biden-harris transition
December 12, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden's transition team doesn't seem too worried about homeland security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas' chances of getting confirmed by the Senate, noting that the choice has received an "overwhelmingly positive reaction," but there does appear to be some skepticism among Republican lawmakers, The Associated Press reports.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), for instance, told AP that Mayorkas' "brand of leadership isn't good for agency culture or the security of our nation." He was specifically referring to the findings of a 2015 report from the Office of Inspector General which concluded Mayorkas "created an appearance of favoritism and special access at Citizenship and Immigration Services when he was director from 2009 to 2013," per AP.

Still, even if there are holdouts, Biden will likely only need a handful of Republican senators to back Mayorkas, and prominent GOP donor John Rowe told AP he plans to push the party to confirm. "This is an easy vote," Rowe, the former CEO of Exelon Corporation, said. "Some of the other immigration votes are not that easy for Republicans who have to go home to primaries. No one is going to lose their seat because they vote to confirm Mayorkas." Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

December 8, 2020

With some questions arising across the political spectrum about his decision to tap a recently retired general to lead the Defense Department, President-elect Joe Biden penned a piece for The Atlantic explaining his choice Tuesday.

Biden looked back on his experience overseeing the drawdown of American troops in Iraq in 2010, when Gen. Lloyd Austin commanded forces in the country. "General Austin got the job done," Biden wrote. "He played a crucial role in bringing 150,000 American troops home from the theater of war. It required Austin to practice diplomacy, building relationships with our Iraqi counterparts and with our partners in the region. He served as a statesman, representing our country with honor and dignity and always, above all, looking out for his people."

Additionally, the next secretary of defense "will need to immediately quarterback an enormous logistics operation to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines widely and equitably," Biden noted, and Austin's experience in charge of the "largest logistical operation undertaken by the Army in six decades" would likely help make that process smoother.

Biden did acknowledge the concerns about granting another waiver to a retired general — military personnel are supposed to wait seven years before becoming secretary of defense, and Austin only left in 2016 — just a few years after an exception was made for retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, but he argued it's warranted "given the immense and urgent threats our nation faces," which he believes Austin is "uniquely matched" to meet. Read more at The Atlantic. Tim O'Donnell

December 8, 2020

In 2017, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis received a bicameral congressional waiver to serve as President Trump's secretary of defense, allowing him to bypass a law requiring military officers to wait seven years after retirement before assuming the role. Mattis became just the second person in 70 years to receive the waiver, but both parties appear uneasy about giving retired Gen. Lloyd Austin — President-elect Joe Biden's reported choice to lead the Pentagon who retired in 2016 — the same path to confirmation.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) said she has "deep respect" for Austin, having worked with him when he commanded U.S. forces in Iraq, but "choosing another recently retired general to serve in a role designed for a civilian just feels off." Slotkin left the door open for voting in favor of the waiver, but said she'll need to hear the Biden administration's reasoning before making a decision.

Eliot Cohen, a Republican political scientist and the dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, made the case in The Atlantic that Biden should choose a civilian, and Jim Golby — who has served as an adviser to Biden, Vice President Mike Pence, and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — argued along similar lines in The New York Times. In their view, Mattis' waiver was warranted (Cohen even testified in favor of granting the waiver before Congress) given Trump's national security inexperience. But they don't think presidents should make a habit of appointing generals to the post. "Civilian control of the military is a vital precept," Cohen writes. Read more at The Atlantic and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

December 8, 2020

"There was an element of surprise" when President-elect Joe Biden chose California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Health and Human Services Department, Irwin Redlener, a Columbia University professor and pandemic-response expert, told Stat News, since the nominee has a legal background rather than a medical one. Writes Stat, the selection suggests the president-elect is looking past the coronavirus pandemic, instead tapping someone who will focus on issues like Affordable Care Act protections and high drug prices down the line.

Of course, the coronavirus looms large regardless, so it appears that Becerra's primary role in combating the pandemic will be a managerial one, leaving the medical expertise to career government scientists, who are likely to return to the forefront during the Biden administration, Stat reports. Redlener said he's heard positive things about Becerra's leadership skills, and Marian Moser-Jones, a University of Maryland professor who studies public health and U.S. health care deliver during crises, also expressed confidence in his ability to guide the department during the pandemic.

"We have tunnel vision right now, we're thinking about the pandemic, and he's not really an emergency-preparedness kind of guy," she told Stat. "But just because somebody doesn't have experience running a huge agency doesn't mean they can't do it." Read more at Stat News. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden said Monday that he'll announce his defense secretary by the end of the week, and it looks like retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, a candidate who was once considered a long shot, is moving to the top of the list, three people familiar with the discussions told Politico.

Michèle Flournoy was initially seen as the frontunner, but Biden has faced pressure to nominate a person of color for the post, Politico notes. Subsequently, Austin and former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who are both Black, have emerged as top-tier contenders.

But the Biden transition team reportedly sees Austin as the safer, "controlled" choice — one of Politico's sources said "there would be less tension" surrounding an Austin nomination. That's because there are reportedly lingering concerns about Johnson's tenure in the Obama administration— he's been criticized for his record on expanding family detention, accelerating deportations, and approving civilian-targeting drone strikes, per Politico.

That doesn't mean there would be no drama if Biden does give Austin the nod. Some national security experts have pointed out he'd require a special waiver to get confirmed since he hasn't been out of the military for the required seven years, and he's also faced questions in the past about the military's role in training forces to combat the Islamic State in Syria, as well as allegations when he was leading U.S. Central Command that the command downplayed intelligence reports on the threat posed by ISIS. His command was cleared in an investigation in 2017. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

December 3, 2020

FBI directors are appointed for 10-year terms, largely to insulate them from political pressure, and presidents rarely cut those terms short. President Trump did, firing FBI Director James Comey soon in May 2017 — prompting the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller — and he has come close to firing Comey's successor, Christopher Wray, several times, The New York Times reports. President-elect Joe Biden plans on returning to the regular norms and customs. Wray, like Comey, is a Republican.

Biden is "not removing the FBI director unless Trump fired him," a senior Biden adviser tells the Times. Advisers also said Biden is leaning toward appointing David S. Cohen as CIA director, though he hasn't made any final decision. Cohen, a former deputy CIA director, is backed by Biden's choice for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, the Times reports, and "ensuring an easy partnership between Ms. Haines and the CIA director is a priority of the new administration."

Trump soured on Wray soon after appointing him, and it took an intervention by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Attorney General William Barr to talk Trump down from firing him over the summer, the Times reports. Trump reportedly told advisers in the fall that he would fire Wray right after the election. If he follows through, Biden will be able to pick a director of his choosing. Peter Weber

December 1, 2020

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) won't be leading the Treasury Department for the incoming Biden administration, but that doesn't mean she hasn't played a role in crafting the department's new look.

President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday, while introducing his economic team, said that Warren "highly recommended" Wally Adeyemo, his choice for deputy Treasury secretary.

In addition to championing Adeyemo, Warren was also reportedly very enthusiastic about Biden nominating Janet Yellen for Treasury Secretary, the job she apparently coveted, suggesting that she will have some influence over its policy strategy, at least on the economic side of things. Tim O'Donnell

December 1, 2020

Republicans are already signaling they won't vote to confirm Neera Tanden, President-elect Joe Biden's choice to run the Office of Management and Budget, next year — and some have even cast doubt on whether she'll receive a committee hearing. One reason for their antipathy is her prolific activity on Twitter, which includes a fair amount of criticism of GOP lawmakers. Indeed, it appears Tanden was expecting this, since she has seemingly deleted a fair number of tweets over the last few weeks.

But GOP critics are calling the lawmakers complaining about Tanden's social media presence hypocrites, especially since President Trump and a few of his own appointees haven't shied away from using the platform to ridicule political and personal opponents (and sometimes presumed allies) over his four years in office.

In fact, throughout Trump's term, it wasn't uncommon for Republican lawmakers to say they hadn't actually seen the president's posts.

But, The Washington Post's Paul Waldman argues, the lawmakers likely aren't all that concerned about Tanden's Twitter use, but are instead using it as part of a strategy to make it more difficult for Biden to assemble the Cabinet he wants. Tim O'Donnell

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