Biden is moving ahead with cabinet appointments, and Trump’s legal team is in disarray. But the president has no intention of giving up his control over the Republican Party’s resources. It’s Monday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.
Where things stand
Joe Biden will name a longtime ally, Antony Blinken, as his secretary of state, according to people close to the process.
Blinken, 58, served as Biden’s national security adviser during President Barack Obama’s first term, then became the deputy national security adviser to the president.
Biden is also expected to name another close aide, Jake Sullivan, as national security adviser. Sullivan, 43, was a former adviser to Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state and succeeded Blinken as Biden’s national security adviser.
Biden is expected to officially unveil his first round of cabinet appointments tomorrow, Ron Klain, the incoming White House chief of staff, said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.” That puts Biden well ahead of the usual pace for presidents-elect, as he marches forward with the transition process despite President Trump’s refusal to cooperate. Adding to the pressure on Trump, more than 100 chief executives plan to urge the administration today to begin the transition process.
When asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether the cabinet would include more progressives than Obama’s did, Jennifer Psaki, a senior Biden adviser, said that it would “look like America” in terms of ideology and background.
If the two Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia do not both win their runoff elections in January, Biden will become the first president in over 30 years to take office with the opposing party controlling the chamber. That means he may run into roadblocks as he seeks to confirm his cabinet appointments.
Even if the Democratic candidates, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, do pull off victories, Biden is likely to have made many of his cabinet decisions before the runoffs take place — and the daunting prospect of persuading a Republican-held Senate to confirm his appointments will have factored into his decision-making process either way.
The possible nomination of Senator Bernie Sanders, who is under consideration for labor secretary, has emerged as a point of contention. In a past era, it would be almost unimaginable for a sitting senator to have his own confirmation blocked by colleagues in the chamber. But times have changed.
On that note, how absurd is too absurd for the Trump campaign when it comes to making unfounded allegations about voter fraud? Sidney Powell, who until yesterday had been a high-profile member of President Trump’s legal team, apparently just found out.
Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, two of the president’s other lawyers, issued a curt statement last night announcing that Powell was no longer “a member of the Trump legal team,” adding, “She is also not a lawyer for the president in his personal capacity.”
Last week, Powell stood alongside Giuliani and Ellis and unfurled an elaborate conspiracy theory claiming that Latin American leftists had conspired to throw the election to the Democrats. In another appearance, she argued that Republican officials in Georgia were implicated in the scheme, and that they had been taking payoffs.
Even some of Trump’s staunchest allies derided those claims. In an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Chris Christie said Trump’s legal team had become “a national embarrassment.”
But what might have bothered Trump even more was the humiliating loss he suffered in court over the weekend, when a federal judge in Pennsylvania issued a scathing rejection of his lawyers’ attempt to have the election results in that state declared wholly invalid. (Powell was not directly involved in that case.) The judge, Matthew Brann, said the campaign had presented “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations.” Trump’s lawyers have appealed the ruling.
Trump’s team has been busy these past few weeks sowing disinformation about the legitimate outcome of the election, in a desperate bid to keep him in power.
But his administration has also been hard at work ensuring that, when he does inevitably trudge out of office, many of Trump’s policies will be difficult for Biden to roll back.
Even as Trump’s Twitter feed offers a nonstop stream of unsupported claims about the election, his actions at the White House suggest that he knows he will be leaving soon. He has encouraged top officials to rapidly withdraw troops from Afghanistan, secure oil drilling leases in Alaska, further weaken environmental protections, antagonize the Chinese government, carry out executions and undermine any move by Biden to re-establish the Iran nuclear deal.
Unlike past departing presidents, Trump is also rushing to fill positions on scientific panels, confirm federal judges and eliminate longstanding health care regulations.
In a striking display of political noncooperation, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, has declined to allow the Federal Reserve to keep feeding credit to struggling businesses or state and local governments through emergency lending programs set up in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since May — when the House passed a $3 trillion stimulus package, only to watch it languish in the Republican-controlled Senate — Democrats have argued that another big, ambitious piece of legislation is needed to respond to the pandemic.
But now, with Biden on his way to the Oval Office and the economy showing signs of a double-dip recession, his team is urging its allies in Congress to take whatever they can get so that the government can increase federal unemployment benefits; give more aid to small businesses; and increase funding for virus testing, contact tracing and vaccine distribution.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has endorsed a much slimmer $500 billion package. Top Democrats continue to publicly insist that Republicans meet them closer to their stated goal of a $2.4 trillion deal. But there is a growing sense that some action would be better than none, and that a smaller deal may be all that is possible.
Photo of the day
Supporters greeted Trump’s motorcade yesterday at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va.
Can Trump maintain his grip on the G.O.P.?
Trump will inevitably have to accept the fact that he lost the presidential election. But that doesn’t mean he’ll let go of his vice grip on the Republican Party apparatus.
As our reporters Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman write in a new article, Trump is working hard to keep his ally Ronna McDaniel in place as chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, part of a broader attempt to maintain his control over the party’s resources in the years ahead.
Jonathan agreed to answer a few questions for us about what Trump is doing, and whether he seems likely to succeed.
Why does Trump think it’s so crucial to keep McDaniel in charge of the R.N.C., and what might this enable him to do once he leaves office?
It would ensure that he has a loyal ally atop the national party, which is a break from tradition. Each of the two major parties typically elects a new chair after its president leaves office, whether because of defeat or term limits.
How Trump may be able to capitalize on McDaniel’s remaining R.N.C. chair is harder to answer. She has privately assured committee members she’ll be independent. But Trump has made clear to associates that when he no longer has a campaign to rely on, he envisions the party as a platform and funding source for his post-presidential political endeavors.
If Trump fails to keep McDaniel in place, is there a serious chance that the Republican establishment may turn decisively against Trump and his brand of conservatism? Or is he basically assured to play a role in defining its future anyway?
For the moment, this is very much Trump’s party, as one of his most vocal allies, Joe Gruters, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party, put it to us. And Trump will retain a considerable, and an intense, following.
What’s less clear is whether, when he’s out of office, he’ll be able to elect or defeat Republican candidates in party primaries with his influence — and that will directly affect whether he’s still able to instill fear in Republican lawmakers. Also, even if McDaniel does win another term, it will last only two years, meaning that she could still be replaced well ahead of the 2024 election.
In states across the country, the postelection fallout seems to be turning on one big question: How willing are Republican officials to play along with Trump’s effort to discredit and overturn the results? Are we already seeing an effort to use this as a kind of purity test, whereby Republican elected officials and political operatives who don’t go along will be weeded out as Trump seeks to retain his grip on the party machinery?
It depends on which officials. If they’re not running for re-election or don’t much fear Trump’s wrath — Exhibits A and B: Senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — they’re not very willing. But it’s a very different story with the two Georgia senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who need Trump’s voters to win their January runoffs and over the weekend came out in support of his demand this month for (another) recount of their state’s votes.
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