Trump-Biden transition
December 17, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration will be smaller than normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and much of the usual pageantry will be virtual. Biden's inaugural committee has urged people not to physically attend the inauguration but instead experience it at a distance, and members of Congress, who usually get to divide up 200,000 tickets for seats close to the inauguration platform, will get to bring just one guest each.

At the same time, Biden's allies are fund-raising for the celebratory post-swearing-in events more or less as if it were a normal inauguration, The New York Times reports. There are few legal limits on who can donate to an inaugural committee or how much they can give. Biden's committee has said it won't accept donations from fossil fuel interests, lobbyists, or foreign agents, but other corporations can give up to $1 million and individuals can donate up to $500,000. Any unused funds are typically donated to charity.

Big spenders can opt for "VIP participation" in a virtual concert, "VIP tickets" to a future celebratory event, invitation to virtual inauguration events, and "virtual signed photos" with Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and their spouses. Event planners are using the Democratic National Convention as a template for the "reimagined" parade and other events.

A coalition of about 50 progressive groups sent Biden's inaugural committee a letter Wednesday urging it to forego corporate donations. "The drive to raise so much money without a clear use for it is perplexing, and the appearance of doing so is disconcerting," the letter said. President Trump's 2017 inauguration, the Times notes, raked in $107 million and "became an access-peddling bazaar of sorts, and aspects of its record fund-raising and spending emerged as the subjects of investigations."

An inaugural committee spokesman declined to tell the Times how much has already been raised or what the goal is, but Biden has pledged to disclose all major donors before Jan. 20. This isn't the first presidential inauguration pared down due to a crisis, Rachel Maddow noted on MSNBC Wednesday night. She used Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first inauguration as an example, and she found more parallels than just the size and scope of the festivities. Peter Weber

December 7, 2020

"The final days of the Trump presidency have taken on the stormy elements of a drama more common to history or literature than a modern White House," with President Trump's "rage and detached-from-reality refusal to concede defeat" now "part tragedy, part farce, full of sound and fury," Peter Baker writes at The New York Times. "Moody and by accounts of his advisers sometimes depressed, the president barely shows up to work, ignoring the health and economic crises afflicting the nation and largely clearing his public schedule of meetings unrelated to his desperate bid to rewrite the election results."

"Yet even as Trump has been consumed with his waning political fortunes in a desperate attempt to retain power, his administration has accelerated efforts to lock in last-minute policy gains and staffing assignments that it hopes will help cement the president's legacy and live on past Jan. 20, when President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in," The Washington Post reports.

Last week, for example, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services adopted a longer and more difficult citizenship test marred by errors, the Pentagon named Corey Lewandowski and other Trump loyalists to the Defense Business Board, and Trump signed an executive order on artificial intelligence, the Post notes. And the administration is rushing to auction off drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 6, ease safety rules for drilling in the Arctic Ocean, scale back protections for endangered species, make it harder to implement public health protections, draw down troop levels, weaken job protections for civil servants, and build a final 50 miles of U.S.-Mexico border wall.

"The rush has come despite Trump's relative inattention to governing since his electoral defeat last month, driven in part by ideologically minded aides, including Cabinet members eager to burnish their own legacies," the Post notes, pointing to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo increasing sanctions on Iran and China.

Trump "remains focused on that important work and fulfilling the promises he made to the American people," White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. Aaron Reichlin-Melnick at the American Immigration Council doesn't see much of Trump in the final rush. "You're not seeing the rhetoric coming from the president since the end of the election," at least on immigration, he said, "but the administration itself is moving forward and accelerating its efforts to get these midnight regulations out the door." Peter Weber

December 1, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris got their first look Monday at the top-secret President's Daily Brief since winning the 2020 election. President Trump had delayed Biden's access to the PDB, the intelligence community's daily classified summary of secrets and world events, as he contested his loss. Biden was given access to the document in Wilmington, Delaware, while Harris viewed it in a secure room at the Commerce Department.

The PDB is tailored to every president's preferences, and Biden has now seen the top-secret briefings prepared for Presidents Trump, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush. Trump is believed to favor short texts and ample graphics, and he reportedly doesn't always read his print briefing, The Associated Press notes. Obama liked a 10- to 15-page document waiting for him at the breakfast table, before switching to a secured iPad. However it's delivered, the PDB isn't light reading or enjoyable.

"Michelle called it 'The Death, Destruction, and Horrible Things Book,'" Obama wrote in A Promised Land, his new memoir. "On a given day, I might read about terrorist cells in Somalia or unrest in Iraq or the fact that the Chinese or Russians were developing new weapons systems," and "nearly always, there was mention of potential terrorist plots, no matter how vague, thinly sourced, or unactionable."

Biden will also be briefed on any CIA covert actions in the works, former acting CIA Director Mike Morell explained recently. "It's important for the president-elect to get this briefing ... because on Inauguration Day, these covert actions will become the new president's." Peter Weber

December 1, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden has seen a 6 percentage point jump in his favorability rating since the Nov. 3 election, with 55 percent of U.S. adults viewing him favorably, Gallup reported Monday. President Trump, whose Gallup favorability rating peaked at 49 percent in April, lost 3 points since Election Day, now clocking in at 42 percent. This is Biden's highest Gallup rating since February 2019, before he entered the presidential race. His jump in favorability was fueled by a 6-point bump among Republicans, to 12 percent, and a 7-point jump among independents, to 55 percent.

Trump's post-election slump was also powered by a 6-point drop among Republicans, to 89 percent. Biden's jump in popularity is pretty normal for presidents-elect. "Since 2000, the winning presidential candidate's favorability ratings have increased slightly after the election," Gallup explained. "Additionally, since 2000, the winner's postelection favorability reached the majority level in every election except 2016, when Trump was the most personally unpopular presidential candidate in Gallup polling history."

Trump's 2020 dip is less normal; Republican candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain saw their favorability ratings jump 4 points and 14 points, respectively, after losing to President Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton's rating was unchanged after the 2016 election.

Gallup also found that Americans view the Democratic Party and Republican Party with roughly the same level of favor — 45 percent like Democrats, 43 percent approve of the GOP — though among independents, 41 percent view Democrats favorably and 33 percent see Republicans in a positive light.

Gallup conducted its survey Nov. 5-19 among a random sample of 1,018 adults from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the margin of sampling error is ± 4 percentage points. Peter Weber

November 25, 2020

Despite his tweets and frequent fundraising emails, President Trump knows "the battle is effectively over" and he's already moved on to asking allies "how he can stay relevant in the media and in the Republican Party and how he can earn money" next year and beyond, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing Trump advisers. "Privately, even the few advisers to the president who had argued he still had a shot over the last week now largely concede he has no path to victory."

Trump's lawyers, led by Rudy Giuliani, are expected to keep up the appearance of a legal fight until the Electoral College votes Dec. 14, the Journal reports. "While there are just a handful of people left urging the president to keep up the legal fight — among them, Mr. Giuliani — there are equally few people telling him to end it." One official explained, "Everybody's trying to straddle the fence and avoid him flipping out." They have other reasons to give Trump a wide berth, the Journal adds:

In a West Wing where advisers have often loitered near the Oval Office in the hopes of being asked inside, there has been noticeably less angling among aides to get an audience with the president in recent weeks, administration officials said. Aides have said privately they are concerned that the president might ask them for something that would draw them into the legal battle. [The Wall Street Journal]

"Usually everybody's looking for an opportunity to go in. Now it's the opposite," said an administration official. "You never know where there's going to be this moment where he's like, well why don't you do X-Y-Z crazy thing." Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Peter Weber

November 24, 2020

President Trump gave what aides say is the closest he will come to conceding his loss to President-elect Joe Biden on Monday night, tweeting that while he is still fighting in court, "in the best interest of our country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same." The Emily in his tweet, General Services Administration head Emily Murphy, had already formally started the presidential transition process.

In an unusually personal letter to Biden and a separate email to her staff, Murphy said she had made the decision to finally start the peaceful transfer of power "independently, based on the law and available facts." She added: "I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official — including those who work at the White House or GSA — with regard to the substance or timing of my decision."

Murphy was looking for political cover to start the transition while Trump, with GOP backing, refused to concede, and she was afraid the angry president would "fire her and her top aides if she moved forward," The Washington Post reports. Her letter to Biden was issued shortly after Michigan certified Biden's victory, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court shot down yet another Trump legal challenge, and Republican pressure mounted for the transfer to commence.

But the ball started rolling late last week. Murphy's "team had notified the White House Counsel's Office on Friday that she planned to designate Biden the winner on Monday," the Post reports. "Murphy did not hear anything back." Trump hit his own "major inflection point" a day earlier, when his lawyers Rudy Giuliani and, especially, Sidney Powell, made wild, widely mocked vote fraud allegations but failed to present any credible evidence, Politico reports. Trump's more competent legal advisers, Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone, told him his chaotic legal strategy was getting untenable.

Still, "Trump only reluctantly agreed to let the transition begin," he "was described as angry about the situation," and he spent Monday calling political advisers "to say he had doubts about the GSA initiating the transition," the Post reports. "Despite Trump's resistance, officials throughout his administration were planning to coordinate directly with counterparts on the Biden team starting Tuesday," and "Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told other officials Monday evening it was time to begin the transition." Peter Weber

November 23, 2020

President Trump lost his bid for re-election by 6 million votes and counting, and 74 electoral votes, and his legal team is consistently losing its court battles to disqualify President-elect Joe Biden's voters. And yet he persists, even as a growing number of Republicans are urging him to concede — or at least allow the Biden team to start its transition. So why does Trump keep slogging on? One theory being pushed by some of his supporters and allies is revenge.

"Trump told an ally that he knows he lost, but that he is delaying the transition process and is aggressively trying to sow doubt about the election results in order to get back at Democrats for questioning the legitimacy of his own election in 2016, especially with the Russia investigation," CNN reports, citing a source familiar with Trump's thinking. Pointing to "those who he claims undercut his election by pointing to Russian interference efforts," Trump "has suggested it is fair game to not recognize Joe Biden as the president-elect."

"Will anyone be honest enough to acknowledge that most of what is happening right now has more to do with payback for how the Democrats behaved after 2016 then [sic] about legitimate claims of fraud in the election?" asked Erick Erickson, a sometime Trump critic on the right. Washington Post columnist Daniel Drezner responded by efficiently dismantling this "false equivalence between 2016 and 2020."

The simpler explanation is that Trump always alleges fraud when he loses — and even when he wins — and that's just who he is: a sore loser.

The Washington Post complied a highlight reel of Trump's fraud claims.

One piece of evidence bolstering this theory comes from Trump himself, who told CNN's Chris Cuomo in August 2015 that National Review's Rich Lowry is "probably right. I am the most fabulous whiner. I do whine because I want to win. And I'm not happy if I'm not winning. And I am a whiner. And I'm a whiner and I keep whining and whining until I win." Peter Weber

November 19, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden's life will be a lot easier if Democrats Rafael Warnock and Jon Ossoff win the Georgia Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5, because if the Republicans pick up even one of the seats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will retain control of the Senate. That would complicate Biden's ambitious legislative agenda, but it would also give McConnell a say in the type of people Biden chooses for his Cabinet. The president-elect has a working plan, though.

Biden's team will probably scrap "the old playbook dictating that nominees say nothing in public until their hearings," a transition official told ABC News. "We are operating under belief that the Senate will be under substantial pressure from the public and voters across the country — as well as from their allies in the business community and throughout Washington — to take action on the economy and public health crises, to confirm nominees, and rebuild federal agencies with competent public servants."

Toward that end, Biden has put several communications specialists on his nominations team, led by former White House Communications Director Jen Psaki, ABC News and Politico report. The team intends "to introduce Biden's Cabinet picks to the American people before their Senate hearings, which could include media blitzes to build up public support," Politico reports. "There's a risk, however, that the increased exposure could lead to embarrassing gaffes or missteps by nominees."

It's also not clear McConnell, at least, would care about an opinion-oriented strategy, Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer note at Politico. McConnell's maxim is "if you can beat him, beat him," and "if you can't, then that's too bad. He doesn't care for letters urging him to do things, or press conferences calling him the devil. To call it bare-knuckle politics would be kind." Asked about his reputedly fruitful relationship with Biden on Wednesday, they report, McConnell "stopped talking on a dime, stared up at an elevator and gazed at it as if it were a Picasso. Seconds later, he got in the elevator and went on with his day." Peter Weber

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