By Tim Darnell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Madison Grey for (CNT) City News and Talk #breaking #breaking-all
Though he may not make his Cabinet choices for weeks, Joe Biden signaled on Sunday he plans to move quickly to build out his government, focusing first on the raging pandemic that will likely dominate the early days of his administration.
Biden named Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon general, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of internal medicine, public health and management at Yale University, as co-chairs.
Biden may not make top Cabinet choices for weeks. But he built his presidential run around bipartisanship, and he has spent the days since last Tuesday’s election pledging to be a president for all Americans. That suggests he could be willing to appoint some Republicans to high-profile administration positions.
Many former Republican officeholders broke with Trump to endorse Biden’s campaign. Biden’s selection of some of them to join the new government could appease Senate Republicans. Two special elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 will determine who controls the Senate.
But too much across-the-aisle cooperation could draw the ire of progressives. Some already worry that uncooperative Senate Republicans could force Biden to scale back his ambitious campaign promises to expand access to health care and lead a post-pandemic economic recovery that relies on federal investment in green technology and jobs to help combat climate change.
“I think there will be a huge misuse of the word ‘unity’ to imply that we need to water down the ideas that Joe Biden just campaigned on,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
With control of the Senate still up in the air, Biden also may not want to choose popular progressive figures such as U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar. Removing Democrats from the Senate and adding them to his Cabinet may increase GOP hopes of flipping those seats in upcoming special elections.
Several major local and state political figures are rumored to be on Biden’s list of potential Cabinet picks.
“Across the board — from our classrooms to our courtrooms to the president’s Cabinet — we have to make sure that our leadership and our institutions actually look like America,” Biden wrote in a June USA Today column.
Sally Yates, a former deputy attorney general in President Barack Obama’s administration, is reported by Politico and USA Today as a contender to head the Biden Justice Department as attorney general. Yates was fired by President Donald Trump early in his administration for refusing to defend his executive order barring entry to people from several predominantly Muslim countries.
Politico also has Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as a possible choice to head the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Bottoms was an ardent Biden supporter early in his latest campaign and at one point was rumored as a potential running mate.
On Monday, Trump’s HUD director, Dr. Ben Carson, was confirmed to have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Also considered earlier this year to join Biden’s ticket was Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost to current Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018. Through her voting rights efforts, Abrams is being widely credited with making Georgia competitive for Democrats in 2020.
One Georgian soon to be out of a job, barring any successful legal challenges from the Trump administration, is Sonny Perdue, who has headed the U.S. Department of Agriculture since Trump took office. The former Georgia governor now ranks, along with Carson among others, as one of Trump’s longest-serving department heads.
Transition team officials said this week Biden will launch his agency review teams, the group of transition staffers that have access to key agencies in the current administration to ease the transfer of power. The teams will collect and review information such as budgetary and staffing decisions, pending regulations and other work in progress from current staff at the departments to help Biden’s team prepare to transition.
The course of Biden’s transition to power is dependent in part on an obscure declaration called “ascertainment.”
The formal presidential transition doesn’t begin until the administrator of the federal General Services Administration ascertains the “apparent successful candidate” in the general election. Neither the Presidential Transition Act nor federal regulations specify how that determination should be made. That decision green lights the entire federal government’s moves toward preparing for a handover of power.
Spokesperson Pamela Pennington told The Associated Press in a statement that “GSA and its Administrator will continue to abide by, and fulfill, all requirements under the law,” but the agency has not said why the decision to recognize Biden as the president-elect has not been made. GSA is an executive branch agency. Its administrator, Emily Murphy, is a Trump appointee, but the ascertainment decision is supposed to be apolitical. The White House did not say whether there have been conversations on the matter between officials there and at GSA.
The determination clears the way for millions of federal dollars to flow to Biden’s transition team and opens the doors of the federal government to hundreds of Biden staffers, so they can begin assessing agency operations ahead of Inauguration Day on Jan. 20. A delay in recognizing Biden as the next president could slow federal resources to assist the Biden-Kamala Harris team in filling about 4,000 political appointments across the government, including critical national security and health postings.