Transition Roundup: Biden Hopes Senate Can Balance Impeachment, Confirmations and Pandemic Response
Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
A year and 26 days after the House voted to impeach President Trump the first time, it did so again and this time on a bipartisan basis. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement after that he would not bring the Senate back to vote on impeachment before President-elect Biden is sworn in, so “Congress and the executive branch [can] spend the next seven days completely focused on facilitating a safe inauguration and an orderly transfer of power to the incoming Biden administration.” He also told his colleagues in a letter that he hasn’t decided yet how he will vote. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
Biden said he hopes “Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation.” Confirming nominees for “key“ positions, “getting our vaccine program on track” for the ongoing pandemic and reviving the economy are the Senate’s other duties.
Trump released a statement then video message on Wednesday discouraging future violent protests. “In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO law-breaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” he said in the statement. “That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You.” He didn’t mention impeachment in either.
The Biden transition team outlined on Wednesday it is getting briefings from the FBI, Security Service and other national security officials on possible security threats for Inauguration Day. “This is why it is critical that President-elect Biden’s national security nominees receive swift hearings and confirmations,” said the statement.
The National Mall will be closed on Inauguration Day and only accessible to media and security personnel, NBC Bay Area reported on Thursday. The official announcement could come as early as Friday. This comes after the Washington, D.C., metro system said on Wednesday it will close 13 stations around the security perimeter starting on Friday.
Chad Wolf, who resigned as acting Homeland Security secretary on Monday, told CNN on Wednesday that Trump bears some responsibility for the attack on the Capitol. “I was disappointed that the president didn't speak out sooner on” condemning the violence, Wolf said. “I think he had a role to do that. I think, unfortunately, the administration lost a little bit of the moral high ground on this issue.”
Wolf is still the head of policy at the department and was given this authority by the new acting secretary Pete Gaynor, Buzzfeed News reported on Wednesday. As a result, he ratified several immigration policies to protect them from legal challenges. Wolf also changed the order of succession at DHS on his way out.
The acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who was only on the job two weeks, resigned on Wednesday and no reason was given, Buzzfeed News also reported.
Biden plans to elevate two appointments (one homeland security, another cybersecurity) that were largely ignored under the Trump administration, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. “The new White House team will focus on threats that were battering the United States even before the coronavirus pandemic reordered the nation’s challenges,” said the report.
Biden is working with his agency review teams and Obama alumni to figure out who will serve as temporary Cabinet secretaries and other senior officials until his nominees are confirmed, Politico reported on Wednesday.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence scheduled a confirmation hearing for Avril Haines, Biden’s nominee to be director of the Office of National Intelligence, for Friday. Hearings for Biden’s Treasury, Homeland Security, State, Veterans Affairs, and Defense secretaries have also been set.
On Thursday, the transition announced appointments for the Domestic Policy Council, Office of Domestic Climate Policy, White House Council on Environmental Quality, National Economic Council, and Presidential Personnel Office. See the full list here.
Biden has appointed more women to Cabinet posts than his six predecessors, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution published on Wednesday. The average age for incoming secretaries, going back to President Reagan, was 57 and Biden’s average is 59. Lastly, “while President-elect Biden is on par with his Democratic predecessors in terms of non-white appointments, the data in and of themselves do not highlight the important significance of the many historic ‘firsts’ in this set of appointments,” said Brookings. “They include appointing the first woman, Janet Yellen, to be secretary of the Treasury, the first Native American, Deb Haaland, to be secretary of the Interior, the first Hispanic, Alejandro Mayorkas, to be secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, and the first Black person, Lloyd Austin, to be secretary of Defense.”
The Census Bureau director halted “indefinitely” Trump’s effort to gather the citizenship status of every resident, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday. “The processing of the data is not scheduled to be done until early March because irregularities discovered during the numbers-crunching phase of the 2020 census need to be fixed, Trump administration attorneys said Monday,” said the AP. “That revised deadline dealt another blow to the apportionment order because it is weeks after Trump leaves office and President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in Jan. 20. Biden has said he opposes the effort.”
Four former directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who served under Democratic and Republican administrations, wrote in an NBC opinion article how Biden can fix the politicization at the agency and restore trust in it. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Biden’s nominee, “must have the full support of the U.S. government to assess the processes, structures and funding issues at the CDC to succeed at this mission,” they wrote. “Her work must start at the CDC itself, where morale has been devastated because thousands of public servants in Atlanta and around the world have spent the past year being maligned and undermined at every turn, serving as punching bags for all that has gone wrong during this pandemic.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sent a 15-page memo to Biden’s COVID-19 team outlining priorities they should take up to address the pandemic. This includes: improving transparency and encouraging oversight of the pandemic response, addressing the disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, remedying supply chain challenges and restoring credibility to the public health experts sidelined during the Trump administration.
Upcoming: Biden will deliver remarks at 7:15 p.m. to outline his coronavirus relief package.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at attrition of the federal workforce during the Trump administration.
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