Capitol Correspondence - 11.17.20

What Is Going on with the Presidential Transition?

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To help our members keep track of actions by the current Trump administration during the lame duck period and the groundwork being laid by the incoming Biden-Harris administration, we are offering a roundup of transition developments to date. The developments listed below are particularly relevant as some of the individuals listed in the transition team could have a role negotiating a response to the pandemic with the 117th Congress.

White House accelerates its lame duck efforts:

As reported by Politico Pro: “Even as President Donald Trump refused to concede to President-elect Joe Biden, [White House Chief of Staff Mark] Meadows was asking aides on the call to give him three goals by the end of the week that could be accomplished by Biden’s inauguration, according to two people briefed on the conversation. Since then, staffers have compiled a list of roughly 15 moves they could make through executive orders, executive actions or finalizing agency rules that they plan to pursue in the coming days, according to interviews with three administration officials. […]

Agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services or the Department of Homeland Security are rushing to finish rules already in the pipeline. It’s unclear how legally binding each executive order might be — Trump has earned a reputation for overstating the power of mostly symbolic EOs during his four years as president. […]

Presidents from both parties have long used the lame-duck period to cement their agenda and create headaches for the next administration. In 2008, as President George W. Bush’s administration neared its end, the federal government finished 105 regulations. In 2016, the Obama administration moved to complete 127, according to data from the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center.

Typically, the process of overturning an unwanted regulation takes at least one year, while undoing an executive action can be accomplished with a signature.”

Updates from the Biden-Harris transition team:

  • Ron Klain, who headed the Obama administration’s Ebola response, has been selected as White House Chief of Staff, confirming that responding to the COVID-19 pandemic will be the President-Elect’s top priority. This article by STAT lists quotes by Ron Klain that capture his outlook on the pandemic.
  • The Biden-Harris team has also announced its COVID-19 transition team, which is separate from the previously selected COVID-19 task force. (Ed. Note: In a previous edition of Capitol Correspondence, we inaccurately described the task force as a transition team; that error has been corrected.) As reported by Politico, “coronavirus transition team is broken down into three specialties, with each led by a handful of transition officials dubbed the ‘central team.’ Those central team leaders will coordinate efforts with designated transition officials assigned to individual agencies, such as the Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and State departments.” We encourage our members to read this article by Axios to understand some of the pandemic response challenges facing the incoming administration.
  • The Biden team also announced a list of 500 experts on federal policy that will help the President-Elect prepare to lead the government in January.
  • Finally, Politico Pro reports that “President-Elect Joe Biden is bringing on more than a dozen veteran Democratic congressional aides to bulk up his outreach to Congress. The hires include longtime aides to top Democrats such as Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, as well as staffers who’ve worked for younger lawmakers, according to Biden’s presidential transition team.”
    • “Louisa Terrell, a longtime Biden hand, is heading up Biden’s legislative affairs team, according to three people familiar with its structure.”
    • “Angela Ramirez, a former chief of staff to Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) who joined the Biden transition team months ago, will lead House outreach, according to people familiar with the matter. Reema Dodin, Durbin’s deputy chief of staff, will head up Senate outreach.”