Biden’s administration. 

The defense secretary appointment is a prime example. As CNN has previously reported, veteran Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy was once seen as a lock for the position.

However, she was not a part of Biden’s first round of national security team announcements in November, and multiple sources say she has perhaps, more than anyone else, gone dramatically from being seen as a shoe-in for a top job to now being in limbo. Behind the hold-up is racial diversity in Biden’s top Cabinet positions. 

“They’re absolutely not going to have the top four cabinet positions be White,” one person familiar with transition discussions said – a reference to the four Cabinet positions of secretary of state, treasury secretary, defense secretary and attorney general.

There was a domino effect of sorts after Tony Blinken was named secretary of state, sources said. Before Election Day, there was a good amount of speculation that Susan Rice, Obama’s former national security adviser who is Black, could get that role.

But when Democrats did not take control of the Senate last month and the job ultimately went to Blinken – followed by the Treasury role being given to Yellen – the Biden team came under even more scrutiny and pressure to ensure that there are non-white individuals named to the remaining top roles like defense secretary, attorney general and HHS secretary.

Another example: Biden is said to be a big personal fan of Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and likes the idea of naming him to be his attorney general, but that’s now also complicated by the fact that both Blinken and Yellen are White.

As we’ve reported, racial diversity is emerging as a key factor in the Health and Human Services secretary appointment as well, with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus publicly calling on Biden to choose New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Those lawmakers are also pushing Biden to choose either California Attorney General Xavier Becerra or Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez to serve as the US attorney general.

Meanwhile, the NAACP said it had asked for a meeting with Biden and Harris so they can discuss the importance of civil rights and diversity issues being adequately represented in the new administration. Earlier this week, the president of the group told CNN that they had not heard back about their request.

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Biden said Thursday that he will keep his repeated promise to create an administration that looks like America. 

“When it's all over, people will take a look and say, I promise you, you'll see the most diverse cabinet, representative of all folks, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, across the board,” Biden said. He said they planned to meet with the NAACP on Tuesday.

10:38 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Pence is campaigning in Georgia today for the Senate runoff race

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Vice President Mike Pence is en route to Georgia, where he will participate in a mix of official business and campaign activity.

Joining him on his flight are Rep. Doug Collins, GOP chair Ronna McDaniel and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield.

CNN’s Kristen Holmes reports that Pence will be greeted by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp later Friday when he makes a stop in Savannah to campaign with Republican Senate candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. The vice president's first stop is Atlanta, where he will visit the CDC and participate in a briefing on vaccines.

President Trump is also slated to travel to Georgia tomorrow and hold his first post-election rally.

All eyes are on the Peach State as the Jan. 5 runoff election will decide which party controls the Senate.

10:31 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Biden will deliver remarks today on the final jobs report of 2020

From CNN's Anneken Tappe and Kate Sullivan

A shopper wears a face mask and he walks past a store displaying a hiring sign in Wheeling, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020.
A shopper wears a face mask and he walks past a store displaying a hiring sign in Wheeling, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. Nam Y. Huh/AP

President-elect Joe Biden will deliver remarks this afternoon in Wilmington, Delaware, on the final jobs report of 2020 released this morning that continues to show the grave impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that the US economy added 245,000 jobs in November on a seasonally adjusted basis. It was 224,000 fewer than economists had expected, as the job recovery continues to slow.

The unemployment rate inched down to 6.7%, from 6.9% in October.

Eight months after Covid-19 brought the economy to a screeching halt and following better-than-expected improvements over the summer months, the recovery is running out of steam.

The economy is still down 9.8 million jobs since February, before the crisis began. That's still more jobs than were lost during the Great Recession. If hiring were to continue at its current pace, it would take until March 2024 for the job market to return to its February 2020 peak.

Earlier this week, Biden introduced key members of his economic team, including Janet Yellen, who would be the first woman to serve as Treasury secretary if confirmed.

The President-elect said his transition team "is already working on what I'll put forward in the next Congress to address the multiple crises we are facing, especially our economic and Covid crises."

10:34 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Biden's popular vote margin over Trump tops 7 million

From CNN's Jennifer Agiesta and Kate Sullivan

President-elect Joe Biden on November 25, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. 
President-elect Joe Biden on November 25, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.  Mark Makela/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden's margin over President Donald Trump in the nationwide popular vote is now more than 7 million votes and may continue to grow as several states continue counting votes.

Biden's lead over Trump is the second largest since 2000, and is about two and a half times larger than Hillary Clinton's popular vote lead over Trump in 2016.

As of Friday morning, Biden had won about 81.2 million votes, the most votes a candidate has won in US history, and Trump had won about 74.2 million. Trump's vote count makes him the second-highest vote earner in American history.

Despite Biden's decisive victory and the Trump administration starting the formal presidential transition process, the President has refused to concede the race and continues to make baseless claims about widespread voter fraud.

Biden won 306 electoral votes, while Trump has 232. Two hundred and seventy electoral votes are needed to become president.

Americans voted by mail in record numbers this year to protect themselves from the coronavirus pandemic, and experts had warned that as a result, there would be a lengthy vote count that would likely not resolve until days or weeks after Election Day.

10:26 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Trump is campaigning in Georgia tomorrow as the Senate runoff race heats up 

From CNN's Allison Gordon

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in Washington. Evan Vucci/AP

President Trump is headed down South tomorrow for his first in-person push for the US Senate runoffs next month in Georgia. The Jan. 5 runoff election will decide which party controls the Senate.

But his trip is being met with some trepidation by local Republicans, as the President continues to take aim at the state’s GOP leadership over the outcome of the November election.

On Saturday, Trump is scheduled to deliver a speech in Valdosta, Georgia, accompanied by both GOP Senate runoff contenders, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Valdosta, an azalea tree-filled city in south Georgia, is a conservative stronghold in the state. 

The event will be held at an airport, and according to the RNC, “all attendees will be given a temperature check, masks which they are instructed to wear, and access to hand sanitizer.” Georgia is one of several states without statewide a mask mandate. 

Loeffler and her Democratic challenger Rev. Raphael Warnock are set to debate Sunday night.

Trump’s current relationship with Peach State Republicans is dicey at best. After losing the state to Joe Biden, he has continuously attacked Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (both Republicans). 

According to CNN’s Ryan Nobles and Alex Rogers, this has not only discouraged Republican voters but also undermined confidence in the integrity of the election as a whole. On Wednesday, a voting official even went so far as to plead with the President to denounce threats of violence.

There are also concerns that Trump’s continued ire is imperiling the reelection chances of Georgia’s Republican senators – and consequent Republican control of the Senate.

Despite Trump’s mixed reception in the state, the senators have remained publicly supportive of the President. On Wednesday, Loeffler tweeted, “I’m SO proud to have our President’s support & thrilled to welcome him back to Georgia!”

The Democrats are also campaigning. Former President Barack Obama and Stacey Abrams will join a virtual rally alongside Democratic Senate candidates Warnock and Jon Ossoff today.

This reporting originally appeared in CNN's The Point with Chris Cillizza newsletter.

9:21 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

If you missed Biden and Harris' interview yesterday, here's a recap of key moments

From CNN's Dan Merica and Kate Sullivan

CNN
CNN

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris sat down with CNN yesterday for their first joint interview since winning the election as they continue to build out their incoming administration and prepare to battle the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts.

If you are just catching up on the interview, here are some key moments:

  • On the coronavirus pandemic: Biden said he will ask Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days after he takes office, in a sign of how Biden's approach to the virus will be dramatically different from President Trump's response.
  • On Fauci's role in his administration: Biden said that he has asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump's coronavirus task force, to be a chief medical adviser and part of his Covid-19 response team when his administration begins next month. "I asked him to stay on the exact same role he's had for the past several presidents, and I asked him to be a chief medical adviser for me as well, and be part of the Covid team," Biden told CNN's Jake Tapper.
  • On the stimulus package: The former vice president said he supported Congress passing a compromise coronavirus relief package before he takes office, and noted that a handful of Republican senators have reached out to congratulate him, despite many not publicly acknowledging his victory. Biden also backed the compromise coronavirus relief package that is being considered on Capitol Hill, calling it a "good start" but also saying it is "not enough." The $908 billion bipartisan plan is a compromise between what Democrats and Republicans wanted.
  • On diversifying his Cabinet: A diverse range of advocacy groups and Democratic organizations have been pushing the Biden transition team for weeks to keep its commitment to nominate a diverse slate of Cabinet secretaries, especially for the remaining top jobs of secretary of defense and attorney general. The effort has been led by the NAACP, a group Biden and Harris said they would meet with next week, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Biden said Thursday that he would honor the commitment.
  • Harris on her working relationship with Biden: Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris may have been fierce rivals in the Democratic primary, but now, as they prepare to take control of the White House, they say they are full partners who agree on how to approach the country's most pressing issues. "Look, there's not a single decision I've made yet about personnel or about how to proceed that I haven't discussed it with Kamala first," Biden told CNN's Jake Tapper on Thursday.

Read more here.

Watch:

8:47 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Top US intelligence official says foreign adversaries are amplifying Trump's claims

From CNN's Alex Marquardt

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe looks on in the Oval Office of the White House on Thursday, December 3, as President Donald Trump presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former football coach Lou Holtz.
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe looks on in the Oval Office of the White House on Thursday, December 3, as President Donald Trump presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former football coach Lou Holtz. Evan Vucci/AP

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, who is known as a close ally of President Trump, says that intelligence shows that foreign adversaries are amplifying the President’s claims about voter fraud.

Ratcliffe told CBS in an interview that the purpose is “to undermine public confidence in our democratic processes.”

Trump has been pushing baseless voter fraud claims since losing the election last month. There is no evidence of widespread election fraud.

The comments by Ratcliffe are notable in that he was one of the President’s most vocal supporters when he was in Congress.

Ratcliffe declined to say which countries were doing it. CNN has reported that before the election, Russia was amplifying false claims about mail-in voting that said it would lead to fraud, a claim the president repeatedly made.

Other countries, like China and Iran, also often amplify narratives that fit their strategies.

Ratcliffe said that so far there’s no indication foreign adversaries or criminal groups were able change the vote results, which is in line with what we’ve heard from other election security officials.

He noted that voter fraud isn’t an intelligence issue, but rather one for domestic law enforcement.

Attorney General William Barr said in an interview with the Associated Press published Tuesday that the Justice Department hasn't found evidence to support allegations of widespread fraud that could have changed the result of last month's presidential election.

8:22 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Fauci on accepting Biden's offer to join his team: "Absolutely, I said yes right on the spot"

From CNN Health's Andrea Diaz

Speaking on NBC's Today, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he accepted President-elect Joe Biden's offer to serve as his chief medical adviser "right on the spot."

"Oh, absolutely, I said yes right on the spot," said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of Trump's coronavirus task force,

Additionally, when asked about Biden asking Americans to wear a mask for 100 days, Fauci said he believes this is a good idea. 

"I spoke to him about that, he just wants to get — and it's a good idea — uniform. He's saying, 'Hey folks, trust me, everybody for 100 days' that might be that after that we still are gonna need it, but he just wants everybody for a commitment for 100 days, and I discussed that with him, and I told him I thought that was a good idea," Fauci said. 

Biden told CNN yesterday in a wide-ranging interview that he has asked Fauci to be a chief medical adviser and to be a part of his Covid-19 response team when his administration begins next month.

8:42 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

The key issues that may be part of Harris' vice presidential portfolio

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

From left: Hartina Flournoy, Rohini Kosoglu, and Nancy McEldowney.
From left: Hartina Flournoy, Rohini Kosoglu, and Nancy McEldowney. Harvard Kennedy School/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris continues to construct her key team of senior staffers who will accompany her to the White House, announcing Thursday the hiring of three top roles including chief of staff.

The staffers — all of whom are women and two of whom are people of color — highlight the incoming administration's commitment to diversity.

Harris tapped Hartina Flournoy, a Black woman, as her incoming chief of staff. She currently serves as chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton.

While no official policy designations have been set, sources say Harris wants to be a part of the administration's rebuilding of small and medium businesses stripped by the pandemic, in part because they disproportionately affect women and people of color.

The vice president-elect is also eyeing a role in the administration's education platform — as many children without proper access to broadband during the pandemic have fallen behind.

Harris has long focused on the welfare of children throughout her prosecutorial career, in the Senate and during her own presidential campaign. Her first major policy proposal last year during the campaign pledged to boost teacher pay.

Over time, she'll look to solidify her foreign policy and national security accolades, leaning on her four years of experience as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a source adds.

That is in addition to Harris' possible role in any criminal justice and climate justice reform, drawing on her years as California's attorney general and San Francisco district attorney.

The arsenal of key staff that Harris is surrounding herself with will be essential in securing the work that rounds out her record.

For her part, Flournoy has prior relationships with many top Biden advisers, having worked with them in her different capacities in Washington.

McEldowney, a veteran in the foreign policy arena, has deep ties to the community as well. Kosgoulu, who spent many years on Capitol Hill, could serve as an emissary for Harris who, once inaugurated, will become the president of the Senate.

But the most important relationship of them all, is the one Harris builds with the President-elect.

"The first obligation is to do what is asked by the President of the United States," Moore, who served as director of White House political affairs to Bill Clinton and watched his relationship to Gore flourish, said.