Biden builds White House team 

Source: By Sean Sullivan, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2020

The moves reflected Biden’s two-pronged strategy for navigating the difficulties surrounding his ascent to the presidency: While he is stepping up attempts to show how President Trump’s unwillingness to cooperate with his team could harm Americans, Biden is also signaling that the roadblocks are not stopping his endeavor to assemble a government prepared to address the crises gripping the nation.

“You know that I’ve been unable to get the briefings that ordinarily would have come by now,” Biden said during a virtual meeting on Tuesday with former national security officials who were gathered to discuss readiness at relevant agencies, according to transition officials. “I just wanted to get your input on what you see ahead. To state the obvious, there’s no presidential responsibility more important than protecting the American people.”

Biden’s actions came on the fourth straight day in which Trump has held no public events. Instead, Trump spent the day largely as he has since Biden was declared president-elect on Nov. 7, retweeting partisan allegations of fraud and ignoring fresh losses in his court battles to overturn election results.

Late Tuesday, Trump announced on Twitter that he had fired the Department of Homeland Security’s top elections security official, Chris Krebs, whose agency called the November election “the most secure in American history” and said claims otherwise were “unfounded.”

The statement “was highly inaccurate,” Trump said in a tweet announcing the firing, citing complaints that courts and election officials, including Republicans, have said are inaccurate.

Earlier in the day, Biden announced the hiring of nine senior White House officials, including two who will assist soon-to-be first lady Jill Biden. The decisions underlined his reliance on a core group of strategists he has grown comfortable with over the years and during his campaign, as well as the pressure he is under to assemble a team with gender and racial diversity. The roster caused some concern, however, among liberal activists.

Longtime advisers Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti will step in as senior adviser and counselor to the president, respectively. Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, will be deputy chief of staff. And his campaign’s general counsel, Dana Remus, who once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., will be counsel to the president, acting as Biden’s top lawyer in the White House.

Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), one of Biden’s most prominent African American allies, will leave Capitol Hill to become senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Activists on the left voiced criticism of the move, citing donations Richmond has received from the fossil fuel industry.

“Today feels like a betrayal,” Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash said in a statement. Richmond has represented the New Orleans area, where the industry is a major employer. Richmond did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the criticism.

Biden lauded his hires, saying in his own statement that they “bring diverse perspectives and a shared commitment” to meeting major challenges. Five of the nine named Tuesday are women.

Also joining Biden’s team are Julie Chávez Rodríguez, his former deputy campaign manager, who will become director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. She has worked for Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris and is the granddaughter of labor activist César Chávez. Annie Tomasini will become director of Oval Office operations. She has been Biden’s traveling chief of staff.

For the East Wing of the new White House, Jill Biden has hired Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon, a former ambassador to Uruguay, as her chief of staff. Anthony Bernal, a top aide to Jill Biden during the campaign, will be her senior adviser in the White House.

The hires highlighted the quickening pace of the president-elect’s effort to pick the people who will guide his administration. Last week, he tapped longtime aide Ron Klain to be his White House chief of staff. Like Klain, some of the newest Biden hires have deep ties to the former vice president and the Washington establishment.

Ricchetti was campaign chairman for Biden and served as his chief of staff when he was vice president. He worked as a registered lobbyist between 2001 and 2008, representing clients including AT&T, the Association of American Railroads, the American Hospital Association, Eli Lilly and General Motors.

Donilon was chief strategist for Biden’s campaign, playing a lead role in crafting many of Biden’s speeches. O’Malley Dillon became Biden’s campaign manager this year, coming aboard as the team retooled after struggling in the early nominating contests. Richmond was one of Biden’s earliest and most visible supporters in Congress.

Biden has not announced any members of his Cabinet. A transition adviser with knowledge of the situation said the team expects Biden to begin announcing his picks before the end of the month. Biden is very close on some decisions, said the adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.

The president-elect spent the day in meetings in Wilmington, Del., as he has most of the time since he was declared the winner of the presidential contest. Like Biden’s incoming White House team, the former national security officials who briefed Biden on Tuesday boasted years of experience and establishment connections.

They included veterans of the Obama administration, such as former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power; retired Adm. William McRaven, who was head of U.S. Special Operations Command; and retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who clashed with Biden during the Obama years and was fired as the top officer in Afghanistan after bad-mouthing the administration in a magazine article.

Biden also continued to take calls from world leaders. On Tuesday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a Trump ally, said it had been in touch with Biden. “In a warm conversation, the President-elect reiterated his deep commitment to the State of Israel and its security,” the prime minister’s office wrote on Twitter.

But Biden still does not have access to current administration officials, classified information, funding and other tools normally provided to a president-elect, because the General Services Administration, which is run by a Trump appointee, has not yet recognized Biden as the winner of the election. Trump has yet to concede to Biden, making baseless claims of voter fraud.

Biden allies are increasingly sounding alarms about the real-world consequences of the Trump administration’s resistance. On Monday, Biden cast the situation as dire because of the pandemic, saying “more people may die if we don’t coordinate.”

On Tuesday, doctors advising Biden on the coronavirus also invoked the urgent need for cooperation with current health officials to ensure the rapid distribution of a vaccine. They warned that the standoff could compromise efforts to combat the virus.

“We don’t have a day to waste,” former FDA commissioner David Kessler told reporters during a briefing arranged by the Biden transition office.

Federal employees are designing the rollout for one or more vaccines nearing initial distribution, but Biden’s team is blind to those plans, Kessler and two other doctors leading Biden’s effort said.

“There is valuable information inside the administration that you know is held by career officials, by other political appointees and others who have been working hard at the covid response for the last year. We need to talk to those individuals. We need to work together with them,” former surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy said.

Also on Tuesday, leaders of three major medical associations wrote to Trump, urging his administration to cooperate with the Biden team on the virus.

“As providers of care for all Americans, we see the suffering that is occurring in our communities due to covid-19,” said the letter, which was signed by Richard J. Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association; James L. Madara, chief executive of the American Medical Association; and Debbie Dawson Hatmaker, acting chief executive of the American Nurses Association.

“It is from this front line human perspective that we urge you to share critical data and information as soon as possible.”

Anne Gearan in Wilmington, Del., and John Wagner and Michael Scherer in Washington contributed to this report.