Donald Trump has solid doubt on a peaceable transition of energy, however the preparation for one is nicely underway
And Trump has not made the consequences of this possible transfer any less tense by regularly evading questions about a peaceful change of power to Biden and unfoundedly questioning whether the election will be decided fairly. But his administration, led by Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Coordination, Chris Liddell, has worked with Biden’s team to prepare for the possible handover.
Despite the current White House collaboration, the Biden team is preparing for possible obstacles from Trump and his administration. Several sources familiar with the work of the transition team have told CNN.
Given the numerous legal ramifications, many of these preparations have fallen under senior adviser and former White House attorney Bob Bauer. CNN previously reported that the Biden team has assembled an extensive legal team led by Bauer and Biden Campaign Advocate General Dana Remus to focus on potential voting and election issues.
A varied team
Biden’s transition team, which began operations this summer, is a resilient operation with two of its two co-chairs, Jeff Zients and Ted Kaufman, key roles in overseeing this ongoing effort. Kaufman, a close ally of Biden who has advised the former vice president for decades, is also an expert on presidential transitions: during his brief stint as a Senator from Delaware after Biden became vice president, he passed legislation streamlining the transition process.
Anita Dunn, a senior advisor to the Biden campaign and former White House communications director, is an additional co-chair alongside Michelle Lujan Grisham, governor of New Mexico and Cedric Richmond, representative of Louisiana.
Biden’s efforts have been increasing for months, and according to one source, the number is up to 150 people. Another source familiar with staffing plans for the transition told CNN that the inauguration could take up to 300 people if the transition were necessary. Biden’s transition team is technically based at the Department of Commerce headquarters in Washington, but like most Americans during the pandemic, they worked virtually. This will likely continue after the election, said a transition official.
Similar to previous transitions, the Biden transition team is currently doing everything from preparing for staff changes, to creating lists of potential appointments, to reviewing possible policy implementation and investigating executive orders that a President Biden may have in the earliest days of his career Presidency could enact.
When asked about a possible cabinet, Biden said he wanted a cabinet that “looks like the country,” that is, one that is racially diverse, made up of a number of top women, and ideologically and geographically diverse. And discussions of leadership positions, including cabinet appointments, have recognized the importance of this diversity.
Biden’s transition advisory board is comprised of a number of people who have pioneered top administrative positions, such as former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Assistant Attorney General Sally Yates.
Satisfying the ideological factions of the Democratic Party will be another challenge for Biden’s team. Progressives will closely monitor both their appointees and those who help select them. The presence of Jared Bernstein, who was once Biden’s top economic advisor and recently participated in Biden-Sanders’ “Unified Task Force” on business, will bring some comfort to the progressives. The same goes for Cecilia Martinez, the Executive Director of the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy and a respected voice for climate and environmental justice.
Several people have told CNN that while Biden has been kept informed of the work of the transition team in the broadest sense, he is superstitious and does not want to make major decisions until he knows he has won the election.
The transition teams were fully expanded ahead of the elections, quickly scrapping their plans in the days following a loss, including Hillary Clintons in 2016 and Mitt Romneys in 2012.
Under the radar
The White House began planning a possible transition months ago when Trump stepped up his attacks on Biden and refused to say whether he would welcome a peaceful transition if he lost.
Liddell, the assistant chief of staff for policy coordination and a close ally of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has worked from the west wing preparing transition reports for Congress and coordinating with federal agencies on how to make their own preparations for a potential influx of new ones political candidate in January.
This included the Justice Department and the FBI being ready to conduct security clearance checks on key Biden advisors who would need access to secret briefings during the transition period, officials familiar with the matter said.
Liddell had previously served on the other side of a transitional measure: he was the executive director of Mitt Romney’s president’s transition planning team in advance of Romney’s loss in the 2012 election.
So far, his efforts at the White House, which was ravaged by a coronavirus outbreak last month and has recently focused solely on Trump’s re-election, have largely been on the radar, according to officials familiar with the matter.
Meadows, who has accompanied the president on much of his campaign trips and recently had internal problems dealing with the recent Covid outbreak, is officially the top White House official on the transition team. But it’s Liddell who oversees most of the daily work. Other west wing officials are also involved, including White House attorney Pat Cipollone and budget head Russell Vought. They are working with government officials to ensure they meet legal requirements before November 3rd.
A consistent transition
Dave Marchick, director of the Center for President’s Transition in Civil Service Partnership, said the law governing transitions – the 1963 President’s Transfer Act – “takes into account the possibility of a delay” and ensures that “The full range of services that the government provides to candidates will continue to be available to candidates after election in the event of delay.”
But, he said, there are only 78 days in a transition, so every day is important. Marchick said this transition meant, because of health, economic, social justice and political crisis, “could be the most momentous transition since 1932” when President Herbert Hoover and President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt fought to work together to create the Great Depression .
Biden himself is very aware of these stakes. Biden recently announced that he was rereading Jonathan Alter’s “A Hundred Days of FDR and the Triumph of Hope” as he tried to draw parallels between the state of the country today and what Roosevelt dealt with during his tenure.
The relatively smooth planning of the transition before the elections does not necessarily require a smooth handover in the event of a Biden victory or an uncertain outcome. The longer an end result is unknown, the less time an in-depth team would have access to dollars and resources to build an administration.
And if Trump himself doesn’t accept the results, it is an open question whether his federal agents would welcome Biden’s team to meetings or handover planning.
Because of this, Rebecca Lissner, an assistant professor at U.S. Naval War College who recently wrote that Trump could easily damage a possible Biden presidency during the transition, believes that a Trump-Biden transition would do the “always best” in the dangerous moment American politics “even more dangerous.
“The reason we should be so worried is because even in the midst of normal transitions, if you don’t have a president who is hostile to the new administration … even then things often go dramatically wrong,” said Lissner, pointing to dramatic ones Changes in policy during the lame duck era, misunderstandings in information sharing, and the most hostile actions like the Trump administration denying transition teams access to federal agencies as possible actions the president would take to address the incoming Biden administration slow it down.
“Even in the best case,” said Lissner, “a lot can go wrong.”
CNN’s Gregory Krieg contributed to this report.