Transition Live Updates: Biden Speaks About the Pandemic in Pre-Thanksgiving Address

Transition Live Updates: Biden Speaks About the Pandemic in Pre-Thanksgiving Address


Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., whose team is finally free to coordinate transition planning, is hurriedly attempting to fill a void in pandemic response leadership left by President Trump, who has largely ignored the escalating 2,000-death-a-day crisis and made few public appearances since the election.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden delivered a direct-to-camera address from Wilmington, Del., that stressed the importance of unity in America.

“Together we will lift our voices in the coming months and years, and our song shall be of lives saved, breaches repaired, a nation made whole again,” Mr. Biden said.

He added that “the soul of our nation” had been forged in the most difficult circumstances. “And now we find ourselves again facing a long, hard winter.”

The speech was designed as a presidential-style Thanksgiving address that would rally the American people for the challenges ahead, encourage mask-wearing and other precautions and intermingle hope with hard reality, his aides said.

“I know how hard it is to forego family traditions,” Mr. Biden said, after describing how he and his family members were having small, separate Thanksgiving celebrations this year. “But it’s so very important.”

As part of his effort to respond to the virus, Mr. Biden plans to name his pick for Health and Human Services secretary as soon as next week. The two top contenders are Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, a former surgeon general under President Barack Obama who has advised Mr. Biden on pandemic strategy, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, who has the support of many Hispanic groups and elected officials, according to two people involved in the transition.

Mr. Biden’s approach was in stark contrast to that of Mr. Trump, who has downplayed the coronavirus during his presidency, spending the past several weeks focusing on turkey pardons, golfing and evangelizing for his victory that wasn’t, rather than hunkering down to deal with the crisis.

Those two worlds collided on Wednesday morning, when Mr. Trump scrapped a plan to accompany his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to a Republican-led event focused on debunked claims of election irregularities in Gettysburg, Pa. Mr. Trump ended up calling into the event through an adviser’s cell phone and ran through a litany of falsehoods, including claiming that he had won an election that he lost.

Mr. Trump was not expected to deliver a coronavirus-themed statement on Wednesday. Instead, he plans to release a broad proclamation celebrating the holiday. The president participated in the traditional turkey-pardoning event at the White House on Tuesday.

In pressuring Mr. Trump to begin the transition, Mr. Biden’s team emphasized the national security dangers of depriving him access to intelligence reports.

But people close to the president-elect said that was, in part, a political strategy to prod Republican hawks into pushing Mr. Trump out the door. Mr. Biden and his team, especially his incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, have been more anxious about getting an inside look at the administration’s plans to distribute vaccines in the coming weeks and months.

“It’s Covid 24/7 now,” Donald M. Berwick, a former Medicare and Medicaid chief in the Obama administration who is close to Mr. Biden’s team, told Politico. “That’s got to be dealt with.”

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s transition began in earnest on Tuesday, after President Trump authorized intelligence agencies to begin briefing his successor on classified information delivered in the President’s Daily Brief, and transition teams started communicating with their counterparts in agencies throughout the federal government.

Mr. Biden also formally announced top members of his national security team on Tuesday in Wilmington, Del.

“Our teams can prepare to meet the challenges at hand,” he said. “To control the pandemic, to build back better, and to protect the safety and security of the American people.”

Mr. Biden’s nominees seemed intent on fully repudiating the current administration’s “America First” isolationism.

“Diplomacy is back,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat and Mr. Biden’s pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Antony J. Blinken, the nominee for secretary of state, said America needed the “humility and confidence” to depend on its allies.

The president-elect also formally introduced Alejandro N. Mayorkas, a Cuban-American, as his pick to run the Department of Homeland Security, and Avril D. Haines, who would be the first woman to be the director of national intelligence. In her remarks, Ms. Haines warned Mr. Biden that she would bring him news that would be politically “inconvenient or difficult,” a contrast with the outgoing administration.

Mr. Biden appointed John Kerry, who was previously secretary of state under President Barack Obama, to a new role inside the National Security Council to put “climate change on the agenda in the Situation Room,” after four years of the Trump administration trying to have the words struck from international agreements.

A major player who has yet to be named is Mr. Biden’s secretary of defense, though the leading candidate is believed to be Michèle Flournoy, who served as the under secretary of defense for policy under Mr. Obama and, in the Trump years, created a foreign policy advisory firm with Mr. Blinken, WestExec Advisors.

While Mr. Trump ended his blockade of the start of a formal transition process, he continued to refuse to concede defeat, even as more states — including the battleground of Pennsylvania — certified their election results.

Transition officials said their teams had made contact with every federal agency to begin setting up meetings. About 20 of those meetings took place on Tuesday, including at the Department of Homeland Security and the Education Department. The officials said the reception from the Trump administration was responsive and helpful.

The stock market surged on Tuesday on the news that a robust transition was set to begin, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing past 30,000 for the first time. Investors appeared to be further buoyed by reports that Mr. Biden was expected to choose Janet L. Yellen, a former chair of the Federal Reserve, as Treasury secretary. If they are selected and confirmed, Ms. Yellen and Ms. Flournoy would be the first women to hold their respective posts.

Credit…Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will announce more members of his economic team next week, transition officials confirmed on Wednesday, saying those individuals will have diverse ideologies and backgrounds.

Mr. Biden is expected to officially name Janet L. Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, as his nominee for Treasury secretary. While transition officials would not specify which other positions Mr. Biden will announce, he is likely to reveal appointments to the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, among other roles inside the West Wing.

Among the leading contenders for top economic roles on Mr. Biden’s team are a pair of liberal economists who advised him during the campaign: Jared Bernstein, a former top economist for Mr. Biden when he was vice president, and Heather Boushey, who was a top aide to Hillary Clinton in her 2016 presidential run, and currently runs the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a think tank focused on inequality.

People close to Mr. Biden’s selection process widely expect his top economic aides will reflect the racial diversity of the coalition that elected him, including prominent Black advisers. Liberal groups have pressured the Biden team in recent days to choose prominently progressive advisers over aides with ties to Wall Street or those from the centrist wing of his party that have argued for aggressive deficit reduction in the past.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

For four years, President Trump has railed against career government officials he claims are part of a hidden “deep state” trying to undermine him.

On Wednesday, members of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s transition team hailed those same career workers across government agencies for having been prepared to start the official transition. That began this week after the head of the General Services Administration formally acknowledged the election results, finally giving Mr. Biden access to federal resources and allowing his advisers to begin coordinating with Trump administration officials.

“Despite a nearly three-week delay, reception has been professional and welcoming,” Kate Bedingfield, a deputy campaign manager for Mr. Biden, said on the call with reporters.

Ms. Bedingfield made it clear the transition team and the president-elect did not need Mr. Trump to concede in order to carry on with the necessary business before them.

“We do not feel that it is necessary for President-elect Biden to speak with President Trump,” she said. “We believe we’re getting the information our teams need.”

Later, she added: “The election is over. Virtually everyone on earth has accepted that truth except for President Trump and Rudy Giuliani.”

Mr. Biden will have his first presidential daily briefing on Monday, the officials on the call said, adding that the transition team had already held over 30 virtual briefings with various agencies. The transition’s legal team also met with the F.B.I. and the Justice Department to begin processing background checks.

Jen Psaki, a transition adviser, said on the call that Mr. Biden would be announcing more cabinet secretaries and some members of his economic team after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

Early this year, Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia, sold more than $1 million worth of stock in the financial company Cardlytics, where he once served on the board. Six weeks later, its share price tumbled when the company’s founder announced he would step down as chief executive and the firm said its future sales would be worse than expected.

After the price bottomed out in March at $29, Mr. Perdue bought back a substantial portion of the shares that he had sold. They are now trading at around $120 per share.

The transactions drew the attention this spring of investigators at the Justice Department, who were undertaking a broad review of the senator’s prolific trading around the outset of the coronavirus pandemic for possible evidence of insider trading, according to four people with knowledge of the case who described aspects of it on the condition of anonymity.

Investigators found that Cardlytics’s chief executive at the time, Scott Grimes, sent Mr. Perdue a personal email two days before the senator’s stock sale that made a vague mention of “upcoming changes.” The timing of the message prompted additional scrutiny from investigators in both Washington and Atlanta. But ultimately they concluded the exchange contained no meaningful nonpublic information and declined to pursue charges, closing the case this summer.

The federal scrutiny is the most vivid example to date of how Mr. Perdue’s complex financial interests and frequent trading have complicated his pursuit of a second Senate term. Democrats have used details of his trades to accuse him of lining his pockets when Americans were worried about their jobs and health.

Congress’s ethics rules do not bar lawmakers from holding or trading individual stocks, but like other Americans, they are not allowed to trade on inside information. Other lawmakers have decided it is not worth the political sweat that comes with the appearance of possible conflicts of interest and have steered their investments into diversified mutual funds. But Mr. Perdue has been one of the most active traders on Capitol Hill.

John Burke, a spokesman for Mr. Perdue’s campaign, said that investigators with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission had “quickly and independently cleared Senator Perdue of any wrongdoing.”

The results of two Senate runoffs in Georgia in January — including Mr. Perdue’s race against Jon Ossoff, a Democrat — will determine which party controls the chamber and with it, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s ability to advance his agenda through Congress.

Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

President Trump has told aides that he plans to pardon his former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn and that it is one of a string of pardons he plans to issue before leaving office, a person familiar with the discussions said on Tuesday.

Mr. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, twice pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with a Russian diplomat during the presidential transition in late 2016 and early 2017. He was the only former White House official to plead guilty in the inquiry led by Robert S. Mueller III.

In May, the Justice Department sought to withdraw its charges against Mr. Flynn. That move has since been tied up in federal court, challenged by the judge who presided over Mr. Flynn’s case. Mr. Trump’s plans were reported earlier by Axios.

Mr. Flynn served just 24 days as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser before the president fired him in February 2017 for lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak.

Mr. Trump, who initially distanced himself from Mr. Flynn after his firing, has since taken up his cause, calling him “an innocent man” targeted by Obama administration officials trying to “take down a president.”

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

A power struggle for the top Democratic slot on the Senate Judiciary Committee may be emerging after the decision of Senator Dianne Feinstein of California to step aside next year.

After her announcement on Monday, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat and next in line on the committee, said he intended to take on the role, noting that his 22 years on the panel provided the experience needed to challenge Republicans over the courts.

But some of the same progressives who sought to push out Ms. Feinstein, deeming her insufficiently aggressive against Republicans, also signaled that they did not want Mr. Durbin. Instead they began nudging Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island to consider a bid. Mr. Whitehouse, a former federal prosecutor, has railed against Republicans for trying to mount a conservative takeover of the courts with the help of a network of undisclosed financial contributors.

Mr. Whitehouse’s office had initially declined to weigh in on the possibility of seeking the Judiciary Committee position, but on Tuesday evening he issued a statement that, without directly challenging Mr. Durbin, left the door open to pursuing the top slot. Mr. Whitehouse said it would be up to fellow Democrats to decide who should fill the post.

“In the wake of Ranking Member Feinstein’s announcement, I look forward to the question of succession on the Senate Judiciary Committee being decided by the caucus,” he said. “I will abide by the caucus’s decision.”

The potential clash illustrated the challenge Democrats are likely to face as the party seeks to reconcile the views of progressives demanding sweeping changes, new leadership after the election and others who believe the results showed that voters want to steer a more moderate course.

Unlike Republicans, who have established term limits on chairmanships, Democrats typically follow seniority in committee assignments. Besides being the party whip, Mr. Durbin is also the top Democrat on the Appropriations panel that handles military spending, a very influential position.

Some Democrats may consider that enough. But Mr. Durbin, who just won re-election, is a very practiced player in internal party politics and has survived at the top for years, suggesting that he would be difficult for Mr. Whitehouse to defeat.

Whether the position up for grabs will become the chairman of the panel or the top Democrat under Republican control will depend on the outcome of two Senate runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

President Trump abruptly canceled a planned trip to Gettysburg, Pa., scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, where he was to attend a hotel gathering of Republican state lawmakers to discuss allegations of voting irregularities in the state.

Members of the press pool that covers Mr. Trump were told the trip was canceled just as they were getting ready to depart by car, after an adviser who has been around Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, frequently in the last two weeks said on Twitter that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mr. Giuliani had convinced Mr. Trump to join him at the hotel event, despite concerns from a number of other advisers who believed it was beneath a sitting president to attend and had tried to get the trip canceled.

The adviser who tested positive, Boris Epshteyn, a member of the president’s legal team, wrote on Twitter that he was “experiencing mild symptoms.” News of his diagnosis had raised questions of whether Mr. Giuliani would risk other people’s health by traveling to Gettysburg. Mr. Giuliani did ultimately attend.

Mr. Trump ended up calling into the event through his adviser Jenna Ellis’s cell phone and made a number of false claims as she held the phone up to a microphone, including that Democrats had “lost” an election that they won. At one point Ms. Ellis’s phone line began beeping as someone else tried calling her while Mr. Trump spoke.

The event was set to be yet another chapter in Mr. Trump’s unending quest to overturn the results of the election he lost. It was to come the day after Pennsylvania finalized its election results and found that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. had beaten the president there by more than 80,000 votes.

“The election is over,” Kate Bedingfield, a deputy campaign manager for Mr. Biden, said in a press briefing with reporters before the Mr. Trump canceled his trip. “Virtually everyone on Earth has accepted that truth except for President Trump and Rudy Giuliani.”

Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who resisted calls to delay President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s narrow victory in a once solid-red stronghold, is accusing President Trump of throwing him “under the bus.”

“By all accounts, Georgia had a wildly successful and smooth election,” Mr. Raffensperger, a civil engineer who was first elected in 2018, wrote in an op-ed published Wednsesday in USA Today.

“This should be something for Georgians to celebrate, whether their favored presidential candidate won or lost. For those wondering, mine lost — my family voted for him, donated to him and are now being thrown under the bus by him,” he added.

Mr. Raffensperger, 65, has tried to maintain his political independence while preserving his bona fides with a pro-Trump party base. He resisted efforts by Mr. Trump and his allies to discredit Mr. Biden’s 12,000-vote win in Georgia, and hit back hard against the state’s two Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who called on him to step down.

But in his op-ed, Mr. Raffensperger also offered harsh, if indirect, criticism of Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who refused to immediately concede her 2018 loss in the governor’s race to Brian Kemp, after claiming that voter suppression targeting Black Georgians had swung the election.

Mr. Trump and his allies were following “a playbook written by a failed gubernatorial candidate two years before,” Mr. Raffensperger wrote.

The comparison, made by many Republicans in recent weeks, is misleading.

Ms. Abrams delayed her acceptance of the results, pending the review of irregularities, and made a point of saying she would never give a formal “concession” speech. But her actions stopped far short of Mr. Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat and his attempts to use the courts and pressure local officials in an attempt to overturn the results.

Ms. Abrams did eventually deliver a speech, two weeks after the election, declaring that Mr. Kemp “will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial election.”

Mr. Trump has not come close to doing that. He has repeatedly accused state elections officials of allowing large-scale fraud, without providing evidence. In a prime-time speech two days after the election, Mr. Trump said that Georgia election officials improperly counted mail-in votes and caved to Democratic demands to loosen scrutiny of signatures on ballots.

But Mr. Raffensperger saved his sternest rebuke for one of Mr. Trump’s allies, Representative Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican who spearheaded the president’s thus-far unsuccessful recount effort in the state, slamming him as “a failed senate candidate with nothing to do who tried to undermine the integrity of Georgia’s elections.

Credit…Peter Parks/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After nearly three weeks of silence, China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, congratulated President-elect Joseph R. Biden on Wednesday, becoming one of the last major world leaders to acknowledge his victory.

In his message to Mr. Biden, Mr. Xi said that China and the United States should “uphold the spirit of nonconflict and nonconfrontation,” adding that the countries should “focus on cooperation and manage differences,” according to the state-controlled Xinhua news agency.

Mr. Xi “pointed out that promoting the healthy and stable development of China-U.S. relations not only conforms to the fundamental interests of the two peoples, but is also the common expectation of the international community,” Xinhua wrote.

China’s vice president, Wang Qishan, congratulated Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Chinese state media said.

The Chinese government has been slow to acknowledge Mr. Biden’s victory, saying it would respect American laws and procedures for determining the winner of the election. Last week, China’s Foreign Ministry congratulated Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris, but Mr. Xi himself had remained silent, at least according to official media.

U.S.-China relations have plummeted to their lowest levels in decades, as the Trump administration has sparred with Beijing over trade, technology, human rights and other issues. Chinese politics experts have said Beijing was initially gun-shy because President Trump had not conceded and officials were aware of the lawsuits that his campaign was threatening to file that could challenge the results.

Although Mr. Biden is less likely to adopt a similarly bellicose approach, few experts think his presidency would quickly reset relations. On the campaign trail, Mr. Biden called Mr. Xi “a thug.” He has said that China’s rise represents the “greatest strategic challenge” to the United States and its allies.

The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid controlled by China’s ruling Communist Party, said the party’s calculus had changed because the General Services Administration on Monday finally allowed Mr. Biden’s team to begin the transition process.

“China thinks the election situation in the U.S. has settled,” the newspaper wrote in a tweet.

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