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GSA recognizes Biden victory, opening up transition to White House

The General Services Administration is calling President-elect Joe Biden the “apparent winner” of the 2020 presidential election, a move that could allow the transition process to finally begin after being delayed by the Trump administration. It comes as Biden on Monday announced several nominations to his cabinet. Yamiche Alcindor joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nearly three weeks after the election, a key player in the Trump administration has signed off on the start of cooperation with President-elect Biden.

    The head of the Government Services Administration cleared the way late today for the Biden transition team to receive essential resources and access. Afterwards President Trump tweeted it is quote, "in the best interests of our country.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Today, the first wave of president-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet announcements.

  • Question:

    Why did you go with national security first?

  • President-Elect Joseph Biden:

    Because it's national security.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The news came from Wilmington, Delaware, where Mr. Biden spent part of the day addressing a virtual U.S. Mayors Conference.

    His picks, Antony Blinken, a former top State Department official, as secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the United Nations ambassador.

    And a pair of firsts, Avril Haines for director of national intelligence, the first woman to head the intelligence community, and Alejandro Mayorkas to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the first Latino to hold this position. In addition, former Secretary of State John Kerry will serve as special presidential envoy on climate change.

    And it is widely reported that Janet Yellen, former Federal Reserve chair, will be Treasury secretary. She'd be the first woman in that role.

    The president-elect will formally introduce his picks tomorrow, even as he continues to wait for the transition to formally begin. The House Oversight and Reform Committee insisted today on having Emily Murphy, the head of the General Services Administration, join a briefing tomorrow.

    Officials want her to explain why she has yet to acknowledge president-elect Biden and free up transition funds.

    On Sunday Mr. Biden's choice for White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, again urged the Trump administration to accept the results and begin the transition.

  • Ron Klain:

    A record number of Americans rejected the Trump presidency. And since then, Donald Trump has been rejecting democracy. It's corrosive. It's harmful. But, as Mitt Romney said, it's not going to change the outcome of what happens here.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Underscoring that point, the Michigan State Board of Canvassers met to certify the state's presidential election results.

  • Aaron Van Langevelde:

    We have a duty to certify this election based on these returns. That is very clear. We are limited to these returns. And I'm not going to argue that we're not.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile, the Trump campaign kept pursuing legal challenges, including in Pennsylvania. On Sunday, the campaign filed an appeal after a federal judge sternly rejected their allegations that the state wrongly allowed voters to correct ballots.

    Meanwhile, within the Republican Party, criticism of the president's efforts to block or overturn the election results is slowly growing. Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania released a statement saying — quote — "President Trump has exhausted all plausible legal options to challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania."

    Another Republican, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, also spoke out. He called for the transition to begin, with full intelligence and pandemic briefings for the Biden team.

    In a newspaper opinion piece today, he wrote — quote — "There is no evidence as of now of any widespread fraud or irregularities that would change the result in any state."

    President Trump's legal efforts and sweeping unfounded claims of fraud and conspiracy also drew criticism on Sunday from former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

  • Chris Christie:

    The conduct of the president's legal team has been a national embarrassment. I have been a supporter of the president's. I voted for him twice. But elections have consequences. And we cannot continue to act as if something happened here that didn't happen.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Hours later, the Trump campaign issued a statement saying attorney Sidney Powell is not representing the president. During a news conference last week, she made some of the most inflammatory claims, including that Venezuelan leaders were trying to rig the U.S. election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche joins me now.

    So, Yamiche, it appears that a number of these developments, today's certification in Michigan of the vote, the statements by more, although not all Republican lawmakers, by any means, saying that it's time the transition moved ahead, has finally now come together.

    And the woman in charge of the General Services Administration has given the green light for the transition to go ahead.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right.

    The moment that president-elect Joe Biden, as well as his supporters and many Republicans and Democrats in Washington and all over this country were waiting for has finally arrived.

    Emily Murphy, the head of the General Services Administration, has finally said this transition can officially begin. This means that Joe Biden will be getting some $6.3 million to start the process, the resources that he will be able to use to staff up, to use office space, to really get the transition under way.

    We should also note that this means that there will be a clearing, possibly, a clearing shortly of Cabinet officials. We saw Joe Biden announce a number of Cabinet officials. But now we — they can actually get the background checks. And those conversations about them possibly getting Senate-confirmed can really officially begin, as now GOP senators have that.

    Now, I would say, I should say that the president, surprisingly, is saying that he's endorsing this move by the GSA, even though he's keeping up his legal challenges.

    I want to read to you what the president wrote on Twitter just a few moments ago: "I want to thank Emily Murphy at GSA for her steadfast dedication and loyalty to our country. She has been harassed, threatened and abused. And I do not want to see this happen to her, her family or employees at GSA.

    "Our case strongly continues. We will keep up the good fight. And I believe we will prevail. Nevertheless, in the best interest of our country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same."

    Now, Emily Murphy, the head of the GSA, she refutes a bit of that. She says that she came to this decision independently. She also said that she was never pressured to try to delay this, either by the White House or any other officials in government.

    Another thing to note is, she says that she is defending her delaying this process, saying that she didn't want to get ahead of the constitutional process.

    The bottom line here is that Joe Biden, who has already started moving forward with his transition, he can officially start that now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's right, Yamiche.

    And we'll — there will be more reporting about exactly what went on behind the scenes with regard to Emily Murphy delaying this decision.

    But, Yamiche, as you were reporting, a number of significant announcements today by president-elect Biden, the people he wants in some of the top jobs in his administration. Tell us a little bit about what we learned from that.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right. And just a point on your comments at the top of this.

    Emily Murphy, she says that she was not pressured. We are going to be looking more into that, because this was completely unprecedented, completely not the way that things should work, having now been more than two weeks after Joe Biden was the projected winner here.

    But Joe Biden has said that he was going to go full speed ahead. We saw him announce big names, including the secretary of state, his nominee, as well as the Treasury secretary, the director of national intelligence.

    We also saw him talk about the head of the Department of Homeland Security. And there, with Alejandro Mayorkas, what we have there is him — I should say — I might have said his name wrong. It's Alejandro Mayorkas.

    He is someone who is a Cuban American. He's the first Latino to head that agency. It's a big deal because he was in charge of implementing DACA. That is that program that was started by the Obama administration for immigrants who were brought to this country as minors. It's seen as a really big shift.

    Another thing to note is that he talked about John Kerry being the presidential envoy for climate change. That also is a big deal, because he is elevating the former secretary of state to that position. It also elevates the idea of climate change as a national security issue.

    And Joe Biden says these Cabinet officials, they reflect the diversity that he is committed to having in his White House. So, we're seeing a number of women being announced, a number of people of color.

    So, we will have to watch this space, but supporters of Joe Biden say this is part of why they backed him, because they wanted to see an administration that reflected America.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Yamiche Alcindor reporting on both sides, both ends of this transition right now, both the president-elect and the Trump administration.

    Thank you, Yamiche.

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