Wake Up To Politics - November 12, 2020
It’s Thursday, November 12, 2020. Inauguration Day is 69 days away. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.
President-elect Joe Biden made his first personnel choice on Wednesday, naming veteran Democratic strategist Ron Klain to be his White House chief of staff. Klain is a longtime confidant of the president-elect’s, having served as Biden’s vice presidential chief of staff, as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee when Biden served as chairman, and as an adviser to Biden’s 1988, 2008, and 2020 presidential campaigns.
Klain’s connections in Democratic circles run deep: he also served as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore and has led debate preparations for every Democratic presidential nominee since Bill Clinton. He also spent four months as the White House “Ebola czar” under President Barack Obama, an experience that he will likely draw from as the incoming Biden administration seeks to get the coronavirus pandemic under control.
The choice of Klain for chief of staff — the most powerful position inside the White House, after the president — earned Biden plaudits from all sides of the Democratic ideological spectrum. “Ron has earned trust all across the entire Democratic Party,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a leading progressive voice, tweeted Wednesday night.
But Biden’s next picks are less likely to be so universally pleasing, as he faces the tall order of appointing a Cabinet that can gain approval from progressives and Senate Republicans alike. If the GOP retains control of the Senate, Biden’s Cabinet could be shaped as much by the president-elect as by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), his longtime negotiating and sparring partner, who will control which nominees receive confirmation votes and which do not.
But Biden will have another constituency to satisfy as well: his own left flank. Two leading progressive groups, released a list of Cabinet recommendations on Wednesday, an opening salvo in their campaign to force Biden to the left as he assumes the White House.
The progressive “wish list” included Warren as Treasury Secretary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), as Labor Secretary, and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) as Secretary of State. Sanders, for one, confirmed his interest in a Cabinet role on Wednesday night: “If I had a portfolio that allowed me to stand up and fight for working families, would I do it?” he said in an interview on CNN. “Yes, I would.”
Many of the top candidates for Biden Cabinet roles are Obama administration alumni. Anthony Blinken, Obama’s former deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser, and Susan Rice, Obama’s former U.N. ambassador and national security adviser, are seen as the top candidates to become Secretary of State.
Michèle Flournoy, who served as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy under Obama, is in line to take over the Pentagon under Biden. And Lael Brainerd, who was appointed to the Federal Reserve Board of Governor under Obama, is regarded as the frontrunner to become Secretary of the Treasury.
A number of longtime Biden allies are also expected to be rewarded with key posts. Klain is likely to be joined on the White House staff by Steve Richetti, who has also been by Biden’s side since the 1980s, and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), who joined the Biden campaign as national co-chairman on its very first day.
Other early Biden endorsers being considered for administration posts include outgoing Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), a top contender to become Attorney General; Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), who are both in the running to become Agriculture Secretary; and one of his Republican supporters, former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, who is a potential Commerce Secretary.
In addition to Warren and Sanders, Biden is also reportedly eyeing other Democratic primary rivals — including two who dropped out and backed his candidacy at a crucial juncture: former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who could end up as U.N. Ambassador or Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who is being floated as Attorney General or Agriculture Secretary.
Two months before he is set to leave office, President Donald Trump has made a flurry of personnel changes at national security agencies. Just this week, Trump has ousted his Defense Secretary and a collection of other key Pentagon officials, replacing them with a group of controversial loyalists. According to the New York Times, it is unclear if there are deeper motivations for the changes, although many of the new appointees support taking American soldiers out of Afghanistan, raising the prospect that Trump could seek a full troop withdrawal there before his terms ends.
Trump is increasingly unlikely to ever concede his re-election loss. According to NBC News, there is a “growing expectation” among Trump’s advisers that he will leave office in January but never formally offer a concession. Trump is apparently already mulling another White House bid: “I’m just going to run in 2024,” he has been telling aides, according to the Washington Post. The president is continuing to wage a lackluster legal battle against the election results, although the Wall Street Journal reported that “there isn’t an overarching legal theory or coordination behind the campaign’s efforts.”
The United States is continuing to smash coronavirus records on a daily basis. The nation reported 140,543 new cases on Wednesday, a new high. It was the ninth consecutive day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new coronavirus infections.
According to the New York Times, “the Trump administration remains largely disengaged” in fighting the pandemic, leaving a “federal leadership vaccum.” That vaccum is exacerbated by Trump’s refusal to allow governemnt agencies to cooperate with the Biden transition team, which has left the president-elect unable to communicate with Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health experts.
Lacking support from the outgoing administration, Biden has formed his own networks of pandemic advisers, unveiling a 13-member task force on Monday and establishing a new transition team dedicated to coronaivrus response as well.
All times Eastern.
President Donald Trump will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence at 12:30 p.m. and meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at 4 p.m.
President-elect Joe Biden will hold meetings with his transition advisers.
The Senate will convene at 11 a.m. and resume consideration of the nomination of Assistant U.S. Attorney Aileen Mercedes Cannon to be a U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Florida. The chamber will hold a procedural vote on Cannon’s nomination at 12 p.m. and vote on her confirmation at 1:45 p.m.
The House will convene at 10 a.m. for a brief pro forma session. The chamber will also kick off its orientation for new members at 9 a.m.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will hold a media availability at 10:15 a.m.
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will hold his weekly press conference at 11 a.m.
The Supreme Court has no oral arguments or conferences scheduled.
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