Welcome to POLITICO’s 2021 Transition Playbook, your guide to one of the most consequential transfers of power in American history.
WILMINGTON, Del. — JOE BIDEN wants to move fast to address the multiple crises buffeting the country, via policies he has spent the past two days laying out in minute detail (one fact sheet was nearly 8,000 words).
But for all his talk of the urgency of the moment, Biden’s plans are likely headed for legislative purgatory.
President DONALD TRUMP’s second impeachment trial is torpedoing any hope for Biden to push his legislative agenda through Congress in the early days of his administration — and the delay is another setback for Biden’s Covid-19 response.
The Senate impeachment trial is expected to start as soon as Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Biden is sworn in, and if the Senate allows for any maneuvering outside of it, that time will be dedicated to confirming Biden’s nominees.
The predictable partisan infighting is likely to delay things further. Senate Republican aides tell us that the plan-as-is is DOA unless Democrats pass it with reconciliation. Some Democratic Senate offices are lukewarm as well, merely saying that Biden’s plan is a good “starting point.” Biden’s call for a $15 nationwide minimum wage as part of the package could also divide his own party — many moderate Democrats have long opposed it.
K Street is also gearing up for a fight. SEAN KENNEDY, the top lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement that “the Biden plan may cause more harm than good” for the restaurant industry, which views raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour as an existential threat.
All of these hurdles on Capitol Hill are likely to stall Biden’s effort to dramatically change the course of the country’s sluggish pandemic response. In particular, they complicate his vow to deliver 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days of his presidency. Even before impeachment, Biden was growing frustrated with his team overseeing the Covid response, expressing dismay with their performance — and the Trump administration’s bungled vaccine rollout plan has only heightened the challenges for Bidenworld.
The $1.9 trillion relief bill Biden introduced Thursday includes his $400 billion Covid-19 plan, which would fund a national vaccination program, expand testing capabilities and hire 100,000 public health workers to help with vaccinations, testing and contract tracing.
“You have my word that we will manage the hell out of this operation,” Biden said Friday. “But as I said last night, we need funding from Congress to make this happen.”
With control of the House and the Senate, Biden and his team were salivating at the opportunity of pushing an expansive agenda through Congress in the early days of his presidency.
Now, Biden’s top advisers are making no secret of their frustrations with the timing of the Senate trial.
Are you in touch with Biden’s transition team? Do you work in an agency preparing (or not preparing) for the transfer of power? Are you ANNE NEUBERGER? We want to hear from you — and we’ll keep you anonymous: [email protected]. You can also reach Alex, Theo, Megan, Alice, Tyler and Daniel individually if you prefer. We just want to pry the NSA’s most closely held secrets out of you, Anne!
At the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Del., where he spoke about his Covid vaccination plans. He also criticized Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks during the Capitol incursion last week: “What the hell is the matter with you?”
With Biden at the Queen.
With the Center for Presidential Transition
Which singer — FRANK SINATRA, DEAN MARTIN or TONY BENNETT — helped plan and played at the inaugural galas for JOHN F. KENNEDY in 1961 and RONALD REAGAN 1981? (A snapshot of Reagan’s schedule indicates he and his wife met with this singer right before the gala.)
(Read to the end for the answer)
REMAKING THE EPA — Biden on Friday tapped EPA veteran JANET McCABE, one of the architects of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, to be the agency’s No. 2 leader. ANNIE SNIDER reports that McCabe brings an experienced legal and regulatory hand to the agency as Biden seeks to execute his pledge to bring the country to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
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COVID TEAM, ASSEMBLE — Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner DAVID KESSLER will be the Biden administration’s top science official overseeing its vaccination drive, JOANNE KENEN and SARAH OWERMOHLE report.
And ANDY SLAVITT, who helped fix the broken HealthCare.gov Obamacare website and then ran Medicare and Medicaid under President BARACK OBAMA, will be senior adviser to the Covid-19 response coordinator, JEFF ZIENTS (who also helped repair HealthCare.gov). He said he would be working on both messaging to build trust in vaccines and helping coordinate the private sector role in the response.
The new Covid team will not require Senate confirmation and can take over immediately after Biden is sworn in on Wednesday — unlike his pick for FDA commissioner, who has not yet been announced. JANET WOODCOCK, who has been in senior roles at the agency for over three decades and has worked with Kessler, will be named acting FDA commissioner.
THE WESTEXEC WING: Biden’s choice of DAVID COHEN to become his CIA deputy director — the same role he held during the Obama administration — means his administration will include at least five alumni of WestExec Advisors, the consulting firm started in 2017 by Secretary of State-designate TONY BLINKEN and other Obama veterans.
Along with Blinken and Cohen, they include AVRIL HAINES, whom Biden will nominate as director of national intelligence; JEN PSAKI, the incoming White House press secretary; and LISA MONACO, Biden’s pick for deputy attorney general.
MORE NOMINATIONS: Biden will nominate SHALANDA YOUNG, the clerk and staff director for the House Appropriations Committee, for the No. 2 post at the Office of Management and Budget, CAITLIN EMMA reports. Young has vast knowledge of the federal spending process after 14 years on the committee and was the right hand to former Rep. NITA LOWEY (D-N.Y.), the House Appropriations Committee’s chairwoman before she retired earlier this month, as she engaged in high-stakes spending negotiations with Senate Republicans.
Young has also helped Biden’s transition team with Capitol Hill outreach as he looks to secure votes for the nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief package unveiled Thursday night.
And Biden chose ERIC LANDER as director of his White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Lander is the director of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Broad Institute. ALONDRA NELSON, the president of the Social Science Research Council, will be the office’s deputy director for science and society.
TO BE FAIR, IT IS A FRIDAY — The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday night said it would postpone its confirmation hearing for Haines, which had been scheduled for today, MARTIN MATISHAK reports. It would’ve been the first hearing for a member of Biden’s Cabinet. (More are scheduled for Tuesday.) One congressional source said the delay was due to a Republican on the committee objecting to holding the hearing for virtually.
“Despite the unusual circumstances on Capitol Hill, the committee is working in good faith to move this nominee as fast as possible,” Sen. MARCO RUBIO (R-Fla.), the committee’s acting chairman, and MARK WARNER (D-Va.), the vice chairman, said in a joint statement.
MORE SHOTS IN MORE ARMS — Biden unveiled a plan this afternoon to overhaul the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines with an eye toward making the shots more accessible to low-income communities of color and combating widespread misinformation and public distrust, ALICE MIRANDA OLLSTEIN, ADAM CANCRYN and SARAH OWERMOWLE report.
The plan will include a $1 billion ad campaign aimed at dispelling widespread misinformation and hesitancy around the vaccine, as well as an immediate request to FEMA to help set up vaccination sites in sports stadiums, community centers, churches and other spaces more accessible to low-income people of color who may not live near a hospital or pharmacy.
In a Friday afternoon speech, Biden blamed the Trump administration for the “dismal failure” of the vaccine’s rollout so far and pledged to “move heaven and earth” to speed up the rate of vaccinations to hit their goal of 100 million shots in the first 100 days.
MORE THAN TWO MONTHS AFTER THE WINNER WAS DECLARED — Vice President MIKE PENCE called his successor, KAMALA HARRIS, on Thursday to congratulate her and Biden’s win and to assist the transition, according to people familiar with the situation, MATTHEW CHOI and CHRIS CADELAGO report.
“I could become the shortest-lived chief of staff in White House history if I start to talk about the inaugural address this afternoon, because it’s been a closely held secret.”
— RON KLAIN, the incoming White House chief of staff, who dodged a question from the Washington Post’s KAREN TUMULTY during a live interview this afternoon about what Biden will say on Wednesday.
Harris says she’ll still take the oath of office outside: “We cannot yield.” (NPR)
Economy “may not need help on the scale Mr. Biden is proposing” (The Wall Street Journal)
Why Joe Biden can’t bring his Peloton to the White House (Popular Mechanics)
SAMANTHA POWER sometimes got on BARACK OBAMA’s nerves.
The former U.N. ambassador and Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development writes in her 2019 memoir, The Education of An Idealist, that the president told her so, directly.
The relationship became especially tense during the Syrian war, when Power acknowledges she disagreed with Obama’s decision not to intervene more strongly.
She writes that “on several occasions, President Obama reprimanded me for comments he thought were dogmatic or sanctimonious.” One time during a Situation Room meeting, Obama snapped at her: “We’ve all read your book, Samantha.”
After a different meeting, Obama called to confront her about something she had said. “You are trying to tutor us as to why this is such a shit show,” he said. “People are heartbroken and anguished. I rack my brain and my conscience constantly. But I can’t answer in practical terms what we can do.”
She pulled out her notebook and read back to him what she had said, including what she felt was a practical recommendation rather than just “admiring the problem.”
She writes that Obama conceded the point before adding: “You don’t always come across the way you think.”
Sinatra helped to plan both Kennedy and Reagan’s inaugural galas. This year there aren’t the typical galas and festivities, due to Covid-19, but LADY GAGA will perform the national anthem and JENNIFER LOPEZ will perform … something, but it’s a mystery.
The Biden Inaugural Committee did confirm, however, that J.Lo will not be performing “Booty.”