Washington: Teams from US President-elect Joe Biden’s transition began reaching out across Washington on Tuesday, freed for the first time to interact with their counterparts in the government after President Donald Trump’s administration ended its two-week blockade of an orderly transfer of power.
Trump authorised intelligence agencies on Tuesday to begin briefing Biden on classified information delivered in the President’s Daily Brief. Officials said the briefing would be scheduled soon, but did not provide details. Biden said he planned to be briefed “on a regular basis.”
Transition officials said teams had made contact with every federal agency to begin setting up meetings. About 20 of those meetings took place on Tuesday, including at the Department of Homeland Security and the Education Department. Officials said the reception from the Trump administration was responsive and helpful.
Trump had relented on Monday in his refusal to allow a formal transition to begin, while still refusing to concede defeat and vowing on Twitter on Tuesday morning that “our big lawsuit” will be filed soon and declaring “RIGGED ELECTION!” Within hours, Biden’s team moved to quickly make use of the 57 days left until the inauguration.
Biden had warned that the holdup of the transition threatened national security by depriving his team of critical briefings and put the distribution of coronavirus vaccines at risk if his advisers could not work side by side with current health officials. In an interview with “NBC Nightly News” on Tuesday, Biden said he was pleased by the administration’s belated decision to let the transition proceed.
“I think we’re going to not be so far behind the curve, as we thought we might be in the past,” Biden said. “And there’s a lot of immediate discussion, and I must say, the outreach has been sincere. There has not been begrudging so far. And I don’t expect it to be.”
Stock market surges
On Wall Street, the stock market surged on the news that a robust transition was set to begin, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average surpassing 30,000 for the first time. Investors appeared buoyed by Biden’s choice of Janet Yellen, a former chair of the Federal Reserve, to serve as Treasury secretary.
Trump, in an appearance at the White House that lasted only about a minute, sought to take credit for the market’s rise.
“The stock market’s just broken 30,000. Never been broken, that number,” Trump told reporters without taking questions. “That’s a sacred number, 30,000. Nobody thought they’d ever see it,” he said, adding, “I just want to congratulate all the people within the administration that worked so hard.”
The transition officially began on Monday evening, when Emily W. Murphy, the administrator of the General Services Administration, sent Biden a letter saying that as the apparent winner of the election, he was entitled to government office space, resources and the ability to coordinate with administration officials.
That process is governed by legislation and several memorandums of agreement signed months ago by the two sides, including a pledge from the White House chief of staff to ensure that Biden, if he won the election, would receive up-to-date information about threats facing the country.
In a memorandum sent to White House employees late Monday night, Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, reminded them to conduct all work-related communications with White House email accounts. And he said records must be preserved.
With the pandemic raging, Biden transition officials are especially eager to start coordination with officials at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and members of the Operation Warp Speed project, which has a role in vaccine distribution. Transition officials have said they want to begin receiving official government data about the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths from the virus.
Murphy’s letter on Monday prompted an almost immediate acknowledgment from the Department of Health and Human Services, the hub of the administration’s pandemic response. Alex Azar, the health secretary, said Tuesday that Rear Adm. Erica G. Schwartz, the deputy surgeon general, had communicated on Monday with the Biden team.
Transition briefings are likely to centre on the Health Department’s evolving plans to distribute a coronavirus vaccine, a vast and complicated effort that the department is coordinating with the Pentagon and the CDC. The first doses could be administered as soon as mid-December if the Food and Drug Administration authorizes Pfizer’s candidate for emergency use.
Transition officials have also been eager to talk to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert. Biden told reporters on Tuesday that his staff had spoken to Fauci, but that he had not. “He’s been very, very helpful,” Biden said.
In touch with Pentagon
Biden transition team members began contacting Pentagon officials on Monday night. Thomas M. Muir, the director of the Defence Department’s transition task force, said that the Biden-Harris team “did reach out to me personally” and that Pentagon officials and the Biden team met on Tuesday morning.
“We are looking forward to continuing the process with the Biden-Harris transition team,” Muir said on a call with reporters. Biden’s transition team will get dedicated office space at the Pentagon.
The start of the formal transition also clears the way for government-run background checks of Biden’s Cabinet nominees and other top aides who require high-level security clearances. Those checks, which are conducted by the FBI and other agencies, had also been held up until Murphy’s decision. Bureau officials said they will investigate potential appointees as the office receives written requests from Biden’s team.
Other, smaller changes will take place as well. Transition members will start using government email accounts - ending in ptt.gov, for “presidential transition team” - and Biden’s official transition website, buildbackbetter.com, has already moved to a government server and been renamed buildbackbetter.gov.