the biden transition
January 19, 2021

President-elect Joe Biden has announced a historic pick for assistant health secretary.

Biden said Tuesday he'll nominate Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania's secretary of health, to serve as assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services. This makes her "poised to become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate," Biden's transition noted in a statement.

Levine is leading Pennsylvania's COVID-19 response, and "as she sought to contain the pandemic with aggressive social distancing rules, it also made her the target of more frequent abuse," The Washington Post wrote.

"Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond," Biden said in a statement. "She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration's health efforts."

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris also praised Levine as "a remarkable public servant with the knowledge and experience to help us contain this pandemic, and protect and improve the health and well-being of the American people." Brendan Morrow

January 15, 2021

Less than a week before the inauguration, Vice President Mike Pence has reportedly called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to offer his congratulations.

Pence and Harris spoke over the phone Thursday, with Pence congratulating the incoming vice president and offering "his belated assistance," The New York Times reported on Friday and The Associated Press confirmed.

This is the first time Pence and Harris have spoken since their debate in October, and the call was "described as gracious and pleasant," the Times writes. President Trump has yet to speak with President-elect Joe Biden since the election, having spent more than two months falsely claiming to have won.

Pence may invite Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, to the vice-presidential residence prior to next week's inauguration, according to the Times, though this is reportedly not set in stone due to scheduling issues created by the ongoing security concerns following last week's Capitol riot.

Trump is reportedly expected to leave Washington, D.C. the morning of the inauguration. The president previously confirmed he will skip Biden's swearing-in, but Pence is expected to attend. Brendan Morrow

January 15, 2021

President-elect Joe Biden has reportedly tapped Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, to lead the U.S. government's COVID-19 vaccine efforts.

Biden selected Kessler to help lead Operation Warp Speed, replacing Dr. Moncef Slaoui, The New York Times and CNN reported on Friday. Kessler previously served as commissioner of the FDA from 1990 through 1997, originally appointed by former President George H.W. Bush. He also serves as the co-chair of the Biden transition's COVID-19 task force.

"Dr. Kessler became a trusted adviser to the Biden campaign and to President-elect Biden at the beginning of the pandemic, and has probably briefed Biden 50 or 60 times since March," Anita Dunn, co-chair of Biden's transition team, told The New York Times. "When staff gets asked, 'What do the doctors say?,' we know that David Kessler is one of the doctors that President-elect Biden expects us to have consulted."

Kessler will be taking over as lead of Operation Warp Speed as the federal government seeks to speed up distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States after the Trump administration failed to meet its goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020. According to the Times, Kessler "warned Mr. Biden that Operation Warp Speed was not prepared for getting the shots into people's arms" in the fall. Slaoui will reportedly become a consultant to Operation Warp Speed after previously serving as chief adviser. Brendan Morrow

January 14, 2021

Jaime Harrison has reportedly been selected to serve as the next chair of the Democratic National Committee.

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Harrison, the former South Carolina Democratic Party chair and 2020 Senate candidate, as his pick to chair the DNC, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

Harrison challenged Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for his South Carolina Senate seat last year, losing the race to Graham but breaking fundraising records. The Times notes Harrison has been championed by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), an ally of Biden's whose endorsement offered a key boost during the incoming president's 2020 campaign. Tom Perez, the current chair of the Democratic National Committee, previously decided not to seek another term. Harrison ran for DNC chair in 2017.

News of Biden's selection was confirmed by NBC News, which noted the DNC will meet next week to officially elect its next chair. NBC also writes that Harrison "has long advocated inside the DNC for greater investment in Southern states, which Democrats have often written off, a strategy allies say was vindicated by Democrats' recent wins in Georgia." Brendan Morrow

January 11, 2021

President-elect Joe Biden has said he'll get "at least 100 million COVID vaccine shots into the arms of the American people" during his first 100 days. But before his term begins, some advisers are reportedly worried this promise will ultimately be broken.

Biden has "grown frustrated with the team in charge of plotting his coronavirus response" as there is increasing concern among some of his advisers that the 100 million vaccinations in 100 days goal won't be met, Politico reported on Monday.

"While some Biden advisers insist it's possible to make good on the 100-million vow, others are privately worried that the federal response is already so chaotic that it will take a herculean effort to pull it off," according to the report.

Biden reportedly confronted COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients and his deputy to tell them "their team was underperforming," Politico says. Transition officials blame a "lack of long-term planning" by the Trump administration, which didn't come close to meeting its goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020, as the vaccine rollout got off to a far slower-than-expected start in the United States.

"They're inheriting a mess," former Obama administration acting Medicare and Medicaid chief Andy Slavitt told Politico. "I think they're uncovering how bad it is."

Biden, Politico notes, has suggested that whether the 100 million vaccinations goal is reached will be dependent on further COVID-19 relief legislation, previously saying "if Congress provides" additional funding for state and local governments, "we'd be able to meet this incredible goal." But Politico writes that some in the transition are "questioning whether Biden's first big pandemic pledge placed too much confidence" in the Trump administration, and allies are warning transition officials about "the overriding political consequences of breaking one of Biden's first major promises." Read more at Politico. Brendan Morrow

January 11, 2021

President-elect Joe Biden has revealed his pick for CIA director.

Biden will nominate veteran diplomat William Burns to serve as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, CNN reports.

"Bill Burns is an exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the world stage keeping our people and our country safe and secure," Biden said. "He shares my profound belief that intelligence must be apolitical and that the dedicated intelligence professionals serving our nation deserve our gratitude and respect."

Burns "served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 33 years" and held a "number of national security positions across five Democratic and Republican presidential administrations," the transition said in a statement. Under former President Barack Obama, he served as deputy secretary of state, and he was previously ambassador to Jordan and Russia, as well. He was involved in talks that led to the Iran nuclear deal while in the Obama administration and "has experience dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin," Axios reports.

Burns would be "the first career diplomat to serve as CIA Director" if confirmed, NBC News reports, and his "selection would bypass other contenders with more formal experience in the intelligence field," CNN writes. This, NBC also noted, was the last major nomination to be announced by Biden prior to his inauguration on Jan. 20. Brendan Morrow

December 28, 2020

With the inauguration just weeks away, President-elect Joe Biden on Monday said his transition team has "encountered roadblocks" from political appointees at the Defense Department and Office of Management and Budget.

"Right now, we just aren't getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas," he added. "It's nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility."

Biden made his remarks after attending a briefing with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and national security experts. This "obstruction" could make it easier for foreign entities to launch cyber attacks against the U.S., and Biden warned his team "needs a clear picture of our force posture around the world and our operations to deter our enemies. We need full visibility into the budget planning underway at the Defense Department and other agencies in order to avoid any window of confusion or catch-up that our adversaries may try to exploit."

The president-elect stressed that career professionals have been working closely with the transition team, and their agencies are "filled with patriots who've earned our respect, and who should never be treated as political footballs." Catherine Garcia

December 17, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden has reportedly made his interior secretary pick.

Biden will nominate Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), who would make history as the first Native American Cabinet secretary, to serve as head of the Interior Department, Politico and The Washington Post reported on Thursday.

Haaland had previously picked up support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) among others, as Pelosi in a statement this week said that the congressman "knows the territory, and if she is the president-elect's choice for interior secretary, then he will have made an excellent choice," although her confirmation would narrow Democrats' House majority.

A person familiar with the transition's thinking told The Washington Post that the selection of Haaland "reflects President-elect Biden's determination to confront long-running injustices toward indigenous people in America, and to finally and fully uphold our country's trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations."

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who was reportedly in the mix for the interior secretary position, praised Haaland's reported selection in a statement Thursday, saying she will be "excellent" in the role and will "restore the department's workforce and expertise, uphold our obligations to Native communities, and take the bold action needed to tackle the accelerating climate and nature crises."

Yahoo's Hunter Walker noted that the selection of Haaland for interior secretary was "one of the clearest asks from progressive Dems," adding, "This is a major win for them." Politico also wrote that she'll bring a "major outside voice to a Biden Cabinet so far dominated by former Obama officials." Brendan Morrow

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