Biden's transition moves ahead

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT) December 9, 2020
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10:13 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Texas files desperate bid with Supreme Court asking justices to allow lawsuit against battleground states

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the Supreme Court late Monday night to take up a lawsuit against Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, arguing that the battleground states exploited the Covid-19 pandemic to justify ignoring federal and state election laws. He seeks to block election results from the states. 

It is the latest long shot petition to reach the high court challenging election results and faces tough odds before the justices.

If a state seeks to sue another state it can go directly to the Supreme Court but it would take five justices to agree to take up the matter. 

“This is an unextraordinary, unprecedented and offensive filing,” said CNN legal analyst Steve Vladeck. “The state of Texas has no business telling other states how to conduct their elections."

In the new filing, which has yet to be docketed at the high court, Paxton said that a “dark cloud” hangs over the 2020 Presidential election. 

“Lawful elections are at the heart of our constitutional democracy,” Paxton argued. He said that “using the Covid-19 pandemic as a justification” officials in the battle ground states “usurped their legislatures’ authority and unconstitutionally revised their state’s election statutes.” He said they did so through “executive fiat”. He pointed specifically to mail in ballots which he said were placed “in drop boxes,” with “little to know chain of custody” which weakened signature verification and witness requirements which he called “the strongest security measures protecting the integrity of the vote.”

9:50 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Lawyers for Pennsylvania blast Republican lawsuit seeking to nullify election certification results

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

Lawyers for Pennsylvania told the Supreme Court Tuesday morning that a lawsuit brought by Republicans in the state seeking to block election certification results is “fundamentally frivolous” and represented one of the most “dramatic disruptive invocations of judicial power in the history of the Republic.”

“No court has ever issued an order nullifying a governor’s certification of presidential election results,” argued J. Bart Delone, the state’s Chief Deputy Attorney General, who also said “the loss of public trust in our constitutional order resulting in this kind of judicial power would be incalculable.”

The response came as the court is considering a petition from Rep. Mike Kelly and other state republicans asking the justices to nullify the certification of Pennsylvania election results, the latest desperate attempt on the part of republicans to challenge Joe Biden’s victory.  

Kelly challenges the Commonwealth’s “no-excuse” absentee ballot scheme that was passed in October of 2019. 

The effort faces steep odds at the Supreme Court, particularly because the dispute turns mostly on issues of state law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed the challenge holding that Kelly and others failed to file their challenge in a timely manner.

“It is beyond cavil that petitioners failed to act with due diligence” in presenting the case, the court held noting that they filed the suit more than one year after the enactment of the law at issue. 

Remember: Pennsylvania certified its results on Nov. 24, and it came after the state's 67 counties certified precinct results to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Kathy Boockvar.

10:46 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Biden’s inauguration ceremony likely will be 75% to 80% virtual

From CNN's Chris Boyette and Sarah Mucha

President-elect Joe Biden on Dec. 4, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.
President-elect Joe Biden on Dec. 4, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. Andrew Harnik/AP

President-elect Joe Biden will take the oath of office on Jan. 20 in a 75% to 80% virtual inauguration mixing traditional ceremony with virtual festivities, co-chair of the Biden Presidential Inaugural Committee Rep. Jim Clyburn told CNN’s John Berman on New Day Tuesday. 

“If anybody saw our convention, the Democratic Convention, I think you saw a bit of what you will see for this inauguration … I think the President will be sworn in in a traditional way, but 75-80% of this inauguration will probably be virtual. I was impressed with the production of our national convention,” the South Carolina congressman said.

CNN reported yesterday that Biden could return to the nation's capital for his inauguration ceremony the way he long bridged his life at home and his job in politics: On an Amtrak train from Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington, DC.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced last month the senior leadership of the committee charged with planning and executing what will be an unprecedented presidential inauguration.

The committee, which is charged with fundraising and organizing inaugural events, promises that in its planning, it will prioritize "keeping people safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19 while engaging all Americans."

Watch Rep. Clyburn:

8:57 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Biden and Trump will hold dueling events today on their Covid-19 responses 

Analysis by Stephen Collinson

President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday at 1:40 p.m. ET will introduce the scientists and doctors he says will finally defeat the pandemic — but for now, his team can only watch as a wave of infection and death deepens the crisis he will face after Jan. 20.

As Biden will give his most significant preview yet of his plan to tackle the worst health challenge in 100 years, President Trump — whose dereliction of duty has contributed to the alarming winter surge — will hold his own pandemic event.

He will pitch for credit for the swift development of Covid-19 vaccines and sign an executive order prioritizing their supply for Americans during a vaccine summit that is expected to begin at 2 p.m. ET.

The dueling events — one in Biden's hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, and other at the White House — will showcase the vastly different approaches to the pandemic between Trump and Biden.

The President has repeatedly downplayed the disaster as he concentrates instead on false claims that last month's election was stolen from him. Biden, whose own campaign was an exercise in demonstrating social distancing and masking, is pledging to put science back at the center of the fight against the virus.

In the meantime, the tragedy of the pandemic is being exacerbated by the political vacuum in Washington. Trump, in his last weeks in office, has the power and presidential megaphone that could go a long way toward convincing Americans to take precautions, but has no inclination to do so.

Biden has the plans and a fresh team of experts who could make a difference, but he has no real power to shift American behavior and policies until he is inaugurated next month.

Read more here.

8:28 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Operation Warp Speed will meet with Biden transition team Thursday, White House vaccine chief says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser of the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed, said on Tuesday that they have a meeting planned on Thursday with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team.

“We look forward to, you know, sharing all the information and working together,” Slaoui said on “Good Morning America.” 

“Our objective has always been outside of politics and making sure we make available these vaccines for the US people, and that’s what we’re doing,” Slaoui added.

The meeting will be held the same day as the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, a panel of independent experts, will meet to review Pfizer's data and make a recommendation to the FDA about whether to authorize the vaccine.

8:27 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Election results are locked in today thanks to "safe harbor." Here's what to know about the date.

Analysis from CNN's Paul LeBlanc and Zachary B. Wolf

President Trump's legal team for weeks has worked to delay the certification of Joe Biden's election win in a long-shot effort to create an opening for Trump stay in power.

On Tuesday, that small window for subversion officially closes.

That's because Tuesday is the "safe harbor" deadline under federal law. What that means is that when Congress tallies the electoral votes in January, it must accept electoral results that were certified before the deadline.

Most states have already certified their results. Missouri is set to certify on Tuesday. Others, like Hawaii, have delayed their formal procedures, but none of the battleground states that Trump's team was hoping to hold up will be in play after Tuesday.

CNN legal analyst Elie Honig puts it this way: The arrival of the safe harbor date should effectively extinguish any dying embers of hope even for the last few remaining election denialists. And what an utter disaster — legally and otherwise — the Trump team's effort to contest the election in the courts has been.

Trump's team sees the writing on the wall. There is a sense developing within Trump's legal team and what remains of his campaign staff that their efforts to overturn or delay the results of the election are coming to an end, multiple sources tell CNN.

But there's still room for drama. It's now up to the Electoral College to make Biden's victory completely official. 

On Dec. 14, electors will meet in their states to cast their votes for president and vice president. Those votes are later transmitted to officials and counted in a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.

A version of this story appeared in CNN's What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.

8:42 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Biden will formally announce key members of his health team today

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday announced the health team that will lead his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic when he takes office in January.

He is scheduled to formally introduce the team in an event today at 1:40 p.m. ET in Wilmington, Delaware.

Here are Biden's nominees and appointees:

  • California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is his nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Dr. Vivek Murthy is his nominee for US surgeon general
  • Dr. Rochelle Walensky as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith as the chair of his Covid-19 equity task force
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci will serve as chief medical adviser to the President on Covid-19 and will also continue in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
  • Biden transition co-chair and former Obama administration official Jeff Zients will serve as coordinator of the Covid-19 response and counselor to the President
  • Natalie Quillian, another Obama administration veteran, will serve as deputy coordinator of the Covid-19 response

The team will lead the administration's response as the US grapples with a pandemic that has killed more than 283,000 Americans and shut down businesses and schools across the country.

"This trusted and accomplished team of leaders will bring the highest level of integrity, scientific rigor, and crisis-management experience to one of the toughest challenges America has ever faced — getting the pandemic under control so that the American people can get back to work, back to their lives, and back to their loved ones," Biden said in a statement.

Fauci told CNN's John Berman on "New Day" Monday that he had worked with all of the other members of Biden's health team and praised them as "excellent choices."

8:14 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Biden could arrive for his inauguration by train

From CNN's Dan Merica, Jeff Zeleny and Arlette Saenz

President-elect Joe Biden could return to the nation's capital for his inauguration ceremony the way he long bridged his life at home and his job in politics: On an Amtrak train from Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington, DC.

It would be a fitting moment for the man who took roughly 8,000 round trips on that same route during his time as senator and vice president — earning him the moniker "Amtrak Joe" — and who four years ago left Washington by train on his final day as vice president.

Biden's inauguration team is eyeing a rail arrival as one of a number of plans being discussed for the January celebration, Democrats familiar with the planning told CNN. The plan, first reported by Axios, is far from finalized and there is a great deal of uncertainty around all inauguration planning given the coronavirus pandemic, the Democrats cautioned. A spokesperson for Biden's presidential inaugural committee declined to comment.

Biden's deep ties to Amtrak and rail travel hark back to his earliest days in the US Senate. After losing his wife and daughter in a car accident in 1972, Biden rode the rails to and from Washington nearly every day to help raise his sons, Hunter and Beau.

Biden became one of the rail system's biggest proponents on Capitol Hill and continued to take the train to Wilmington — albeit less frequently — while vice president.

The roughly 90-minute ride between Wilmington and DC was so central to Biden's story that the then-senator launched his first presidential bid in 1987 at his hometown train station.

Read more here.

8:12 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Biden selected his new Health secretary yesterday. Here's what we know about him.

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Kate Sullivan and Tami Luhby

President-elect Joe Biden nominated California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, the transition team announced Monday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Becerra would serve a critical role in the administration's response to a pandemic that has killed more than 282,000 Americans.

Becerra, a former member of Congress, emerged as the leading contender for the critical role after other candidates with more health care expertise were ruled out.

The New York Times was first to report the expected nomination.

Here are some key things to know about Becerra:

  • Becerra is the first Latino to serve as the attorney general of California and has been in the post since 2017.
  • He has been a fierce opponent of President Trump, and the state of California has brought more than 100 lawsuits against the President and his administration's policies.
  • More than half of the lawsuits are over environmental policies, according to the Los Angeles Times, that the Trump administration had either put in place or removed.
  • Becerra has also been a leader in the fight to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era program that Trump has attempted to abolish that has shielded from deportation certain undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children.
  • One of Becerra's highest-profile health care roles recently has been chief defender of the Affordable Care Act in court.With the Trump administration joining a coalition of Republican state attorneys general fighting to invalidate the landmark health reform law, Becerra has led a group of Democratic attorneys general arguing why the law remains valid. At issue is whether Congress' reducing the penalty for not having health insurance to zero rendered the individual mandate unconstitutional, which would cause the entire law to fall.