The latest on Biden's transition

By Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 8:02 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020
21 Posts
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7:31 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Trump pardons Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, among others

From CNN's Pamela Brown

From left, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Charles Kushner.
From left, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Charles Kushner. Getty Images/AP

President Trump has pardoned longtime ally Roger Stone, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Charles Kushner, the father of White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, among others. 

The pardons of Manafort and Stone reward two of the most high-profile and widely condemned former advisers of the President, both of whom were indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller, went to trial and were convicted by juries of multiple crimes. 

Manafort, who is serving home confinement, initially agreed to cooperate with Mueller but then lied to prosecutors, while Stone never cooperated after lying to Congress to protect the President. Manafort spent close to two years in prison for bank and tax fraud, illegal foreign lobbying and witness tampering conspiracies before being released because of the pandemic, while Stone's sentence for obstruction of Congress and threatening a witness was commuted by Trump earlier this year days before he was set to surrender. 

Charles Kushner, had been prosecuted by then-US Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie in the early 2000s for tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign contributions. He eventually pleaded guilty to 16 counts of tax evasion, one count of retaliating against a federal witness — his brother-in-law — and another count of lying to the Federal Election Commission. 

Also included in Trump’s pardon list is California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter’s wife, Margaret, just one day after Trump granted Duncan Hunter a full pardon. Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty last year to conspiring “knowingly and willingly” convert campaign funds for personal use. 

Additional reporting from Paul LeBlanc and Katelyn Polantz.

7:29 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Trump arrives at Mar-a-Lago in Florida

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal 

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump disembark Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport on Wednesday, December 23.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump disembark Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport on Wednesday, December 23. Patrick Semansky/AP

President Trump arrived at Mar-a-Lago at 6:45 p.m. after a brief motorcade ride through Palm Beach. Along the route, hundreds of supporters expressed their support for the President. 

CNN photojournalist Peter Morris got video of the mostly unmasked crowds. 

The motorcade slowed down as it passed to acknowledge a large crowd that was gathered. Trump can be seen in the video waving to supporters.  

There were few opponents as well, including one with a sign that said “Go Away.”

President Trump did not answer reporters' questions as he left the White House, or later aboard Air Force One. 

4:38 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Trump declines to take questions as he leaves the White House for Florida

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal 

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday in Washington.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday in Washington. Evan Vucci/AP

The President and First Lady walked out of the Oval Office together at 4:09 p.m. ET according to pool reports. They're on their way to Mar-a-Lago in Florida ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Trump did not stop for shouted questions from reporters. 

The First couple boarded Marine One at 4:10 p.m. ET.

3:07 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

There will be no Black women in the Senate after Harris becomes vice president

From CNN's Jessica Campisi

Sen. Kamala Harris broke barriers as America's first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president-elect. But after her exit in January to join the Biden administration, there will be no Black women in the Senate.

Harris's departure left lawmakers and advocates urging California Gov. Gavin Newsom to choose a Black woman to replace her due to a lack of diversity in the chamber. And while his appointment on Tuesday of Secretary of State Alex Padilla as California's first Latino senator was historic, it comes with the reality that the 117th Congress will have no Black women in the upper chamber.

"When you think about the history of this country, of the challenges that exist for African Americans ... this is a real blow to the African-American community, to African-American women, to women in general," San Francisco Mayor London Breed said during a Covid-19 briefing. "And it's really challenging to put it in words."

Taisha Brown, chair of the California Democratic Party Black Caucus, told The Sacramento Bee that "we (are) incredibly hurt and disappointed in the governor's decision. Through a stroke of a pen, his actions have denied a Black female representation in the United States Senate."

Read more here.

2:37 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Congressional Republicans grapple with an "unhinged" Trump

From CNN's Lauren Fox, Jeremy Herb, and Phil Mattingly

Cheriss May/Getty Images
Cheriss May/Getty Images

Even in his waning days in power President Trump is still finding ways to inflict his signature loyalty tests on the Republican Party.

As the President continues to deny his election loss, Republican members and aides on Capitol Hill are watching with angst as Trump threatens to unravel their entire year-end legislative agenda. Trump has vowed to veto the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act, a defense policy bill that is essential for governing the future of the Pentagon, ahead of a deadline midnight on Wednesday. And after Congress left town this week, Trump unexpectedly posted a video screed eviscerating the hard-fought, bipartisan coronavirus package that passed the Senate by a 92 to 6 margin.

Meanwhile, Trump is obsessively pursuing any tactic that could overturn the results of the election, encouraging an already-doomed effort by a small group of House Republicans to challenge the Electoral College results in Congress on January 6 and lashing out at any Republican who calls into question the efforts’ success – even threatening to primary the Senate’s No. 2 Republican over his opposition to the futile endeavor.

“He’s coming unhinged,” one GOP aide told CNN. 

While Congress is already slated to return to Washington next week to potentially override Trump’s veto of the defense authorization bill, Trump’s latest criticism against the stimulus package and government spending bill could prove even harder to overcome. 

And there is no predicting how many Republicans will continue to support a package that Trump has so publicly blasted.

That has left aides on both sides of the aisle attempting to game out worst-case scenarios – the kind that include a government shutdown that would last through the end of Trump’s time in office or the possibility that desperately needed relief – so close to going out the door after months of deadlock – falls apart completely.

Here's where things stand: If Trump waits to veto the bill, it could leave little or no time for the current Congress to override it. If that happened, newly sworn in Congress that includes a larger Republican minority would have to vote on the legislation all over again. And, while Congress passed a seven-day continuing resolution to ensure the government did not shut down while the larger bill was being processed, that funding runs out Monday at midnight. 

Then on Jan. 6, Republicans could be put in an even tougher position if Trump’s House allies gain a senator’s support to object to the Electoral College results, forcing votes in both chambers on whether to reject a state’s Electoral College votes. It’s a politically toxic vote for Republicans, forcing them to choose: Do you stand with Trump or the will of the voters?

Behind the scenes, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has actively discouraged any Senate Republican to join the effort. Senate Majority Whip John Thune publicly pushed back on an to challenge the results of the election during a Joint Session of Congress, saying it would “go down like a shot dog.”

2:05 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

White House staff told to disregard email about exit process

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

White House staff received an email today informing them to disregard a previous message they received about the exit process, according to an email viewed by CNN.

No reason was given but the White House management office said “updated information will be shared in the coming days.”

The earlier email detailed information about their last days and when they would receive their final paycheck, another indication that President Trump and his staff will not remain in office past Jan. 20, despite his claims.

1:12 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Students urge Biden's education secretary nominee to engage young voices in Department of Education

From CNN's Rachel Janfaza

Before President-elect Joe Biden formally introduced Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona as his nominee for education secretary, more than 100 organizations endorsed a student-crafted roadmap that was sent to the Biden-Harris transition team encouraging youth input in the incoming Department of Education.

Student Voice — the nationwide student-led non-profit organization behind the roadmap -— congratulates Cardona on his nomination for education secretary and is now calling on Cardona and the Biden-Harris administration to listen to students. 

The roadmap, which asks the incoming US Department of Education to engage young voices through listening sessions, include students on all commissions and to prioritize equity in education, was the result of Zoom listening sessions with over 200 high school students and a survey of 1,500 kindergarten-college aged students from across the country on what they would like to see from the Biden-Harris Department of Education.

It was presented by Student Voice to President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris, and the Education Agency Review team prior to Dr. Cardona’s appointment and was endorsed by 100 organizations including the American Federation of Teachers, Center for American Progress, Southern Poverty Law Center, GLSEN and student groups such as March For Our Lives, Students for Gun Legislation, Future Coalition, 18by Vote and more.

“As a former educator, principal and current commissioner, we are hopeful that Dr. Cardona will be prepared to tackle the unprecedented challenges facing America’s schools on day one. We appreciate that Dr. Cardona regularly hosted listening sessions for student stakeholders throughout his career and Connecticut and has shown previous support for students as a vital part in the decision making process,” 18-year-old Jenna Yuan, the Communications Director at Student Voice, said in a statement congratulating Cardona on Wednesday.

But, Yuan added that Cardona must continue to engage with young people.

“Before Dr. Cardona is confirmed, students are calling on him to speak with us directly about the issues we face within our educations today, including through hosting a roundtable conversation with a diverse and representative group of K-12 and college students from across the country,” Yuan added in the statement.

According to Merrit Jones, who at 23 years old is the oldest member of the Student Voice team, along with their roadmap, the organization is also suggesting that Dr. Cardona prioritize five issues, “Protection against discrimination, Covid safety, mental health, college access and affordability and access for students with disabilities.”

Jones added that she believes it is imperative for Cardona to have a conversation with young people prior to Biden’s inauguration.

 “Ahead of inauguration, and of course confirmation, we want [Cardona] to have a conversation with young people to show and demonstrate early that young people are a stake holder and will be a stake holder,” Jones told CNN.

Jones added that Student Voice has already asked the Biden-Harris transition team for a conversation with Cardona to cement young people’s role in building the incoming Department of Education.

12:42 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Biden not expected to announce pick for CIA director until after the holidays

From CNN’s Jeff Zeleny

President-elect Joe Biden is still deliberating who he will nominate to lead the CIA, people familiar with the matter say, with a decision not expected until after the holidays.

Mike Morrell, the former acting director of the CIA in the Obama administration, is no longer in the running, people familiar with the matter say, after he came under fire for his role in drone strikes and torture.

Our reporting indicates final contenders are David Cohen, a former deputy director of the CIA under former President Obama, Lisa Monaco, counter terrorism adviser under Obama and Darrell Blocker, who served as deputy director of the agency's counterterrorism center and led the CIA's training facility.

1:42 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Education secretary nominee says he is "as American as apple pie and rice and beans"

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Joshua Roberts/Getty Images
Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Miguel Cardona spoke about his background after President-elect Joe Biden introduced him as education secretary nominee, using his story as a call to action for equality in the US education system. 

“I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans,” Cardona said.

His grandparents emigrated from Puerto Rico to Connecticut, and he was born in housing projects in the state, he said.

He attended public schools in his hometown of Meriden, Connecticut, was the first in his family to graduate from college, and went on to become a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent in “the same community that gave me so much,” he said.

“For me, education was the great equalizer. But for too many students, your ZIP code and your skin color remain the best predictor of the opportunities you'll have in your lifetime.

He compared education in America to a “wilted rose” in Spanish, saying it is “neglected, in need of care.”

“We must be the master gardeners who cultivate it, who work every day to preserve its beauty and its purpose,” he said. 

Hear his full remarks: