Presidential Transition Live Updates: Who’s Still in the Running for Biden’s Cabinet


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Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. moved quickly last week to name the first two members of his cabinet, picking one of his closest confidants to be the nation’s top diplomat and choosing an immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security, a first.

But as he fills out the rest of his team, the task will become more complicated. Whom Mr. Biden will tap to be the next attorney general is among the most talked about — and politically fraught — decisions that he will make as civil rights issues roil the country and some Democrats expect investigations into President Trump and his associates.

Sally Q. Yates, the deputy attorney general in the final years of the Obama administration, had long been considered the front-runner.

Mr. Biden could instead pick Lisa Monaco, the former homeland security adviser for President Barack Obama.

But both women are up against Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor who served as the head of the department’s civil rights division in the Clinton administration. Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, is also under consideration for the job.

To lead the Pentagon, candidates include Michèle A. Flournoy, a senior defense official for President Bill Clinton and Mr. Obama; Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a former deputy energy secretary and National Security Council member; and Lloyd J. Austin III, a retired Army general and head of the U.S. Central Command, people close to the process said. The Biden team could also tap Jeh C. Johnson, who served as a top Pentagon lawyer before becoming secretary of homeland security under Mr. Obama.

Over at the C.I.A., Michael J. Morell, a former acting C.I.A. director, could be nominated to that position, or it could go to Thomas E. Donilon, a former national security adviser in the Obama administration. Others under consideration are Sue Gordon, a former principal deputy director of national intelligence who was pushed out by Mr. Trump; Vincent R. Stewart, a retired lieutenant general who led the Defense Intelligence Agency; and Representative Elissa Slotkin, Democrat of Michigan, a former C.I.A. analyst and White House national security aide.

The Biden transition team is also considering Darrell Blocker for the job, according to former intelligence officials. Mr. Blocker served undercover in the C.I.A. for 28 years, working as the deputy director of the counter terrorism center and leading the agency’s training center. Tapping a veteran with deep ties to throughout the C.I.A. would be a popular move with the agency’s work force, which has been buffeted by Mr. Trump’s criticisms for the last year, according to former C.I.A. officers. Mr. Blocker’s candidacy was first reported by Fox News.

Mr. Biden could pick Roger W. Ferguson Jr., an economist who was vice chair of the Federal Reserve, to lead the National Economic Council or a new board overseeing the recovery from the recession.

Other names under consideration for the position include Bruce Reed, a former chief of staff to Mr. Biden, and Austan Goolsbee, an economist who was chairman of Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. Gene Sperling, a veteran economic adviser dating to the Clinton administration, is another possibility, as is Brian Deese, who was deputy director of the National Economic Council under Mr. Obama

To coordinate the response to the pandemic, Jeffrey D. Zients, who was director of the National Economic Council under Mr. Obama, could become Mr. Biden’s “Covid czar.” That job could also go to Vivek H. Murthy, the former surgeon general who helps lead Mr. Biden’s transition panel on the virus.

Other names seen as top contenders for cabinet posts include:

  • Mary D. Nichols, California’s climate and clean air regulator, could lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Contenders to lead the Agriculture Department include Representative Marcia L. Fudge, an African-American Democrat from Ohio; Heidi Heitkamp, a former senator from North Dakota, and Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who served as agriculture secretary for Mr. Obama.

  • Ernest J. Moniz, Mr. Obama’s energy secretary, could reprise his role, or the job could go to Arun Majumdar, who runs the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford.

  • Top contenders to run the Transportation Department include Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s former chief of staff and a former mayor of Chicago, and Eric M. Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles.

  • Names being discussed to take over the Department of Housing and Urban Development include Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California; Alvin Brown, a former mayor of Jacksonville, Fla.; and Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta.

Credit…Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

PHOENIX — In the moonlight, dozens of people hollered and embraced, dropping the rules of social distancing as they celebrated a win after a long year: hundreds of thousands of Latino voters registered, calls made and doors knocked amid a pandemic that had devastated their communities. Though it would be days before the final result in Arizona was clear, the people working to shore up Latino support for Democrats in the state were already convinced that they helped shape history. They had come through the crucible of a pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment and a decade later, flipped the state and delivered wins.

“Tonight we claim victory because we showed up,” said Stephanie Maldonado, the political director for Lucha, a civil rights group that helped coordinate efforts for Democrats.

Four days later, when the state was still uncalled but Joseph R. Biden Jr. had been declared the winner nationally, protesters who supported the president showed up at the state capitol. They waved Trump flags, some depicting the president as a Rambo-like figure, and many carried rifles and military-style guns of their own. The several hundred people gathered in the blazing sun were convinced, without evidence, that the election had been stolen from President Trump, and they were there to express their distrust — in the news media, in the electoral process, in almost any political figure other than Mr. Trump.

The two scenes — young Latinos celebrating victory, angry protesters refusing to concede defeat — are emblematic of the deep divide in Arizona. Though Mr. Biden won the state, making him only the second Democrat presidential candidate to do so since 1948, he did so with the thinnest of margins, receiving roughly 11,000 votes or 0.3 percentage points more than Mr. Trump.

And while there are examples of significant change, with the state sending two Democrats to the Senate for the first time in decades, it is far too early to declare the state blue. Instead, officials from both parties agree, the election was clearly a referendum on Mr. Trump, the most divisive president in recent history.

“It’s certainly not blue, and I’m not even sure it’s purple, it’s magenta, or the lightest shade of red,” said Mike Noble, the chief pollster at OH Predictive Insights, a nonpartisan research group based in Phoenix. “If there was such a Democratic surge, we would have seen in down ballot, but you didn’t see that impact.”

Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

WEXFORD, Pa. — Just a few seats shy of a majority in the State House of Representatives, Democrats in Pennsylvania this year zeroed in on Republican-held suburban districts, where disdain for President Trump ran hot.

One of their prime targets was in the North Hills suburbs outside Pittsburgh, which are home to big brick houses, excellent public schools and “the fastest-trending Democratic district in the state,” according to Emily Skopov, the Democratic nominee for an open seat there, who gamely knocked on the doors of Republican voters in the days before Nov. 3.

She was half right. Joseph R. Biden Jr. carried Pennsylvania’s House District 28, after Mr. Trump had won it by nine percentage points in 2016.

But Ms. Skopov, the founder of a nonprofit group who positioned herself as a moderate, was defeated.

Across the country, suburban voters’ disgust with Mr. Trump — the key to Mr. Biden’s election — did not translate into a wide rebuke of other Republicans, as Democrats had expected after the party made significant gains in suburban areas in the 2018 midterm elections. From the top of the party down to the state level, Democratic officials are awakening to the reality that voters may have delivered a one-time verdict on Mr. Trump that does not equal continuing support for center-left policies.

“There’s a significant difference between a referendum on a clown show, which is what we had at the top of the ticket, and embracing the values of the Democratic ticket,” said Nichole Remmert, Ms. Skopov’s campaign manager. “People bought into Joe Biden to stop the insanity in the White House. They did not suddenly become Democrats.”

That dawning truth is evident in the narrower majority that House Democrats will hold in Congress next year, and especially in the blood bath that the party suffered in legislative races in key states around the country, despite directing hundreds of millions of dollars and deploying top party figures like former President Barack Obama to obscure down-ballot elections.

This year, Democrats targeted a dozen state legislative chambers where Republicans held tenuous majorities, including in Pennsylvania, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina and Minnesota. Their goal was to check the power of Republicans to redraw congressional and legislative districts in 2021, and to curb the rightward drift of policies from abortion to gun safety to voting rights.

But in all cases, Democrats came up short. None of their targeted legislative chambers flipped, even though Mr. Biden carried many of the districts that down-ballot Democrats did not. It could make it harder for Democrats to retain a House majority in 2022.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Sunday that the F.B.I. and the Justice Department might be “involved” in what he again groundlessly called a fraudulent presidential election, hinting that the nation’s law enforcement agencies were biased against his fading efforts to remain in office.

“This is total fraud. And how the F.B.I. and Department of Justice — I don’t know, maybe they’re involved — but how people are allowed to get away with this stuff is unbelievable. This election was a total fraud,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with the Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo.

“Missing in action. Can’t tell you where they are,” Mr. Trump said, a note of resignation in his voice. “I ask, ‘Are they looking at it?’ Everyone says, ‘Yes they’re looking at it.’”

“These people have been there a long time,” he added. “Some of them have served a lot of different presidents.”

Mr. Trump’s roughly 45-minute conversation with Ms. Bartiromo, who has been sympathetic to his charges, was his first one-on-one interview since his defeat to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. Mr. Trump sounded at once angry but also resigned to the growing reality that Mr. Biden will be sworn in as president on Jan. 20.

In often rambling remarks, Mr. Trump offered vague charges of “thousands of dead people voting,” discarded ballots and blocked poll watchers. He also claimed that Mr. Biden won with implausibly large margins in African-American areas.

“There’s no way Joe Biden got 80 million votes,” he said. “There’s no way it happened.”

No significant evidence has been found to support the president’s claims, and several judges in multiple states have quickly dismissed lawsuits by his legal team alleging fraud.

Skipping over that reality, Mr. Trump complained that the media had not taken his fraud claims more seriously and alleged that foreign leaders had expressed sympathy for his plight.

“You have leaders of countries that call me, say, ‘That’s the most messed up election we’ve ever seen,’” Mr. Trump claimed. But no foreign leader has endorsed Mr. Trump’s claims about the election, and dozens have offered both public and private congratulations to Mr. Biden.

With several important federal deadlines coming up for the election process, including a Dec. 8 deadline for states to resolve all election disputes, Mr. Trump declined to say when his time fighting the results would be up. “I’m not going to say a date,” Mr. Trump said.

Asked whether he would appoint a special counsel to investigate the election, Mr. Trump said that he “would consider” doing so but quickly changed the subject.

And asked whether the Supreme Court, now governed by a conservative majority, was likely to rule on the election outcome, Mr. Trump sounded pessimistic.

“It’s hard to get into the Supreme Court,” he said, adding that his lawyers had told him, “It’s very hard to get a case up there.”

“This is disgusting,” Ms. Bartiromo said. “And we cannot allow America’s elections to be corrupted.”

“Do you believe you will win this?” she asked.

Mr. Trump did not answer directly.

Mr. Trump’s interview came amid continued pushback against his baseless claims.

Christopher Krebs, the former government official who had overseen cybersecurity efforts for the 2020 election, reaffirmed his confidence in the integrity of the vote and called Mr. Trump’s unfounded allegations of voter fraud “farcical.”

“The American people should have 100 percent confidence in their vote,” Mr. Krebs said in an excerpt from a “60 Minutes” interview that is to air Sunday night. “The proof is in the ballots, the recounts are consistent with the initial count, and to me that’s further evidence, that’s further confirmation.”

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Republican leadership, also said he did not think the election was rigged.

“I don’t think it was rigged,” Mr. Blunt said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think there was some element of voter fraud as there is in any election.”

He added: “I don’t have any reason to believe the numbers are there that would have made that difference.”

Mr. Blunt’s comments came as an increasing number of Republican lawmakers have begun to acknowledge Mr. Biden’s victory. But many, including the party’s leaders, still refuse to do so.

Mr. Blunt, who leads the Senate committee responsible for overseeing the presidential inauguration, also said it was likely that there would be fewer attendees at the event this year and that it was also likely that attendees would be required to wear masks.

Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

The telephone call would have been laugh-out-loud ridiculous if it had not been so serious. When Tina Barton picked up, she found someone from President Trump’s campaign asking her to sign a letter raising doubts about the results of the election.

The election that Ms. Barton as the Republican clerk of the small Michigan city of Rochester Hills had helped oversee. The election that she knew to be fair and accurate because she had helped make it so.

“Do you know who you’re talking to right now?” she asked the campaign official.

If the president hoped Republicans across the country would fall in line behind his false and farcical claims that the election was somehow rigged on a mammoth scale by a nefarious multinational conspiracy, he was in for a surprise. Republicans in Washington may have indulged Mr. Trump’s fantastical assertions, but at the state and local level, Republicans played a critical role in resisting the mounting pressure from their own party to overturn the vote.

The three weeks that followed tested American democracy and may leave lasting scars. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. now faces a country where many of his constituents consider him illegitimate.

The Trump team seized on any routine mistakes to advance the cause. In Rochester Hills, votes in one precinct were posted in the absentee tally and then also posted in the in-person total without first being removed from the absentee count.

The mistake was quickly caught and rectified before the results became official, but Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, claimed that “we found 2,000 ballots that had been given to Democrats, that were Republican ballots, due to a clerical error.”

Ms. Barton took to social media to rebut the “categorically false” assertion. “As a Republican, I am disturbed that this is intentionally being mischaracterized to undermine the election process,” Ms. Barton said in a video she posted to Twitter.

Soon she found herself the target of profane and threatening emails and telephone calls, and while she took comfort that she was safe because her husband is a sheriff’s deputy, they nonetheless upgraded the security system at home.

As an election official, she spent much of the last four years talking with other officials about cyberthreats to American democracy. Never, she said, did she realize that the real threat this year would come from within.

“We have to step back and say how do we restore public confidence in a system that is completely torn down,” she said.

Credit…Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

DOUGLAS, Ariz. — Four years ago, President Trump took office with a pledge to build a towering wall on America’s border with Mexico — a symbol of his determination to halt immigration from countries to the south and build a barrier that would long outlast him.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has said he hopes to halt construction of the border wall, but the departing administration is rushing to complete as much wall as possible in its last weeks in power, dynamiting through some of the border’s most forbidding terrain.

The breakneck pace at which construction is continuing all but assures that the wall, whatever Mr. Biden decides to do, is here to stay for the foreseeable future, establishing a contentious legacy for Mr. Trump in places that were crucial to his defeat.

In southeastern Arizona, the continuing political divisiveness around the president’s signature construction project has pitted rancher against rancher and neighbor against neighbor in a state that a Democratic presidential candidate narrowly carried for the first time in decades.

The region is emerging as one of the Trump administration’s last centers of wall building as blasting crews feverishly tear through the remote Peloncillo Mountains, where ocelots and bighorn sheep roam through woodlands of cottonwoods and sycamores.

Even those who loathe the wall are bracing for the possibility that it could endure for decades to come, basing their assessments on signals from Mr. Biden’s transition team.

While the president-elect has said he will halt new wall construction, other immigration priorities like ending travel bans, accepting more refugees and easing asylum restrictions are eclipsing calls to tear down portions of the wall that already exist.

Advisers involved with the transition team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss planning for the incoming administration, rejected the notion that there would be any attempt to dismantle the existing border wall, with one adviser calling the wall a “distraction.”

Customs and Border Protection officials are still rushing to meet Mr. Trump’s mandate of 450 miles of new wall construction during his term, nearly doubling the rate of construction since the start of the year. The administration had built 402 miles of wall as of Nov. 13.

Credit…Marcy Nighswander/Associated Press

When he was running for president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. said it was time for a pet to be put back in the White House.

First it was announced that Champ and Major, the German shepherds belonging to the president-elect and the future first lady Jill Biden, would roam the White House. And now, after an absence of more than a decade, a cat is set to also join the ranks of presidential pets, Jane Pauley of “CBS Sunday Morning” reported on Twitter on Friday.

In an interview with Fox 5 in Washington, Dr. Biden hinted that if her husband won the presidency, she would not mind getting a cat.

“I’d love to get a cat,” she said. “I love having animals around the house.”

The cat’s breed and name were not immediately available. Representatives for Mr. Biden did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

The Bidens will be restoring a tradition of presidential pets when they move into the White House in January, as President Trump opted not to have a pet during his term. But the Bidens’ cat won’t be the first in the White House.

Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state, William H. Seward, gave him two cats, Tabby and Dixie, said Andrew Hager, historian-in-residence at the Presidential Pet Museum. Lincoln was a major “cat fan,” Mr. Hager said, and the president often fed Tabby from the dinner table despite his wife’s criticism.

Other presidential cats include Tom Kitten, who belonged to Caroline Kennedy; Shan Shein, the siamese cat of President Gerald Ford’s daughter, Susan; and Misty Malarky Ying Yang, who belonged to President Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy.

Probably one of the most popular cats in the White House was Socks in the Clinton White House.

The black and white cat was the protagonist of an unreleased Super Nintendo game, “Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill,” and often gained attention from the news media, as he was the only White House pet until the Clintons adopted a chocolate Lab named Buddy in 1997.

The last cat to live in the White House, India (who also had the nickname Willie), belonged to President George W. Bush. Her time at the White House was often overshadowed by the Bush family’s two Scottish terriers, Barney and Miss Beazley, Mr. Hager said.

Credit…Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times

The assassination of the scientist who led Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon threatens to cripple President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s effort to revive the Iran nuclear deal before he can even begin his diplomacy with Tehran.

And that may well have been a main goal of the operation.

Intelligence officials say there is little doubt that Israel was behind the killing. And the Israelis have done nothing to dispel that view. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long identified Iran as an existential threat, and named the assassinated scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, as national enemy No. 1.

But Mr. Netanyahu also has a second agenda.

“There must be no return to the previous nuclear agreement,” he declared shortly after it became clear that Mr. Biden — who has proposed exactly that — would be the next president.

Mr. Netanyahu believes a covert bomb program is continuing and would be unconstrained after 2030, when the nuclear accord’s restraints on Tehran’s ability to produce as much nuclear fuel as it wants expires. To critics of the deal, that is its fatal flaw.

The question is whether the deal Mr. Biden has outlined was shot to pieces along with Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s S.U.V. in the mountain town of Absard, east of Tehran.

The answer lies largely in how Iran reacts in the next few weeks.

If Iran holds off on significant retaliation, then the bold move to take out the chief of the nuclear program will have paid off, even if the assassination drives the program further underground.

And if the Iranians retaliate, giving Mr. Trump a pretext to launch a return strike before he leaves office in January, Mr. Biden will be inheriting bigger problems than just the wreckage of a five-year-old diplomatic document.

Both those options seem fine with Mr. Trump’s departing foreign policy team, which is trying to lock in the radical reversal of Iran policy that has taken place over the past four years.

Robert Malley, who leads the International Crisis Group and was a negotiator of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, said the administration’s plan was to “make it all the more difficult for its successor to resume diplomacy with Iran.” He expressed doubts that such a strategy would work.

“The center of gravity in Iran is still with those who want to wait until Biden is president,” Mr. Malley said.


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