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What Biden’s national security team says about his world view

President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday formally introduced his national security team as he begins the transition process to the White House after a weeks-long delay. Judy Woodruff speaks with Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense and CIA director during the Obama administration, and Andrew Card, former U.S. secretary of transportation under President George H. W. Bush., to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Joining us now are two men familiar presidential transitions.

    Andy Card was the chief of staff for President George W. Bush and the former secretary of transportation in George H.W. Bush's administration. And Leon Panetta served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, as well as secretary of defense and CIA director in the Obama administration.

    Welcome back to "NewsHour" to both of you. Very good to see you.

    First of all, begin with you, Leon Panetta.

    What did you make of Joe Biden, the president-elect's introduction of his national security team today? What does it say to you about his world view?

  • Leon Panetta:

    Well, I think the most important thing is that he really is reaching out to experienced people who kind of know the job, are not going to have to go through any training, know what it means to be in that particular area, and will bring both their experience and advice to the president of the United States.

    So, it's a very different approach. He is going to rely a great deal on getting people who really know the subject matter and who will not be afraid to give him advice. And I think that's a good approach for the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Andy Card, what was your take, as you saw what the president and his picks, what they had to say today?

  • Andrew Card:

    I was impressed with the team that the president is putting together.

    I think they all do have an understanding of what the responsibilities are in their job, so their learning curve will not be as steep as some others. They do have to catch up on what's really happening in the world today. And there's a lot going on. But I'm confident that they can do that.

    They also all have a history of understanding the bureaucracies that they will be leading and the need for the president to have candid, forthright counsel. And I think they all have the courage to speak truth to power, and they all have the capacity to make sure that the thoughts are one thing, but the ability to implement policy is something else.

    And they will help demonstrate the ability to understand good policy, but also talk about, how will it be implemented so that you can count on results showing up? I think it's a good team. They have both tunnel vision and peripheral vision. And that's important to help advise the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Leon Panetta, we see Joe Biden picking people he's close to, both inside the White House and in Cabinet jobs. We have seen tension between the White House and different Cabinet secretaries in the past.

    Do you see that being an issue in this coming administration?

  • Leon Panetta:

    You never know until it all plays out, Judy.

    That's the nature of bringing a whole team together. The fact that they have gotten along in developing policy in the past, I think, is extremely important. These are people that have broad experience and have worked with each other. And, most importantly, Joe Biden knows them personally, having worked with most of these people.

    And, for that reason, I think you're going to see less of that kind of competition that we have seen in past administrations. So, I think this is going to be a real team effort that Joe Biden is putting together.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Andy Card, we know that it's taken two weeks since president-elect Biden was declared the winner, three weeks since the election, before the Trump administration allowed this transition to go forward, cooperation with the Biden team.

    How much does that affect what Joe Biden is going to be able to get done, and, in particular, the president's denigrating of Biden's victory, basically saying it was fraudulent, that the election was stolen? We know that most people who voted for President Trump tell pollsters they don't think Joe Biden is a legitimately — is a legitimate president.

    So, how does Joe Biden work around that?

  • Andrew Card:

    I would say, just be confident in doing the job. He is the president-elect.

    I wish that the transition had started earlier, because of the pandemic in particular. But there's also a lot of things happening around the world that I want to make sure the incoming president understands and his team understands.

    But I'm glad that they were now ascertained to have the transition take a formal role and get started. But the president-elect deserves to have a team on day one that can do the job, because the president will have to do the job on day one.

    So, as soon as he takes that oath of office, Joe Biden will be the president. And we don't know what could happen, but it's not unusual for our enemies to try to take advantage of a transition. And we also have this pandemic. And I think it's critically important that president-elect Biden's team have some transparency into what are the plans for the distribution of vaccines and PPE as this pandemic still rages on in the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Leon Panetta, how much difference do you think it makes that there's been this delay and this seeding of attitudes on the part of President Trump that this was an illegitimate election?

  • Leon Panetta:

    This hasn't been good for the country or for our democracy. It sent a terrible message to both our allies and our adversaries about the ability of our democracy to follow the Constitution, follow the processes that we have established. So, I don't think it's been a particularly good thing for the country to go through this.

    Having said that, I do think because Joe Biden is probably one of the most experienced presidents that we have had in a while, he knows the job, he knows what is involved, and the team around him is also equally experienced. So, I think they will hit the ground running as well.

    The big problem is what Andy pointed out, which is the security briefings. I'm glad they're starting now, but the ability to really know what is going on with regards to threats in the world, what are our adversaries up to, that's something that they have not been provided.

    And they're starting a little bit late here trying to catch up and realize, what are those potential threats? What's involved, obviously, in the whole process of distributing the vaccines under COVID-19? All of this is going to be a tremendous learning curve in a very few weeks.

    So, I think the danger is that a new administration is not going to be able to hit the ground running; it's going to take them some time to really understand the implications of all the issues that they're going to have to deal with.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Andy Card, quick words of advice for Joe Biden, as he steps into this precarious and fraught moment in American history.

  • Andrew Card:

    Well, understand that he knows what the baton will feel like when he has to grab it. That's a good thing. I'm really glad that he appointed his chief of staff, Ron Klain, as — on the first appointment.

    He should be helping him build a White House staff. We forget how difficult it is to build that staff so quickly, and they have to do it. That staff starts without Senate confirmation. They start at noontime on January 20. And that staff should be in place. You need a White House counsel, staff secretary, advance team, communications individuals, a press secretary.

    You have got to get all that done quickly. I think Joe Biden will be ready on day one. And I pray that the world will watch us have a successful transition.

    I am the chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy. We have got the polish our democracy. It's very tarnished right now. The world is watching. And the signals that are sent on the day of the transition are very important to the rest of the world. And the United States is most vulnerable at that moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Andy Card and Leon Panetta, two men who have been there at the center in the White House as transitions have taken place in the past, thank you both.

  • Leon Panetta:

    Thank you.

  • Andrew Card:

    Thank you, Judy.

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