Biden's transition moves ahead

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 5:00 a.m. ET, December 2, 2020
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6:13 p.m. ET, November 30, 2020

Republican Sen. Murkowski calls on Trump to concede: "I think the race is over"

From CNN's Manu Raju

Sen. Lisa Murkowski
Sen. Lisa Murkowski Alex Edelman-Pool/Getty Images/FILE

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, is calling on President Trump to concede.

“I think he should concede, I think the race is over,” she just told CNN’s Manu Raju.

Asked if she voted for Trump, Murkowksi wouldn’t say.

“I don’t think that’s the pertinent question of the day," she added

6:09 p.m. ET, November 30, 2020

Former top official briefs Biden team on Syria situation

From CNN's Vivian Salama

James Jeffrey
James Jeffrey Cem Genco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images/FILE

The Trump administration’s former special envoy for Syria and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, James Jeffrey, participated in a briefing call Monday with President-elect Joe Biden’s team about the state-of-play in the battle against ISIS and America’s presence in Syria and Iraq, according to a current administration official and a Biden adviser.

Jeffrey offered his assessment of the political and security situation in Syria, some of the competing national interests gripping the country, as well as a broad overview of the role of US troops in the country, one of the sources said.

Jeffrey retired earlier this month after 45 years in public service in the Army and Foreign Service.

The call is one of several in-person and virtual national security briefings taking place ahead of Inauguration Day to get Biden’s team up to speed on some of the ongoing conflicts where US troops have been deployed.

5:47 p.m. ET, November 30, 2020

Schumer calls for confirmation hearings for Biden nominees after Georgia runoffs

 From CNN's Ali Main

Senate TV
Senate TV

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for confirmation hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet nominees immediately after the Georgia runoff elections on Jan. 5. 

"In the midst of this once in a century crisis, it's imperative the next administration can count on the Senate to confirm its cabinet without delay," he said on the Senate floor on Monday. 

Schumer said the hearings should take place before Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20 and that staff should begin preparing for the proceedings as the President-elect chooses who he intends to nominate. Biden has already named his picks for several top administration roles, including Secretary of State and Treasury secretary.

Schumer praised many of Biden's choices, including Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary and Neera Tanden as director of the Office of Management and Budget. He slammed some of his Republican colleagues for their outcry over Biden's choice of Tanden, who has been a frequent critic of the GOP on Twitter. 

"Honestly, the hypocrisy is astounding. If Republicans are concerned about criticism on Twitter, their complaints are better directed at President Trump, who has made a hobby out of denigrating Republican senators on Twitter," he said.

The top Senate Democrat said his Republican colleagues had "lined up to confirm" Trump's nominees, whom he called, "manifestly unqualified, played by ethical complaints or swimming in conflicts of interest."

"I would hope the same deference will be extended to President-elect Biden's nominees, especially considering the obvious gulf in quality, experience, ethics..." he said.

Schumer said it will be "impossible to take [Republicans'] overblown complaints" over Biden's nominees seriously, considering Trump and his party's past actions.

"Given the urgent need to address Covid-19 and its economic fallout, the Senate should follow precedent, and properly hold hearings on President led Biden's nominees in January," Schumer said, later adding, "the American people cannot afford to wait to have its government working at full force to keep them safe, defeat the virus and get our economy back on track."
5:38 p.m. ET, November 30, 2020

Why Republican Sen. John Thune won't call Biden the President-elect yet

From CNN's Manu Raju, Kristin Wilson and Daniella Diaz

Sen. John Thune
Sen. John Thune Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, was asked today why he won't call Joe Biden the President-elect.

Here's how he responded:

"Well,I mean, I don't agree. I don't think that gets decided until, whenever that is, the 14th of December, but I think as these states certify, it certainly the trajectory is in that direction for sure."

When pressed if the President Trump was undermining Americans’ faith in democracy with his unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, Thune deflected, following a Republican pattern of not criticizing the President. 

“Well my concern again is that the we have a transition, which is, I think, at least now you can describe as underway, and hopefully orderly and well that's, that's what's important in my view,” he said.

5:25 p.m. ET, November 30, 2020

Wisconsin finalizes Biden's victory after partial recount

From CNN's Samira Said and Marshall Cohen

Election officials listen as procedural issues are argued during the process of recounting ballots from the November 3 election at the Wisconsin Center on November 20, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Election officials listen as procedural issues are argued during the process of recounting ballots from the November 3 election at the Wisconsin Center on November 20, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Scott Olson/Getty Images/FILE

The Wisconsin Elections Commission finalized the state’s presidential results on Monday, affirming President-elect Joe Biden’s victory after a recount in the state’s two most populous counties.

Wisconsin Elections Commission chairwoman Ann Jacobs signed the official paperwork stating that Biden “received the greatest number of votes” and was entitled to Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes.

It is now up to Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, to sign the paperwork formally awarding those electoral votes to Biden. It’s unclear how fast he will act. His team has not answered CNN’s inquiries.

President Trump’s campaign has pledged to further challenge the state’s results in court.

4:32 p.m. ET, November 30, 2020

Biden team received State Department briefing materials over the weekend

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

President-elect Joe Biden’s State Department transition team electronically gained access over the weekend to all of the unclassified briefing materials prepared for them by the State Department during the last few months, according to a senior State Department official familiar with the transition process.

Today a handful of people on Biden’s transition team came into the State Department offices in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood in Washington, DC, to look at the office space provided to them there, the official said.

They are still figuring out how much of the transition process will be done virtually and how much of it will be done in person in the building. As of now, it appears that it will be some kind of a hybrid model. Classified briefings will need to take place in Foggy Bottom in the sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) setup for the transition team.

Antony Blinken, who Biden has named as his pick for Secretary of State, has not come into the building yet, the official said. It is expected that he will come in for briefings in the coming weeks – which will be important to get him up to speed, and to re-establish relationships with career officials.

Biden’s State Department transition team has given State a long list of briefings they would like and those will be scheduled in the coming weeks, the source said. They will largely be carried out by assistant secretaries and the Deputy Secretary Steve Biegun. 

The State Department career transition team will not have a role in vetting the political picks for ambassadors, that process will go through the Biden White House team, which it always does. State will have a role in suggesting career foreign service officers for the posts that do not go to political appointees but that process has not yet begun.  

4:00 p.m. ET, November 30, 2020

Pennsylvania asks Supreme Court to let stand decision allowing ballots to arrive 3 days after Election Day

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

Josh Shapiro.
Josh Shapiro. Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro urged the Supreme Court on Monday to let stand a state high court decision that allowed ballots that arrived three days after the election to be counted.

Shapiro told the justices that the dispute is now moot and that the ballots in question had no impact on Joe Biden’s victory.

The petition is in response to a claim from the Pennsylvania Republican Party that the state’s high court exceeded its authority in extending ballot deadlines during the pandemic.

The Republicans asked the justices to reverse the lower court before the election, but the Supreme Court declined to expedite the case.

In addition, the justices have declined to act on a petition from the Trump campaign seeking to become an official party to the dispute. The court has also taken no action on an emergency petition urging the justices to order the counties to take no action on the ballots.

"The 2020 Election is now over," Shapiro told the justices, adding that Biden defeated President Trump by “over 80,000 votes” and that of the 6.9 million votes cast only 9,428 were mail in ballots received during the three-day extension.

Shapiro said that the number of challenged ballots is insufficient to change the outcome of the presidential election — or any other federal election in the state.

He charged that the pending petition comes at a time when Trump is alleging “baseless claims of fraud and illegality in elections nationwide” that threaten to “impugn the integrity of the democratic process and aim to cast doubt on the legitimacy of its outcome.”

He urged the court not to "plunge itself into the political thicket by granting a case that will not affect the outcome of any election."


3:36 p.m. ET, November 30, 2020

McConnell refuses to answer questions on Biden's victory over Trump

From CNN's Manu Raju

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell leaves after a Senate Republican policy luncheon at the Hart Senate Office Building November 18, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. 
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell leaves after a Senate Republican policy luncheon at the Hart Senate Office Building November 18, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  Alex Wong/Getty Images

Entering the chamber, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ignored a question on whether he considers Joe Biden the President-elect of the United States.

McConnell typically ignores questions in the halls but occasionally engages.

He has been mostly quiet amid President Trump’s constant conspiracy theories and lies about the election results.

3:33 p.m. ET, November 30, 2020

Here's where things stand in Biden's search for a CIA director 

From CNN's MJ Lee, Jeff Zeleny, Alex Marquardt and Zachary Cohen

President-elect Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del. on Nov. 25, 2020.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del. on Nov. 25, 2020. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Former CIA Acting Director Mike Morell may have lost his strongest competition to lead the agency when Tom Donilon decided not to join Joe Biden's administration but others are still in the mix for the remaining intelligence seat in the President-elect’s Cabinet. 

David Cohen, a former deputy director of the CIA under former President Barack Obama, is being considered by the Biden transition team, two sources familiar tell CNN. 

Also in the pool of candidates are Vincent Stewart, a former leader of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Marine general, Jeh Johnson, former Secretary of Homeland Security under Obama (who is also being considered for defense secretary), former Obama senior adviser Lisa Monaco and Sue Gordon, the former principal deputy director of National Intelligence under President Trump who spent decades at the CIA.

They have emerged as stronger contenders while Morell’s status as a frontrunner has been tested with a barrage of attacks from Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden for being a “torture apologist.” 

Gordon’s name had already been floated by the Biden transition team to Democrats on Capitol Hill, two Democratic senate aides said, but since Wyden’s attacks senior transition officials have spoken with other Democratic senators, including members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to discuss possible candidates.

The committee is the first gauntlet on the path to confirmation and Gordon “would be very popular if nominated,” one of the aides told CNN, suggesting she may have an easier time being confirmed than Morell if he starts taking more fire from progressives. Monaco is also in the running, multiple sources familiar with the discussions say.

“I would always serve my country,” Gordon told CNN on Monday, “If asked, I would serve.”

Gordon resigned from her post as the intelligence community’s No. 2 in August 2019 after it became clear Trump wanted her out. “You should have your team,” Gordon told Trump in a farewell note. 

During the 2020 campaign the fiercely apolitical Gordon advised the Biden team on a range of intelligence issues but never officially joined the campaign or transition team. Her ability to sail through confirmation may be appealing to the incoming administration, though there’s no indication that Wyden’s attacks on Morell would block his confirmation. 

The Biden transition team has kept candidates for intelligence roles in the dark as to where they stand, several people familiar with the process said.

Those being considered – like Morell and Gordon – have had such lengthy careers and track records that they’re known quantities for Biden officials helping the incoming president make his decision.