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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5:52 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

NAACP wants President-elect Biden to create a civil rights czar

From CNN's Eric Bradner

The head of the NAACP planned to push President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to create the role of civil rights czar, following a model Biden has already established in naming John Kerry to a Cabinet-level position as a climate envoy, during a virtual meeting Tuesday.

The proposal was to come during a virtual meeting Biden and Harris held with the leaders of civil rights organizations Tuesday in Delaware. It's part of an effort by Black leaders, who delivered Biden to victory in the Democratic primary, to hold him to his promise to nominate the most diverse Cabinet in history. 

"We oftentimes as a country talk about the reaction to history as opposed to talking about the opportunity of the future as it relates to diversity and equity. And that's what we want to lean into," NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in an interview before the meeting in which he previewed the proposal.

In a statement, the NAACP called the position it is proposing the "National Advisor on Racial Justice, Equity and Advancement." 

Johnson said the call for a civil rights czar is modeled after corporations that have tapped top-level diversity and inclusion officers, and that those posts have been most effective when those officers report directly to the company's leader. 

He wouldn't name specific individuals he'd like to see named to such a post, saying he first wanted to "see if there's buy-in by this administration so that we can really see the position come to life." 

Johnson said Black leaders want to see Biden select Black nominees for top positions in government and choose an overall pool of political appointees that includes more Black people than former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama selected. Clinton left office with Black people in 6.2% of political appointee positions, and Obama left with Black people in 11.8% of those spots, Johnson said.

Johnson said it's too soon to assess how fully Biden has lived up to his pledge for the most diverse Cabinet in history. "It's still early. I would like to give that assessment once we have a complete picture," he said.  

Last week, Biden promised a Cabinet with "significant diversity" after hearing frustrations from the NAACP and other civil rights groups that Biden had not selected Black nominees to lead the State and Treasury departments. 

Read more here.

6:29 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Supreme Court denies GOP effort to block certification of Pennsylvania election results

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

People participate in a "Stop the Steal" protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court in support of President Donald Trump in Washington on December 8.
People participate in a "Stop the Steal" protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court in support of President Donald Trump in Washington on December 8. Erin Scott/Reuters

The Supreme Court denied a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to block certification of Pennsylvania’s election results, delivering a near fatal blow to efforts by Republicans in their longshot bid to invalidate President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

There were no noted dissents, and it marks the first vote of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in an election-related dispute. 

The court acted quickly, just after the final brief in the court was filed, suggesting that the justices wanted to send a decisive message.

“Although we don’t know whether the vote was actually unanimous or why the court refused Rep. Kelly’s emergency request, the fact that the justices issued a one-sentence order with no separate opinions is a powerful sign that the court intends to stay out of election-related disputes, and that it’s going to leave things to the electoral process going forward,” said Steve Vladeck, a CNN legal analyst and University of Texas law school professor. “It’s hard to imagine a more quietly resounding rejection of these challenges from this court.”

The Supreme Court’s action is a crushing loss for President Trump who suggested as late as Tuesday that he thought the justices — including three of his nominees — might step in and take his side as he has continually and falsely suggested there was massive voter fraud during the election. 

Biden spokesperson Mike Gwin reacted to the Supreme Court’s decision, saying, "Dozens of courts have rejected Trump and his allies' debunked and meritless claims, and now the highest court in the land has joined them — without a single dissent — in repudiating this assault on the electoral process."

"This election is over. Joe Biden won and he will be sworn in as President in January," Gwin said.

Rep. Mike Kelly had challenged the Commonwealth’s “no-excuse” absentee ballot law that was adopted in October 2019.  

The effort faced steep odds at the Supreme Court, particularly because the dispute turned mostly on issues of state law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed the challenge last weekend holding that Kelly and others failed to file their challenge in a timely manner.

“It is beyond cavil that petitioners failed to act with due diligence” in presenting the case, the court held noting that they filed the suit more than one year after the enactment of the law at issue. 

Tuesday also marked the “safe harbor” deadline for the state under federal law. That means that when Congress tallies the electoral votes in January, it must accept electoral results that were certified before the deadline. 

The emergency petition was addressed to Justice Samuel Alito who has jurisdiction over the Pennsylvania courts. He referred it to the whole court.  

Lawyers for Kelly argued that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court violated his “right to petition and right to due process, guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, respectively, by closing all avenues of relief for past and future harms.”

But Pennsylvania officials called the petition “fundamentally frivolous.”

“No court has ever issued an order nullifying a governor’s certification of presidential election results,” argued J. Bart Delone, the state’s chief deputy attorney general.

“The loss of public trust in our constitutional order resulting in this kind of judicial power would be incalculable,” he said.

CNN's Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.

5:10 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Biden formally names Gen. Lloyd Austin as his secretary of defense nominee

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Jake Tapper, Kate Sullivan and Zachary Cohen

 

Gen. Lloyd Austin, then-commander of US Central Command, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2015.
Gen. Lloyd Austin, then-commander of US Central Command, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2015. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden formally named retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as his secretary of defense nominee on Tuesday.

In a statement, Biden said Austin "is uniquely qualified to take on the challenges and crises we face in the current moment, and I look forward to once again working closely with him as a trusted partner to lead our military with dignity and resolve, revitalize our alliances in the face of global threats, and ensure the safety and security of the American people.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first Black man to lead the Department of Defense.

Biden reached out to Austin over the weekend to offer the job, according to a source, and he accepted. Austin emerged as the leading candidate last week, the source said.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will formally introduce Austin as their nominee on Wednesday afternoon in Wilmington, Delaware.

Why it matters: The selection would make Austin one of the most prominent members of Biden's Cabinet and incoming administration. The secretary of defense is in control of the nation's largest government agency, commanding troops around the world and the complicated internal workings of the Pentagon that make it one of the world's most formidable bureaucracies.

It also means Austin's political chops would be put to the test, juggling calls to cut defense spending, as some in Congress want, while still funding innovative future technology and prioritizing the challenges posed by Russia and China — all while maintaining military deterrence against Iran, North Korea and ISIS.

3:49 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Thousands of Georgia voters have registered or updated their voter status since Election Day

From CNN's Rachel Janfaza

A poll worker waits for voters to arrive at a polling location in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 3.
A poll worker waits for voters to arrive at a polling location in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 3. Megan Varner/Getty Images

Yesterday was the voter registration deadline for the Georgia runoffs. The crucial election will determine which party controls the Senate.

Under Georgia law, people must be at least 17-and-a-half years old to register and 18 to vote, which means that a bloc of voters who were too young to vote on Election Day but will turn 18 by Jan. 5, could register to vote in the state’s runoffs. 

Between Election Day and Monday, voter engagement organizations worked to register as many soon-to-be 18-year-olds – and other voters who were previously unregistered — as possible.

According to Rock the Vote, the national nonpartisan voter engagement organization, nearly 3,000 Georgia voters registered or updated their voter registration status through the organization’s platform between Nov. 4 and Monday, Rock the Vote first told CNN Tuesday. 

For its part, March For Our Lives Georgia – which uses Rock the Vote’s platform – registered over 200 new voters alone during that same time period, the organization told CNN. March For Our Lives Georgia is the state chapter of the national nonpartisan gun violence prevention organization.

“In 2020 our goal was to achieve the highest youth voter turnout and we saw the impact that had. These newly registered voters will be the catapult of change that we desperately need,” Mina Turabi, State Director for March For Our Lives Georgia, told CNN.

And while Sunrise Movement, the progressive youth-led climate organization, does not register voters directly, the organization says it committed 2,600 soon to be 18-year-old voters to register in Georgia between Nov. 3 and Monday. Although Sunrise does not register voters through their site, volunteers with the organization made phone calls and sent texts to pledge 2,600 new voters.

 “Our youth understand the urgency of the moment and they are rising to the occasion to meet the need that we have to flip the Senate in our favor,” Shanté Wolfe, coordinated campaigns director at Sunrise, told CNN.

March For Our Lives Georgia and Sunrise are both part of Peaches for Progress, a youth-led initiative that convened a number of organizations to engage young voters in Georgia ahead of the runoff elections including Future Coalition, Georgia NAACP youth and college, Georgia Youth Poll Worker Project, Blue Future, Civic Georgia, 18 by Vote, Georgia for the Planet, Earth Gaurdians, Fridays for the Future Atlanta, Pride in Running and March On.

3:06 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

McConnell still won't acknowledge Biden as President-elect

From CNN's Manu Raju and Clare Foran 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still would not acknowledge Joe Biden as President-elect when pressed by CNN over whether he is willing to make that acknowledgement either now or on Monday after the Electoral College votes. 

“This has become a weekly ritual. The Electoral College is going to meet on the 14th and cast a vote and we’re going to have a swearing in of the next president on the 20th of January. Why don’t we concentrate on what we have to do the next two weeks?" McConnell said.

The Kentucky Republican went on to say that he's focused on passing a Covid-19 relief package and confirming judges and nominations.

McConnell also wouldn’t weigh in on Biden’s Cabinet choices, saying, “all the discussion about who may come next in the Cabinet is something I’m not prepared to address yet. We’ve got two weeks of important business left to do and that’s where I’m going to concentrate my time.”

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.