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‘Busy’ Biden transition team starts work despite Trump’s refusal to concede

Although President Trump insists he has not lost the election and continues to make unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, President-elect Joe Biden is moving forward with plans for his own administration. Meanwhile, a reportedly “angry” Trump fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday. Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor and Nick Schifrin join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we turn now to our Lisa Desjardins, to Yamiche Alcindor, and to Nick Schifrin.

    Thank you, all. It's good to see you.

    Lisa, let me come back to you first on the Biden campaign. How are they reacting to everything, including these legal pursuits by the Trump people refusing to concede?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    First of all, Judy, they're very busy.

    I think the word that I hear from all sources in and around the Biden campaign is, they are focused. They know there is a lot of work to be done.

    But let's take apart sort of this transition, these issues we're having with the GSA administrator. The Biden campaign sent me a statement, the transition portion of the Biden campaign, that they look forward to the GSA administrator ascertaining that Mr. Biden and Kamala Harris won the election.

    Now, behind the scenes, talking to multiple sources, they say, right now, they're not too worried about the GSA failing to release the money for the transition. They say they have been raising money for months. They have been planning for this for months. They have their transition teams ready to go, and they are deploying them.

    One reason for that, Judy, is the law that describes and sort of projects how this transition should work was written by Ted Kaufman, who is one of the key advisers for now president-elect Biden, they know how this transition is supposed to work, and they have been ready for it.

    Also, to add to reporting we have had in the past, the Biden campaign tells me they will have transition offices here in Wilmington, as we have reported, but also in Washington, D.C., and that the president-elect will be working in both places.

    One more thing. As you heard in the piece, the president-elect is talking about the agenda, very focused on the coronavirus. And talking to sources today, they do say he does plan a national mask mandate, as he talked about on the campaign trail.

    He can only directly affect federal areas like national parks, but they say he's going to be reaching out to governors, asking them to also mandate masks around the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting.

    So, Yamiche, tell us about the thinking inside the White House, inside the Trump campaign, as they continue to insist the election is not over.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president is refusing to face the thing that he has feared the most in his life and during this presidential campaign.

    And that is that he has lost, that he's the loser of this campaign. He instead is not wanting to at all say that Vice President — former Vice President Joe Biden is the president-elect.

    And sources tell me that the president is angry. He's blaming people around the White House. He's isolated. He's overseeing a White House that is paralyzed by his inaction and the refusal to sign this form with the GSA administrator.

    Now, I should also note that the Trump campaign is filing lawsuit after lawsuit, a new one today in Pennsylvania. But when they had a press conference at the Republican National Committee trying to explain all of their different lawsuits, FOX News, the president's favorite TV network, cut away saying, in good conscience, they could not air those false narratives, those false claims.

    Another thing to note is that the president is really feeling as though he's backed against a corner here, not wanting to at all acknowledge what's going on here. There's some worry that the president not wanting to do this might actually slow things down, including the distribution and operation of the coronavirus vaccine.

    Now, that might feel bureaucratic, but, in fact, if he does not sign this over, and Biden does not get all of the different people in place that he needs, that vaccine could possibly not get to all of the people it needs to in time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, what does the president's refusal to concede so far actually mean for the transition going forward?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, typically, 24 hours after a race is called and a winner is clear, the transition formally starts.

    In this case, President Trump is not doing that. So there are a lot of people who are very worried about this. There are people who are also looking at President Trump and saying that, can he actually succeed — secede? Will he actually do that?

    These lawsuits that we continue to talk about don't have any evidence behind them. And, today, we learned that David Bossie, who's supposed to be overseeing the lawsuits of those, he has the coronavirus. So, right now, as all this turns on, there are a lot of people who are worried about that.

    Another thing to note is, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. He threw his support behind President Trump today. A lot of people say that key is key to possibly getting President Trump to back off and admit that he's lost.

    But he's very concerned about holding on to Republican voters, as well as winning that Senate race in Georgia. So, there are a lot of people who think Mitch McConnell is going to stick into this because he is — quote — "handcuffed by politics."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And back to you, Lisa, on that.

    I mean, what about the fact that — you cover the Hill. What about the fact that the vast majority of Republicans are not congratulating Joe Biden; they are going along with the president, challenging questioning the results?

    What do they see as the way forward here?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I can handle this quickly, Judy.

    Senators, Republican senators, their words today: "Was there fraud? Not my role to decide that." That's from John Cornyn.

    Senator John Thune, the number two senator in the Republican Party, saying, let's let this play out. He said: "Obviously, we will get a result at some point."

    So, some limbo still in the Senate, Republicans not yet willing to go, as Yamiche reported for the Senate leader, McConnell, against the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're watching them all very, very closely.

    And finally to you, Nick.

    All this taking place as the president today fired his secretary of defense, Mark Esper. Tell us what's going on there.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, Esper was the president's number one national security target, Judy, ever since he resisted the president's desire to invoke the Insurrection Act this summer.

    But if his firing wasn't all that much of a surprise, Chris Miller's appointment as acting secretary of defense was a surprise to many. The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee told reporters he did not know ahead of time.

    Miller is a former Green Beret, former assistant secretary of defense who joined the intelligence community recently during a purge by the president of senior officials over there. He's seen as an ally of the president. And he was chosen above the deputy secretary of defense and senior officials who have more experience.

    But a senior official in the Defense Department says that Miller will represent continuity over the 72 days that he will have in office. His "guidance" — quote — to senior staff was to continue the mission with no significant changes.

    And former senior officials, Judy, I talk to do believe that he's likely to have little impact. One fear, though, expressed by one former senior official is that he could go along with some kind of adventurous decision for — by the president for the military perhaps against Iran.

    We asked former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta about that. Panetta said, no, military officers would push back, with the help of congressional aides.

    And, as for Esper, Judy, he gave an exit interview with The Military Times. This was before he knew that Miller was going to replace him. The interview was embargoed today. He rejected the derisive nickname he had of Yesper. And he tried to explain why he didn't fight the president more — quote — "You have got to pick your fights. I could have a fight over anything."

    Esper said he held his tongue because — quote — "Who's going to come in behind me? It's going to be a real yes-man. And then," he concluded, Judy, "God help us."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Whoa. Well, that certainly gets our attention.

    Nick Schifrin covering that part of today's fast-moving events.

    Nick Schifrin, Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you, all three.

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