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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7:40 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Civil rights group says Biden reaffirmed his commitment to creating most diverse cabinet in history

From CNN's Eric Bradner and Jasmine Wright

President-elect Joe Biden reaffirmed his commitment to racial justice and pledge to create an administration that reflects the diversity of America during a meeting with civil rights leaders Tuesday, said Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League.

He told reporters after the meeting that the civil rights leaders "heard the reaffirmation of a commitment by President-elect Biden to make history when it comes to appointments" by selecting more Black and Latino people for his administration than any before.

"We pushed very hard on that. We will continue to push very hard on that. It is central to, we think, his ability to make progress on racial justice," Morial said.

Asked about prospects for attorney general, civil rights leaders said they want to see Biden select a Black appointee or someone with what Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called "a clear and bold record when it comes to civil rights and racial justice."

Attendees, though, said they did not offer or discuss names of potential nominees.

Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, specifically named former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who once helmed the Justice Department's civil rights division, and Sally Yates, the former deputy attorney general. One person whose name did not come up, but who prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan members responsible for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four Black girls, is outgoing Alabama Sen. Doug Jones.

Morial said he was "looking for the profile of Eric Holder, and a preference for an African American, civil rights-focused attorney general."

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

Arizona Supreme Court upholds lower court ruling dismissing electoral fraud suit

From CNN's Bob Ortega

Kelli Ward holds a press conference at the Maricopa County Elections Department on Wednesday, November 18. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Kelli Ward holds a press conference at the Maricopa County Elections Department on Wednesday, November 18. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Ross D. Franklin/AP

The Arizona Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling dismissing a complaint filed by Kelli Ward, the state's Republican Party chair and a Trump presidential elector.

The court ruled that "the challenge fails to present any evidence of 'misconduct,' 'illegal votes' or that the Biden Electors 'did not in fact receive the highest number of votes for office,' let alone establish any degree of fraud or a sufficient error rate that would undermine the certainty of the election results."

Ward had sought to either void Joe Biden's win in Arizona or force another recount.

In recent weeks, Ward has relentlessly promoted a wide range of baseless election conspiracy theories on social media and in public statements. Her suit, filed against the 11 Biden electors, alleged that errors in Maricopa County, the state's most populous and home to Phoenix, had cost Trump enough votes to potentially alter the result. The suit focused on alleged issues with verifying voters' signatures on mail-in ballot envelopes and claims that votes had been flipped in the duplication of ballots that couldn't be read by tabulation machines.

7:11 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Biden expected to nominate Vilsack as agriculture secretary later this week

From CNN's Arlette Saenz and Jeff Zeleny

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Tom Vilsack to lead the Department of Agriculture, two sources familiar with the matter said.

One source tells CNN that the announcement is expected later this week.

Vilsack, Iowa's former governor, led the Department of Agriculture during the Obama administration.

Additionally, Biden’s pick of Rep. Marcia Fudge for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is expected to be announced later this week, the source said.

7:08 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Tom Vilsack is a leading contender for agriculture secretary

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

Andrew Harnik/AP
Andrew Harnik/AP

Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who led the Department of Agriculture during the Obama administration, is as a leading contender of President-elect Joe Biden to reprise his role as agriculture secretary, people familiar with the matter say.

If Vilsack is ultimately selected, he would be the latest example of how Biden is filling his Cabinet and surrounding himself with longtime advisers, loyal supporters or experts in their respective fields with whom he has a great degree of comfort. 

Vilsack and his wife, Christie, endorsed Biden during the Iowa caucuses and campaigned aggressively for him. Biden finished in fourth place, which at the time Biden called “a gut punch,” but he repeatedly expressed his gratitude to the Vilsacks for their support.

Vilsack has also expressed interest in other positions, people familiar with the matter say, including the United States Trade Representative. He is among several top supporters of Biden who remain in contention for key posts, including former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Pete Buttigieg, a primary rival whose decision to leave the race helped consolidate support around Biden in March.

With Biden poised to select Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge to lead the Housing and Urban Development Department, the agriculture secretary position is among the Cabinet positions that have yet to be named. Fudge had openly expressed interest in serving at the US Department of Agriculture and had several top boosters for the post, including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, but he signaled Tuesday that she was pleased with the reports she was tapped for HUD.

Former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is also been seen as a contender for USDA.

A senior Democratic official said that while the Cabinet is shaping up to be racially diverse, the gender diversity was something that was beginning to cause concern among some Democrats, with several men named for key posts in quick order. 

A transition official declined to comment.

6:24 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Biden expected to nominate Ohio congresswoman to lead HUD

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Dan Merica

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, two people familiar with the transition said, a decision that would add another African-American woman to the ranks of his Cabinet. 

Fudge had been under consideration for Agriculture secretary, but in the last week the Biden transition team turned their focus to HUD. The announcement could come later this week, the people said.

Biden has been reluctant to pick many Democratic members of Congress, given their narrow margin in the House and uncertainty in the Senate. But Fudge represents a safe seat and was deemed an exception.

Politico was first to report this decision.

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.