Biden's transition moves ahead

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 3:35 PM ET, Wed December 9, 2020
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3:15 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Here's what the key members of Biden's health team said today

President-elect Joe Biden just introduced key members of his health team.

Here some of what Biden's picks had to say.

Xavier Becerra
Xavier Becerra Pool

Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee

Becerra said that at HHS "tackling pandemics, saving lives, keeping us healthy should be our calling card."

He added that under his direction, the agency "won't forget there is a second H in HHS — Human Services." 

"The work we do for our children, seniors and disabled. They will stand all in a Biden-Harris HHS," he said. 

Dr. Vivek Murthy
Dr. Vivek Murthy Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General nominee

Murthy said he will work to bring policies across government so that schools, work places and communities "can be forces for strengthening our health and well-being." 

"But the truth is, that the very best policies and even the best vaccines and treatments will not heal our nation unless we also overcome the fear, anxiety, anger and distrust that so many Americans are feeling right now."

Dr. Rochelle Walensky
Dr. Rochelle Walensky Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, incoming CDC director

Walensky said she is honored to work with an administration "that understands leading with science is only way to deliver breakthroughs, deliver hope and bring our nation back to full strength."

"To the American people and to each and every one of you at the CDC, I promise to work with you, to harness the power of American science, to fight this virus and prevent unnecessary illness and deaths so that we can all get back to our lives."

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Covid-19 chief medical adviser

Fauci called the Covid-19 pandemic the "toughest" public health crisis "we have ever faced as a nation." 

"The road ahead will not be easy. We have got a lot of hard and demanding work to do in the next year. But as we have done during previous crises, I also know we can get through this pandemic together as a nation," he said.

Jeff Zients
Jeff Zients Susan Walsh/AP

Jeff Zients, coordinator of Covid-19 response

Zients said the Biden-Harris administration "will utilize the full capacity of the federal government to get this pandemic under control." 

Zients said the team will, "harness and examine the data to expand testing to deliver equipment and PPE to those on the front lines. To provide resources for schools and businesses, to operate safely. To address the racial disparities and inequities of this pandemic." 

He added that they will rejoin the global fight against Covid-19. "Because no one is safe until everyone is safe," he said.

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith Pool

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Covid-19 equity task force chair

Nunez-Smith said it is "not a coincidence and not a matter of genetics that more than 70% of African-Americans and more than 60% of Latinx Americans personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died from Covid-19." 

"The same disparities ingrained in our economy are our housing system, food system, our justice system and so many other areas of our society have conspired in this moment to create a grief gap that we cannot ignore," she said.

Nunez-Smith added it is "our societal obligation to ensure equitable access to testing, treatments and vaccines." 

3:21 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Trump appeals to legislatures and Supreme Court in attempt to overturn election results

From CNN's Kevin Liptak 

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

While President-elect Joe Biden was introducing key members of his health team at an event in Delaware, President Trump spoke at a dueling event at the White House on coronavirus vaccines.

He made an explicit appeal to lawmakers and the US Supreme Court to help him overturn the results of an election he lost, his latest and most vocal attempt to cling to power even as his presidency comes to an end.

Speaking at a summit focused on the coronavirus vaccine, Trump was asked why no members of Biden's transition team were invited to participate, since it is that team who will oversee the bulk of the vaccine's distribution.

"We're going to have to see who the next administration is. Because we won in those swing states," Trump falsely claimed.

"Hopefully the next administration will be the Trump administration," he went on. "You can't steal hundreds of thousands of votes."

Remember: There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud, according to the federal government and Republican and Democratic election officials.

Nonetheless, Trump insisted he won the election and made a direct appeal to state officials and members of the Supreme Court to assist him in his efforts to subvert the will of voters.

"Let's see whether or not somebody has the courage, whether it's legislators or legislatures or a justice of the Supreme Court or a number of justices of the Supreme Court," Trump said. "Let's see if they have the courage to do what everybody in this country knows is right."

2:32 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Biden on country's battle against Covid-19: "Things may well get worse before they get better"

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

After introducing key members of his health team, President-elect Joe Biden aimed to strike a realistic but optimistic tone as the country inches closer to authorizing a coronavirus vaccine.

"All I can tell you is the truth. We're in a very dark winter. Things may well get worse before they get better. A vaccine may soon be available. We need to level with one another," Biden said in remarks delivered from Wilmington, Delaware.

"It will take longer than we would like to distribute it to all corners of the country. Depending on how it gets started off between now and the time I'm sworn in. We'll need to persuade enough Americans to take the vaccine. Many have become very cynical about its usefulness," Biden continued.

The President-elect promised Americans that the country will make progress "starting on day one" of his presidency.

"We didn't get into this mess quickly and it is going to take time to fix, but we can do this. That's the truth," Biden said. "We know we can overcome and heal as one nation, together," he continued.

Remember: The US Food and Drug Administration's Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet on Thursday to discuss Pfizer's application for emergency use authorization for its coronavirus vaccine candidate.

A similar meeting is scheduled next week for Moderna's vaccine candidate. FDA officials say their decisions on the vaccines could come days to weeks after the meetings — it depends on what questions come up.

2:18 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Biden lays out 3 public health goals for his first 100 days in office

Susan Walsh/AP
Susan Walsh/AP

Speaking at an event where he introduced key members of his health team, President-elect Joe Biden outlined three goals for his first 100 days in office which include "masking, vaccinations, opening schools."

Biden said he's asking everyone in the country to wear a mask for his first 100 days in office. He said he will be signing an order that requires mask be worn in federal buildings and during interstate travel on planes, trains, and buses.

He also said he will deliver 100 million shots of the vaccine within the first 100 days, in a three-pronged list of things he will accomplish to tackle the scaling pandemic at the start of his presidency.

Finally, he said the third thing he's going to make a national priority during his first 100 days is "to get our kids back into school and keep them in school." 

"We'll look to have the most schools open that we can possibly in 100 days," he said.

2:10 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Biden is introducing key members of his health team. Here's who he is nominating. 

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Pool
Pool

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are introducing key members of their health team at an event happening now in Wilmington, Delaware.

The team will be tasked with leading the administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 284,000 people as of Tuesday morning and closed businesses and schools across the country.

"As all of you know, I know that out of our collective pain we're going to find collective purpose. To control the pandemic, to save lives, and to heal as a nation," Biden said. "Today, I'm pleased to announce a team who's going to do just that. It's a team of world-class experts at the top of their fields, crisis tested, defined by a deep sense of duty, honor and patriotism."

Here’s who Biden is nominating and appointing: 

  • Xavier Becerra, California's attorney general, as his nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services. Becerra would be the first Latino to lead HHS if confirmed by the United States Senate.
  • Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was US surgeon general in the Obama administration, as his nominee for surgeon general. Murthy will also require Senate confirmation.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci will serve as chief medical adviser to the President on coronavirus and will also continue in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 
  • Jeff Zients, Biden transition co-chair and former Obama administration official, will serve as coordinator of the Covid-19 response and counselor to the President.
  • Natalie Quillian, another Obama administration veteran, will serve as deputy coordinator of the Covid-19 response. 
  • Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital, as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a co-chair of Biden's transition team, as the chair of his Covid-19 equity task force. 

Fauci, Zients and Quillian will not require Senate confirmation to serve in their posts. Walensky and Nunez-Smith will also not require Senate confirmation.

"They've been advising me for a long time. And they're going to get ready on day one to spare not a single effort to get this pandemic under control," Biden said of his team. "So we can get back to work, get back to our lives, get back to our loved ones," he added. 

1:33 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Pennsylvania GOP senator says "it's completely unacceptable" for Trump to pressure state officials

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ali Zaslav

Sen. Pat Toomey walks through the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on November 12.
Sen. Pat Toomey walks through the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on November 12. Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey told the Philadelphia Inquirer Tuesday that “it’s completely unacceptable” for President Trump to pressure state officials to overturn the election result.

“It’s completely unacceptable and it’s not going to work and the president should give up trying to get legislatures to overturn the results of the elections in their respective states,” the Pennsylvania Republican said to the Inquirer.

What is this about: CNN reported Monday that Trump spoke on multiple occasions over the past week with the speaker of the House in Pennsylvania about the state's election results, inquiring about their electoral process. The House speaker, Republican Bryan Cutler, did not view the calls as an attempt to pressure him to overturn President-elect Joe Biden's win in the state, his spokesperson Mike Straub told CNN.

When CNN’s Manu Raju asked Toomey, who is retiring in 2022, his response to Trump pressuring state officials – he referred him to the Inquirer article.

1:12 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Joe Biden tested negative for Covid-19 today

President-elect Joe Biden tested negative for Covid-19 today, according to the Office of the President-elect.

He "underwent PCR testing for COVID-19 today and COVID-19 was not detected," according to the office.

1:03 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Biden's incoming CDC director described by federal health official as “an outsider, but hugely respected”

From CNN’s Nick Valencia

CNN
CNN

Incoming US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky will inherit the world’s premier health agency, tasked with how best to reestablish the CDC’s tarnished credibility after months of political interference by the White House.

Walensky, a veteran infectious diseases doctor, will assume her new role during an unprecedented time during which senior CDC leaders have felt individual pride, while also expressing disappointment as to how the agency was “muzzled during the pandemic,” a senior CDC official told CNN.

There was “incredible positive reaction” among CDC staff to Walensky’s announcement, according to several federal health officials, with one saying, “She’s an outsider, but hugely respected.”

Another described her as “brilliant.”

“It’s nice to have an infectious disease doctor this time,” the official added.

Internal calls about “how best to address credibility issues at the CDC” have been going on for weeks at the agency, according to a federal health official, even prior to the presidential election.

Throughout the pandemic, staff at the CDC expressed to CNN a general lack of confidence in current CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield’s ability to effectively communicate the agency’s message.

With Walensky set to take over, there will come a change in communication style.

She has a reputation of being “thoughtful,” one senior CDC official said.

The question is if she, like Redfield, will have to toe any political line in Washington, DC, with a new administration.

Other people initially considered for Walensky’s role by Biden’s transition team included Nicole Lurie, the former US Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness under President Obama, as well as former CDC Director Dr. Richard Besser, according to a source familiar with the early discussions.

12:32 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Senate Democrats uncertain about granting Biden's defense secretary nominee a waiver to serve in role

From CNN's Manu Raju

A number of Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee are uncertain about granting a waiver for retired Army General Lloyd Austin to serve as defense secretary.

Austin would need a congressional waiver to be confirmed because he retired from active-duty service only four years ago.

Federal law requires seven years of retirement from active duty before taking on the role. Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis received a waiver before he was confirmed in 2017.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday he’s opposed to granting a waiver, and others, like Sens. Gary Peters, Joe Manchin and Tim Kaine, say they are uncertain, and they will have to evaluate the matter.