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Amy Walter and Errin Haines on Biden’s picks to oversee the pandemic

Amy Walter of the Cook Political and Errin Haines of The 19th News join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including President-elect Joe Biden's selections for his healthcare team, President Donald Trump's election challenges, and Georgia's U.S. Senate runoff.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    With every week, we get a better picture of president-elect Biden's team, first on national security, then on the economy, and, this week, on health care.

    Amna Nawaz is here to consider his picks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, the Biden health team will enter the White House as the virus surges nationwide, and the vaccine is still months away.

    As we reported earlier, the team includes Drs. Anthony Fauci and Rochelle Walensky, with Xavier Becerra leading at HHS. Also on the team, Dr. Vivek Murthy as surgeon general, Jeff Zients as COVID czar, Natalie Quillian as his deputy coordinator, and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith to lead a task force on health disparities.

    Now, here to analyze the politics behind the nominations are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Errin Haines of The 19th News. Tamara Keith is away.

    Amy and Errin, good to see you. And thanks for being here.

    Amy, we know that easily one of the biggest crises the Biden administration will face coming in will be the pandemic response. Now we know the team that will lead that response.

    When you look at these particular picks at this particular time, what do they say to you?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, what they say, Amna, is, you have got some really important experience there.

    Obviously, keeping Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become the face of the response to the pandemic, very trusted, certainly on the Democratic side for Republicans, that not — not quite as much, but still a trusted voice across the board.

    Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was in the Obama administration, also has a very deep experience now in handling this pandemic and public health, so a lot of experience there on the table. Now, the HHS designee, the attorney general, Xavier Becerra, doesn't come from a traditional public health background. He's the attorney general in California.

    He came from the House of Representatives, where he served for many years. So, he doesn't seem in some ways to be sort of a natural pick. But he's someone who spent a lot of time as attorney general defending the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, in court.

    And he is somebody also who is going to have to hit the ground running, somebody who understands how systems work, how the system of government, both in Washington and then a big state like California, putting into place not just the policies of the — of Health and Human Services, or what the White House would like to put forward in terms of health care policy, but being able to put the systems in place to deliver vaccines.

    That is going to take up, I think, really the majority of the time for HHS and being able to do that smartly, safely and in a very transparent way.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And that's a perfect segue to the question I want to put to Errin, which is that, Errin, there's another through line on this team, and that relates to Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act.

    Jeff Zients, who will be the COVID czar, led the charge to fix healthcare.gov after the ACA rollout. Becerra, as California attorney general, has been leading the legal fight to protect the ACA, as Republicans work to dismantle it.

    Does all of this say to you that the ACA appears to be sort of a central tenet when it comes to the Biden pandemic response?

  • Errin Haines:

    Well, I think that you can't talk about the pandemic and its relationship to our health care system without talking about its relationship to our health care system.

    I think, certainly, from Joe Biden's perspective, even in the primary before we got to the coronavirus pandemic, building on the work that the Obama/Biden administration had done around health care was a campaign priority for him. And I think that it's going to be a governing priority, particularly because of the systemic inequality around the health care system that exposed, at least in the Biden campaign and transition team's mind, the need for the Affordable Care Act to be strengthened and expanded.

    And so I do think that is also going to depend largely on the future of the Senate, which we know is in the balance right now in my home state of Georgia. The run-offs there could decide what happens there and also could factor into what happens to the future of the Affordable Care Act, even as the legal challenges persist with regard to that landmark legislation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Errin, when you look at some of the key roles that have yet to be filled — we have yet to see names for some Trump administration posts, attorney general among them, secretary of defense, although president-elect Biden said today we should hear those names by the end of the week — there's a number of other Cabinet-level positions as yet to be filled.

    When you look at the folks who have been named to fill some of those Trump administration posts, it is easy to see it's a much more diverse makeup than the current administration, for sure, many more women, many more people of color, some firsts potentially there with Neera Tanden at OMB and Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the U.N.

    And yet still there is a very public battle unfolding for people who are calling for more diversity at the very top ranks. What do you make of that right now? What is riding on those selections?

  • Errin Haines:

    Well, I think that for the groups that are raising these concerns, there's a lot riding on it.

    Listen, we know that, a month out from the election, Joe Biden has begun to name some of these administration nominations and other posts. But there are definitely groups that I'm hearing from, black and brown lawmakers and leaders, who are worried that, as those positions are filled, and there become less open seats left to fill, that they're — that diversity remains a priority.

    And so they are pushing this transition team to hear their concerns that someone with their lived experience and — be put in these roles, so that, really, they have a seat at the table, not just for symbolism, but also for substance, in terms of weighing in on the governing and the policy.

    I mean, you take that — the health care announcement today, for example, so many women and people of color in that group alone, and also some pioneers. I think that what that says is that the transition team understands women, people of color are being disproportionately affected by this pandemic.

    Joe Biden said that one of the four crises he faces coming into office is racial inequality. And so addressing that and having that reflected in his governing priorities with the people that he chooses, I think, is something that his — these constituencies want to hold him accountable for.

    You have got civil rights groups meeting with him tomorrow. You had the Congressional Hispanic Caucus meeting it with him last week. And so these are folks that are getting an audience with this transition team, and hoping that their concerns are heard.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, I want to make sure we turn to some news from today as well, because, as we speak, President Trump's legal campaign to continue to challenge the election results does continue.

    In the month since the election, the Associated Press tally says, in the 50 cases they have launched challenging results, about 30 have been rejected or dropped. There's about a dozen awaiting action.

    And, of course, as Errin mentioned earlier, there are two key races looming in Georgia in January. Does all of this, challenging the election results, calling into question election integrity, does that have an impact on Georgia?

  • Amy Walter:

    You would think, Amna, right? When you're trying to get your voters out to show up just a couple days after the new year, by continuing to rail against the system, saying that it was rigged, questioning whether the actual voting systems themselves are flipping votes, that doesn't seem like a good strategy.

    At the same time, I think where Trump has been successful as a candidate and as a political figure is by keeping people outraged at all times, keeping his base fired up.

    And one way to do that is, as he did this weekend at his rally, is to say, they may have stolen it from me — which, of course, we all know is not true. There's no evidence that this election was rigged or that these voting machines were working improperly.

    But what he's saying is, don't let them take the Senate away from you, too. Let's make this sort of the last gasp here. Don't let this be the last gasp, me losing Georgia. Let's make sure that you get out and have your vote heard.

    So, in that sense, it keeps his base much more motivated than, say, for Democrats, where the question is not so much — keeping the Senate is obviously part of the rallying cry, but it's not as, say, intense or as powerful as, let's get rid of Donald Trump. That message has been the existential question for Democrats for the last four years.

    Now that he's gone, is that enough, let's keep the Senate, let's make sure his agenda gets enacted, enough to keep the momentum going?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As we know, those two key races will determine control of the Senate. They are now weeks away.

    And that is Politics Monday.

    Errin Haines and Amy Walter, thanks to you both. Always good to see you.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you, Amna.

  • Errin Haines:

    Good to be with you.

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