Welcome to POLITICO’s 2020 Transition Playbook, your guide to one of the most consequential transfers of power in American history.
A CREATURE OF CAPITOL HILL — Democratic lawmakers and senior staffers on Capitol Hill say that President-elect JOE BIDEN is already making good on the pledge to House and Senate leaders that, “In my Oval Office, mi casa, you casa.”
The Biden transition’s congressional team has been a flurry of activity — officials on the team say their goal is to hit all 535 members of Congress before Inauguration Day. “The most important thing is for us to really be in receive mode and listening carefully and in an authentic way. And also understanding that it’s not just one conversation, and off we go. But this is really about building relationships,” said a transition official.
Biden, who spent more than 30 years in the Senate, has also already announced top staffers for his legislative affairs team in the White House.
EMPHASIS ON HILL RELATIONS A STARK CONTRAST WITH OBAMA YEARS: Democratic lawmakers and senior staffers on Capitol Hill say Biden’s congressional team is already doing a better job of outreach than his former boss, President BARACK OBAMA.
Obama “was pretty open about it, it wasn’t his personal style to do a lot more social stuff, relationship building. He was down to business,” said Rep. DAN KILDEE of Michigan, who was first elected in 2012.
In his new memoir, Obama explains arms-length embrace of the Hill: “One of the reasons I’d chosen Joe to act as an intermediary — in addition to his Senate experience and legislative acumen — was my awareness that in [Republican Senate Majority Leader MITCH] McCONNELL‘s mind, negotiations with the vice president didn’t inflame the Republican base in quite the same way that any appearance of cooperation with (Black, Muslim socialist) Obama was bound to do.”
With a likely divided Congress and narrow majorities in both chambers, Biden’s ability to navigate the Hill will make or break his administration. His boosters say his decades of experience make him uniquely qualified to get stuff done. The skeptics in his own party and Obama veterans argue that the Senate of Biden’s youth is long gone and that Republicans see a political upside to intransigence.
Rep. AMI BERA of California, a member of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, is among the optimists, having endorsed Biden early because of his Hill experience. During the Obama years, he recalls, “He really was the one who would be sent to the Hill or call us into the Situation Room, or rough us up to get the vote.”
With Sarah Ferris
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At the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Del., where he made Thanksgiving remarks.
With her husband, DOUG EMHOFF, at DC Central Kitchen in Washington, where they gave cookies to the volunteers.
MEGAN CASSELLA and ALICE MIRANDA OLLSTEIN walk you through Biden’s Cabinet announcements, thus far, in three minutes (and counting).
GREEN OPTIMISM GROWS — Biden’s Cabinet build-out has environmentalists feeling upbeat about the prospects for green policy initiatives across the federal government. POLITICO’s energy and environment reporters have much more.
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BREAKING: Biden leans toward TOM DONILON as CIA chief via NAHAL TOOSI, NATASHA BERTRAND, LARA SELIGMAN and BRYAN BENDER
MOVING MANUFACTURING OUT OF THE WHITE HOUSE — Biden is planning to eliminate the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy in his administration, people familiar with the matter tell Megan. The small policy shop was started under President DONALD TRUMP and has been run since its inception by trade adviser PETER NAVARRO. Though Navarro himself has at times drawn criticism for his comments and stances, manufacturers have enjoyed a direct line into the White House since it was established.
Though Biden is still in the early stages of building his White House, the move could signal a lower profile for manufacturing policy under his administration. One person familiar with the plans called it “troubling” for the way the decision would appear to “diminish the role of manufacturing and trade” at the same time that other issues like climate are being pulled into the White House.
“It sends a signal that manufacturing and trade are not going to have the importance they did under the current administration, and they will be treated as other issues on the president’s desk,” the person said.
A second person familiar with the plans acknowledged the concerns about reducing the focus on manufacturing but noted the move could more simply be a step to dispense with a “czar-type approach to trade.” A transition spokesperson declined to comment.
MEET THE FRONTRUNNERS FOR HHS — New Mexico Gov. MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM and former Surgeon General VIVEK MURTHY have emerged as top contenders to be Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary, with Hispanic advocacy groups making a strong push for Lujan Grisham, ADAM CANCRYN and Alice report.
The nomination of Lujan Grisham — who’s a Biden transition co-chair — would continue a tradition of presidents tapping governors to lead the sprawling agency, and make her the first Latina ever nominated for the post. Murthy, who’s one of the co-chairs of Biden’s Covid task force, would be the first HHS secretary of Indian descent.
Biden has not yet made a final choice, according to three Democrats familiar with the selection process, and an announcement is unlikely to come until Monday at the earliest. The deliberations could still circle back to others in a field of as many as a half-dozen finalists, like Rhode Island Gov. GINA RAIMONDO, former Louisiana health secretary REBEKAH GEE and North Carolina health secretary MANDY COHEN.
CLICKER — Biden keeps the peace with first Cabinet picks. HOLLY OTTERBEIN and LAURA BARRÓN-LÓPEZ write that the former veep hasn’t sparked any bitter fights with the left. But he hasn’t given progressives any major wins either.
PRESSURE TO ACT ON IMMIGRATION — Immigration advocates want Biden to impose a 100-day moratorium on deportations, rescind many of Trump’s more than 400 executive orders on immigration and lay the groundwork for tougher goals like a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — all promises he made on the campaign trail, SABRINA RODRIGUEZ reports. Privately, multiple Congressional Hispanic Caucus members said a large number of Democrats would be “severely disappointed” if Biden didn’t push immigration reform early.
MORE STORM CLOUDS ON THE HORIZON: Biden will inherit one of the weakest labor markets in U.S. history, with record-high unemployment, widening inequality and deteriorating economic conditions. But as REBECCA RAINEY highlights, many of the solutions he’s offering — massive infrastructure, clean energy and technology investments — will need the approval of a largely hostile Congress.
AFTER ASCERTAINMENT — The everyday work of the transition is finally underway now following the General Services Administration’s acknowledgement Monday that Biden won election. “By the close of business on Tuesday agency review teams made contact or met with over 50 agencies and commissions, including each of the major offices within the Executive Office of the President,” JEN PSAKI, a Biden transition adviser, told reporters this morning.
Biden officials even praised GSA — the agency that held up the start of the transition by nearly three weeks. “GSA has been responsive and helpful in providing access to necessary resources,” Bedingfield said. The transition’s legal team also met with the Justice Department and the FBI on Tuesday so the agencies could start processing background checks on Biden’s appointees.
TRANSITION GETS BRIEFED ON ‘OPERATION WARP SPEED’: Trump administration health officials on Wednesday kicked off a series of planned meetings with the Biden transition team on “Operation Warp Speed,” the administration’s effort to rush Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, DAN DIAMOND reports.
BUT: Operation Warp Speed Leader says he may step down soon via ZACHARY BRENNAN
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Chinese President XI JINPING was not first on the list of world leaders to hold a congratulatory call with Biden, or the second, or the third … But it doesn’t mean the China-U.S. relationship will be any less pivotal over the next four years. According to a readout from the Chinese embassy, Xi told Biden he hopes the two nations can “uphold the spirit of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation … manage differences, advance the healthy and stable development of China-U.S. ties.”
Vice President-elect KAMALA HARRIS, asked if she has spoken to Vice President MIKE PENCE since Election Day.
CORRECTION: Tuesday’s edition of this newsletter misspelled the name of the president and chief executive of the Truman National Security Project. She is JENNA BEN-YEHUDA.
Carol Moseley Braun told Biden she’d like to join his administration (The Washington Post)
How Janet Yellen might lead the Treasury Department (The Wall Street Journal)
Tracking the Trump administration’s last-minute rules (ProPublica)
Biden should grant GSA Cabinet-level status — and its independence (The Hill)