NOVEMBER 24, 2020
US President-elect. – P
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President-elect Joe Biden is moving quickly to take advantage of government resources for his transition to the White House after the Trump administration ended a 16-day stalemate and announced its intention to begin cooperating with his team.
Mr. Biden’s advisers are making plans to meet with career officials at executive agencies to review hundreds of pages of briefing materials and get up to speed on the inner workings of the federal government. Transition officials began reaching out to agency officials on Monday night, immediately after the Trump administration said it would begin working with the president-elect’s team, a transition official said.
The president-elect’s advisers said they expect to make responding to the coronavirus pandemic a priority. They plan to quickly set up meetings with senior officials at the Health and Human Services Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among other agencies, to discuss vaccine distribution and other Covid-19 priorities.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar said the department’s top transition official was in communication with Mr. Biden’s team on Monday night, and he emphasized the need for a “professional, cooperative and collaborative” transfer of power to address the challenges posed by the pandemic.
“We are immediately getting them all of the pre-prepared transition briefing materials,” Mr. Azar said Tuesday. “We will ensure coordinated briefings with them to ensure they’re getting whatever information that they feel they need.”
Mr. Biden announced some of his choices to fill top jobs before the Trump administration changed its stance toward the transition. He formally introduced his picks for key national-security roles Tuesday at an event in Wilmington, Del.
“It’s a team that reflects the fact that America is back,” Mr. Biden said. “Ready to lead the world, not retreat from it. Once again sit at the head of the table. Ready to confront our adversaries and not reject our allies.”
Mr. Biden was flanked by his intended nominees, many of them veterans of the Obama administration, for roles that include secretary of state, secretary of homeland security, director of national intelligence and ambassador to the United Nations.
The transition team had been preparing for the Trump administration to change course and end its two-week-plus policy of blocking government resources to Mr. Biden. Mr. Biden’s tech team migrated the president-elect’s transition website over to government servers shortly after the administration’s announcement Monday night.
General Services Administration chief Emily Murphy said Monday that her agency would formally provide federal resources for Mr. Biden to begin a transfer of power. She had been facing bipartisan criticism for the delay, which prevented Mr. Biden’s transition team from accessing more than $6 million in government funds, barred the president-elect and his aides from accessing federal agencies, and kept Mr. Biden from receiving certain classified briefings.
With the GSA’s designation, Mr. Biden and his team are also expected to be given access to beefed-up cybersecurity protection and federal resources to vet nominees as he fills thousands of government jobs.
It wasn’t clear when Mr. Biden would begin receiving the president’s daily brief, the compilation of the government’s most secret intelligence. The White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows wrote in a Monday night email to staff that the administration would “comply with all actions needed to ensure the smooth transfer of power.” He said aides weren’t permitted to speak directly with a member of the Biden transition team or a federal transition coordinator unless “specifically authorized,” according to a copy of the email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The White House and federal agencies have designated transition liaisons tasked with working with Mr. Biden’s team.
Mr. Trump said he had authorized his administration to cooperate with Mr. Biden’s team, but he stressed that he hadn’t conceded the election. “Remember, the GSA has been terrific, and Emily Murphy has done a great job, but the GSA does not determine who the next President of the United States will be,” Mr. Trump posted on Twitter on Tuesday morning.
Transition officials said staff will begin migrating to government email addresses in stages, beginning first with aides on the teams that interact with federal agencies.
The federal government, which has some of the most sophisticated antihacking technologies in the world, was offering only limited assistance to Mr. Biden’s transition operation in securing its email and other communications, despite concerns that the team is likely a top espionage target for Russia, China and other adversaries, according to people familiar with the transition. The transition operation will now be able to take advantage of the full range of government cyber protections.
Mr. Biden’s team had put in place protections on its own through a standard, paid Google network to prevent hackers from stealing sensitive information. Current and former U.S. officials and security experts said the transition team’s reliance on its own cyber defenses could make it more vulnerable to attack.
Though Mr. Biden’s team has access to a large office space at the Commerce Department, aides said most transition staff will continue to work remotely because of the pandemic.
On Monday, Mr. Biden named key members of his national-security team and his first cabinet selections. Mr. Biden said he had chosen Antony Blinken, his longtime foreign-policy adviser, to serve as secretary of state, and Jake Sullivan, another former aide, as his national-security adviser.
Mr. Biden also said he would nominate Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban-American and former deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, to be the first Latino to lead the department. Avril Haines, a former deputy national-security adviser to President Barack Obama, will be nominated as director of national intelligence and the first woman to hold the position if confirmed.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry will serve as special presidential envoy for climate change, a position on the White House National Security Council. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a veteran diplomat, was named as Mr. Biden’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The group took turns speaking at Mr. Biden’s event in Wilmington, vowing to recommit the U.S. to global alliances on climate, trade and national-security issues after four years of Mr. Trump’s nationalist approach.
“Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back,” Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said.
Some of Mr. Biden’s choices for his administration must be confirmed by the Senate. Control of the Senate hinges on two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5. Republicans currently hold 50 seats in the chamber, while Democrats occupy 48 seats.
Mr. Biden’s nominees were met with opposition from a handful of Senate Republicans who are considered potential presidential candidates in 2024.
“I have no interest in returning to the ‘normal’ that left us dependent on China,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted.
Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri also took to Twitter to call Mr. Biden’s picks “a group of corporatists and war enthusiasts – and #BigTech sellouts.”
Other Republicans appeared more open to Mr. Biden’s choices. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana signaled support for Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, who hails from his state. “I want to congratulate one of our own for representing our country in front of the rest of the world,” he tweeted.
“I’m glad he’s resisting the far left on most of the picks to date,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), a Trump critic, said Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Biden said on Tuesday that he hoped his nominees would receive prompt consideration in the Senate.
Additional announcements are expected in the coming weeks. The Journal reported on Monday that Mr. Biden plans to nominate former Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary. Ms. Yellen, a 74-year-old labor economist who has been at the forefront of policy-making for three decades, would be the first woman to lead the department.