The latest on Biden's transition

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 8:07 p.m. ET, December 9, 2020
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4:44 p.m. ET, December 9, 2020

Michelle Obama's voter engagement organization has registered 3,000 new voters for the runoffs in Georgia

From CNN's Rachel Janfaza

When We All Vote, the nonpartisan voter engagement organization founded by former first lady Michelle Obama, has registered 3,000 new voters specifically for the Georgia Senate runoff elections, the organization told CNN Wednesday. The crucial election will decide which party controls the Senate.

When We All Vote was started by Obama in 2018 with the goal of closing the age and race gap in voter participation. Ahead of Election Day, more than 18,000 Georgia voters registered to vote with When We All Vote.  

The organization has "My School Votes" programs in high schools across the metro Atlanta area, including in Atlanta and DeKalb and Clayton Counties.

When We All Vote has convened more than 100 Georgia student ambassadors, and more than 800 people are part of a My School Votes team in Georgia, Stephanie Young, chief officer of culture and communications at When We All Vote, told CNN.

 “We empower young people to ensure their communities are registered and ready to vote, and the work continues to grow,” Young said.

According to Young, 86% of Atlanta Public Schools have a My School Votes team, and the program is expanding in Dooly, Dougherty, Worth and Macon counties.

More than 1,000 young people attended “Drop Everything and Register” events with My School Votes in Clayton County, Atlanta, and DeKalb County Public Schools. Young people in Georgia have sent more than 10,000 social media direct messages to Georgia voters encouraging them to register and vote in the runoffs using When We All Vote’s Georgia voter hub.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated that the My School Votes “Drop Everything and Register” event was held in Clark County. The event was held in Clayton County.

2:59 p.m. ET, December 9, 2020

Biden's defense secretary nominee will begin meeting with lawmakers early next week

From CNN's Arlette Saenz

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden’s defense secretary nominee, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, will begin meeting with lawmakers early next week as his confirmation process kicks off, a source familiar with the plans says.

The conversations are expected to be conducted virtually. 

This comes as Austin will first need to obtain a waiver to serve since he retired from the military only four years ago – a move some Democrats have already expressed hesitancy about.

2:36 p.m. ET, December 9, 2020

American Farm Bureau president applauds Biden’s pick for secretary of agriculture

From CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich

Tom Vilsack speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington, DC, in 2019.
Tom Vilsack speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington, DC, in 2019. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The president of the American Farm Bureau applauded the news that President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to serve as the next secretary of agriculture. 

In a statement on Wednesday, AFB President Zippy Duvall called the news “welcome,” noting Vilsack’s “reputation for rising above partisanship to serve farmers and ranchers.” 

Duvall says the two built a good relationship during Vilsack’s time as secretary of agriculture under President Obama.  

“Tom Vilsack understands that the agriculture sector is far more complex than most people understand. He believes in a ‘big tent’ philosophy that supports all types of production and understands the importance of respecting farmers and ranchers as partners worthy of support in the race to achieve sustainability goals,” Duvall said. 

Duvall said the two have been working together recently through Vilsack’s role as the president and CEO of the US Dairy Export Council – especially relating to the pandemic and its impact on farmers and ranchers. 

“The pandemic revealed both the strengths and weaknesses of our food system, which Tom has had a front row seat to witness. Together, we must prepare to tackle a new farm bill and build on efforts to create a fair marketplace for US agriculture to compete globally” he said.

2:30 p.m. ET, December 9, 2020

Highest-ranking Black leader in Congress calls on lawmakers to approve waiver for Biden defense secretary pick

From CNN's Manu Raju

Rep. Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking Black leader in Congress and who has called on President-elect Joe Biden to name more African-Americans to his Cabinet, said Congress should approve the waiver for retired Army Gen. LLoyd Austin to serve as defense secretary. 

"I think the precedent has been set for that. He's been out for year — or more than that. So the precedent has already been set. There's nothing groundbreaking about that," Clyburn said. 

If confirmed, Austin would make history as the first Black secretary of defense. He needs a congressional waiver, however, to be confirmed for the civilian post because federal law requires seven years of retirement from active duty before taking on the role.

2:35 p.m. ET, December 9, 2020

Biden's defense secretary pick: "I come to this new role as a civilian leader" with military experience

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

Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, President-elect Joe Biden's pick to serve as the secretary of defense, said he believes in civilian leadership of the Defense Department and that, if confirmed, his priority will be American troops and their families.

"When I concluded my military service four years ago, I hung up my uniform for the last time and went from being General Lloyd Austin to Lloyd Austin. It is an important distinction and one that I make with utmost seriousness and sincerity," he said in Wilmington, Delaware. "So I come to this new role as a civilian leader, with military experience to be sure, but also with a deep appreciation and reverence for the prevailing wisdom of civilian control of our military."

Austin retired from the military four years ago, but the law states that an officer must have left the service seven years before becoming secretary of defense. Biden is asking for the Senate to grant a waiver because of this.

Austin said he recognizes that "being a member of the President's cabinet requires a different perspective and unique responsibilities from a career in uniform. I intend to keep this at the forefront of my mind."

"As secretary of defense, my priority will always, always be the men and women, military and civilian, who make up the department and their families," he added.

Austin also talked about his experience tackling tough issues and handling high-pressure situations. He emphasized the importance of diplomacy, saying that America is the strongest when it works with its allies.

"Over the years, I have worked hand in hand with our diplomatic colleagues and partners around the globe, and witnessed firsthand what we're able to accomplish together," he said.

Watch the moment here:

3:07 p.m. ET, December 9, 2020

Biden: "Long past time" Department of Defense's leadership reflects diversity  

Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin speaks at a news conference after being nominated as secretary of defense.
Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin speaks at a news conference after being nominated as secretary of defense. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden praised the personal experience and diversity that retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin would bring to the Pentagon as its top leader.

If confirmed, Austin would make history as the first Black secretary of defense.

"More than 40% of our active duty forces are people of color. It is long past time that the department's leadership reflects that diversity," Biden said. "And we need his in-depth understanding of what it takes to deter threats wherever they arise."

"We need his personal experience helping inform our efforts to ensure that our armed forces reflect the full strength and diversity of our nation," the President-elect said.

Austin joins a list of other Cabinet nominees that are set to make history if confirmed, including Xavier Becerra, who would be the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, and Janet Yellen, who would be the first woman to serve as Treasury secretary.

Watch the moment below:

3:06 p.m. ET, December 9, 2020

Biden calls on Congress to grant waiver for his defense secretary pick

Susan Walsh/AP
Susan Walsh/AP

While introducing his pick to lead the Defense Department, President-elect Joe Biden pointed out that retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin retired from the military more than four years ago but Biden acknowledged "the law states that an officer must have left the service seven years before becoming Secretary of Defense." 

Biden continued: "There's a good reason for this law that I fully understand and respect. I would not be asking for this exception if I did not believe this moment in our history didn't call for it."

"It does call for it," Biden added. "And if I didn't have the faith I have in Lloyd Austin to ask for it. I believe in the importance of civilian control of the military. So does the secretary-designee Austin." 

Biden called for Austin to be "confirmed swiftly" due to the "urgent threat and challenges of our nation's forces."

"We need his experience in large-scale logistical operations to help support the swift and equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines," Biden added.

More context: Austin's selection has set off a new debate over civilian control of the military. Austin would require the same waiver that Congress gave President Trump's nominee, retired Marine officer Jim Mattis, four years ago — leading some Democrats to say they were hesitant to approve such a waiver once and don't want to do so again.

Watch the moment below:

4:45 p.m. ET, December 9, 2020

Biden introduces historic defense secretary nominee: "A leader of extraordinary courage"

From CNN's Eric Bradner and Jessica Dean

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

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are formally introducing retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin as their secretary of defense nominee at an in-person event happening now in Wilmington, Delaware. 

The former commander of the US Central Command would make history as the first Black person to lead the Pentagon if confirmed by the US Senate.

“Today it is my great honor, and it really is an honor, to add to my national security team a leader of extraordinary courage, character, experience and accomplishment,” Biden said as his nominee sat behind him on stage. 

"Someone with whom I have worked closely for many years. And I've seen perform to the highest standards under intense pressure. Someone who I hold in the highest personal regard as a man of great decency and a man of dignity. In my judgment there is no question that he is the right person for this job, at the right moment, leading the Department of Defense at this moment in our nation's history," the President-elect continued.

More on the nominee: Austin has worked closely with Biden in the past. While Biden was vice president, Austin served as the vice chief of staff of the Army and commanding general of US forces in Iraq, and later the commander of CENTCOM. Biden and Austin had discussions on a range of issues, including those in the Middle East and Central and South Asia.

The selection has set off a new debate over civilian control of the military. Austin, who retired four years ago, would require the same waiver that Congress gave President Trump's nominee, retired Marine officer Jim Mattis, four years ago — leading some Democrats to say they were hesitant to approve such a waiver once and don't want to do so again.

Here is a look at who Biden has nominated for his Cabinet so far: 

Watch the announcement below:

1:27 p.m. ET, December 9, 2020

Soon: Biden will introduce historic pick for defense secretary

From CNN's Eric Bradner and Jessica Dean

President-elect Joe Biden is set to formally introduce retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin as his nominee to lead the Pentagon at an in-person event starting soon in Wilmington, Delaware.

If confirmed, Austin would make history as the first Black secretary of defense.

With today's event, Biden will begin trying to gain the support of congressional Democrats who are balking at the prospect of waiving the requirement that the position be filled by someone who has been out of active-duty military service for at least seven years.

Several Senate Democrats this week said they would oppose a waiver for Austin. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said granting one "would contravene the basic principle that there should be civilian control over a nonpolitical military."

Biden's transition team is already lobbying Congress: It has reached out to more than 100 House and Senate offices about Austin's nomination and a waiver, a transition official said.