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Biden Begins Transition Work After Being Declared Election Victor


Joe Biden is now the president-elect. So at what point will President Trump concede? This is a very important question for Biden and his team, although Joe Biden spoke in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday night, and he didn't mention President Trump at all.


JOE BIDEN: Folks, the people of this nation have spoken. They've delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory, a victory for we the people. We've won with the most votes ever cast for a presidential ticket in the history of the nation.

KING: President Trump hasn't spoken publicly, although he has been tweeting. Even though there's no evidence of widespread fraud, he's still questioning the legitimacy of the election. NPR's Mara Liasson and Scott Detrow are with me now. Good morning to you both.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.


KING: So, Scott, Joe Biden's team has already kicked it off, gotten to work.

DETROW: Yeah. He's going to be rolling out a Coronavirus Task Force later today. It's going to be led by three people - former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former FDA commissioner David Kessler and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith from the Yale School of Medicine. Biden wants to create a much more centralized and federally coordinated approach to testing and PPE distribution and vaccine distribution when that happens. And this task force is going to take all of those plans and put them into executive orders and plans for governing starting in January. Beyond that, the new transition website underscores what Biden's been talking about for a while now, that he sees four key challenges to fix once he takes office - the pandemic, the economy, racial justice and climate change. And, of course, there's Cabinet appointments and thousands of federal positions to fill to think about. That's all going to be a lot harder if Republicans still control the Senate, which is up in the air. And that's something that his deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, addressed on "Meet The Press" yesterday.


KATE BEDINGFIELD: Well, Joe Biden believes his job is to work with everybody. So that is, you know, that is the message from the American people, that's how Joe Biden views governing.

DETROW: But, Noel, there's this weird tension right now. Joe Biden - really the main message from him ever since he won was that he thinks he also has a mandate to work together, to push unity, to lower tensions. And at the same time, many Republican leaders are not acknowledging out loud that he is the president-elect.

KING: And, yes, it is a weird tension. Mara, if President Trump continues refusing to concede, what does that mean for Biden's transition in practice?

LIASSON: Well, the administrator of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy, is refusing to sign a letter that would give Biden's transition team access to money, millions of dollars actually, access to government office space, government officials, and that could delay the transition. The reason she's not doing this is if she did, it would acknowledge Biden is the victor. And so far, as you said, Trump refuses to acknowledge Biden's victory. He has repeatedly refused to say that he would agree to a peaceful transfer of power. So this is one potential roadblock.

KING: Scott mentioned that Republicans at this point are not saying much. Let's talk specifically about who is not saying what. Leading Republicans in particular, what are we hearing? What are we not hearing?

LIASSON: Well, a lot of silence, as usual. It's interesting how few of the Republican senators who served with Biden for years and years have not congratulated him or acknowledged that he won. Other senators are echoing Trump's argument, saying there's still the serious legal challenges to come. Lindsey Graham has told Trump not to concede. Some party elders are reaching out and congratulating Joe Biden, president - former President George W. Bush did. Mitt Romney, a critic of the president's, did acknowledge Biden's victory on NBC yesterday. He had this to say about Trump's legal challenges.


MITT ROMNEY: I think it's fine to pursue every legal avenue that one has, but I think one has to be careful in the choice of words. I think when you say that the election was corrupt or stolen or rigged - but that's unfortunately rhetoric that gets picked up by authoritarians around the world.

LIASSON: Now, the Senate is meeting today at 3 p.m. There will be a lot of reporters in the Capitol, and we'll see if Republican senators sprint for the elevators or whether they want to say something about the election.

KING: All right. And the Senate itself, I hate cliches, but it hangs in the balance, right? There will be two runoffs for Senate seats in Georgia?

LIASSON: That's right. Two runoffs that will determine who has the majority in the Senate. In Georgia, you have to get over 50% of the vote. One of the Senate races was a special election to fill the last two years of a senator's term. And a lot depends on this. One thing we saw in the election that with the exception of Maine, everywhere there was a Senate race, it went in the same direction as the presidential race in that state. We don't know who will win Georgia. Biden is ahead narrowly in the count so far. We also know that Democrats have rarely won a statewide runoff in Georgia. But you can expect lots and lots of money and attention to be focused on Georgia between now and January 5.

KING: All eyes on Georgia. And then, Scott, how much could the results of that Senate runoff, those two Senate runoffs in Georgia mean for what Joe Biden is able to get done?

DETROW: I think it's everything. I mean, Biden spent months promising this Franklin Roosevelt-style transformative policy agenda, and so much of that hinged on a big Senate majority. There's not going to be a big Senate majority. If there's a majority, it will be the bare minimum. But even that will be such a huge deal. If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Democrats worry every single Cabinet appointment might be negotiated and slowed down. And as we've seen over the past five years, there would be real questions of whether Mitch McConnell would hold votes on a Biden Supreme Court appointment if there was an opening. Biden has executive orders and rulemaking to work with, but we know the judiciary has gotten much more conservative and judges would be skeptical if Biden followed President Obama's lead and tried to tackle climate change, mostly through executive orders and EPA rules, that could likely get held up.

KING: So we could be looking at more excruciating partisanship. You know, presidents - you know well presidents always talk about what they're going to do in their first 100 days. What has Joe Biden said he wants to get done right off the bat?

DETROW: A whole lot of things. He says he will immediately rejoin the Paris climate accords, which the U.S. actually didn't formally leave until the day after Election Day. He's going to rescind a lot of Trump administration executive orders, specifically when it comes to immigration. He said at that final debate, he'll propose a big immigration bill, including a path to citizenship. And if the Supreme Court does, in fact, overturn the Affordable Care Act, that will leap to the top of the list, passing some sort of fix for whatever the court says. Biden has said all along, he wants to expand it to include a public health insurance option, among other things.

KING: And then, Mara, just briefly, do we know what's next for President Trump?

LIASSON: We don't. We know that he needs to leave office without being seen as a loser. That's very important to his brand. And then the question is, how does he monetize his brand? And does he say that he might run again in 2024? He is the, as Mitt Romney said, the 900-pound gorilla in the Republican Party, and he will be that way for a very long time.

KING: Mara Liasson and Scott Detrow, thanks so much.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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