Biden’s transition moving ahead at full speed

Will announce coronavirus efforts on Monday

Revelers  on 14th Street Northwest celebrated Joe Biden becoming the 46th U.S. president after news outlets declared victory for Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., on Saturday. (CQ Roll Call)
Revelers on 14th Street Northwest celebrated Joe Biden becoming the 46th U.S. president after news outlets declared victory for Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., on Saturday. (CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 8, 2020 at 5:10pm

When Joe Biden was named president-elect on Saturday, his transition operation was already full speed ahead.

Biden plans to announce his own version of the coronavirus task force on Monday to help shape his administration's response to the ongoing pandemic, with former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and former FDA Commissioner David Kessler among the leaders, according to deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield.

Bedingfield, appearing Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" echoed other Biden campaign and transition officials who have said they intend to hit the ground running.

"He'll be making calls. He'll be making announcements to the American people about how he's going to make good on these campaign promises. And I think, look, we saw the Biden-Harris ticket get the most votes of any presidential ticket in the history of presidential politics," Bedingfield said. "People are hungry for change."

The president-elect is also expected to be talking to world leaders in the coming days.

Like everything else amid the pandemic, the transition effort — led by former Sen. Ted Kaufman, a longtime Biden adviser who literally wrote the law on presidential transitions — is doing more work remotely than it would under normal circumstances. The General Services Administration has allocated transition workspace at 1401 Constitution Avenue NW, the home of the Commerce Department.

"Like many organizations around the country, the Biden transition team will continue to do our work remotely," a transition spokesperson confirmed to CQ Roll Call in a statement last week. "While we have access to GSA space, the number of staff needed inside the office will be limited. Our team is following the direction of public health experts and medical professionals to develop a plan to keep our staff and their families safe."

That's a far cry from the approach of the current White House, where personnel on all levels from junior aides to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have routinely disregarded the advice of public health experts, particularly when it comes to wearing protective masks. Meadows himself has tested positive for COVID-19, as first reported by Bloomberg News.

Some functions may require transition personnel to operate in in-person settings, including as part of what are known as "beachhead teams" that begin working at federal departments and agencies while politically appointed employees from the outgoing Trump administration are preparing to leave. But much of the federal workforce continues to operate remotely.

"In our remote environment we are planning to build a diverse team of experts ready to serve the country on Day One — ensuring a Biden administration can get started putting America on a path to recovery from the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn the moment Vice President Biden and Sen. Harris are sworn in," the transition spokesperson said.

There's no shortage of executive actions from President Donald Trump that Biden and his team have said they want to quickly overturn. Biden is expected to move for a restoration of U.S. involvement in the Paris Climate Accords and to overturn many of Trump's immigration actions, including the attempts by the current president to restrict the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was implemented by President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president.

Biden said in his victory remarks Saturday night outside the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del., that getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control must be the first priority when he's inaugurated on Jan. 20. He said that his transition advisers tackling the virus would work to turn campaign trail commitments into "an action blueprint."

"We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, or relish life’s most precious moments — hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us — until we get this virus under control," Biden said.

Economic recovery efforts

Sen. Chris Coons, another Delaware Democrat and Biden ally who reiterated Sunday that he is prepared to serve in the administration if called upon, expressed hope that another round of economic relief in response to the pandemic would move through Congress while Trump is still in the White House.

"I think that Joe Biden as president-elect … is going to be able to pull together leaders in Congress to deliver the relief that we need and deserve. And one way that President Trump can show some graciousness in the next 73 days during the transition is to publicly support a significant pandemic relief bill," Coons said Sunday. "We've had record new cases all this past week. It's past time for us to come together and deliver the relief the American people are waiting for."

In an interview with ABC's "This Week," Coons said he wasn't concerned that advancing a smaller COVID-19 relief package before the end of 2020 could imperil prospects for an larger stimulus package once Biden takes office. While nearly two dozen races are still not called, Democrats are expected to continue to have a majority in the House. They also have a chance if controlling the Senate, depending on the outcome of two runoffs in Georgia in January.

"We frankly don't know where this pandemic's going right now but it's not going in a good direction," said Coons, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Getting cooperation could prove difficult, however, at least until more members of the Senate Republican Conference reach the same conclusion as The Associated Press and major television networks: that Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris have in fact secured significantly more than 270 electoral votes.

Some Senate Republicans have been quiet, while others, like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, have criticized the media for projecting the Biden victory.

"We should allow the legal process to move forward. And when that process is concluded, which it will be in a matter of weeks, we will know who prevailed in the elections," Cruz said on the Fox News Channel. "But the fact that the big newsrooms in New York City want Donald Trump to lose — they don't get to decide that. That’s a question for the voters."

The president's legal team continues to mount challenges in states across the country, including in Nevada and Pennsylvania, but there's no evidence of widespread issues that could put Biden's election in doubt.

As of Sunday morning, the only Senate Republicans to state clearly that the Biden-Harris ticket had defeated Trump were Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.

"Ann and I extend our congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. We know both of them as people of good will and admirable character," Romney said in a statement Saturday. "We pray that God may bless them in the days and years ahead."