Advisers to Biden describe him as “notoriously deliberative” in making personnel decisions, pointing to the most recent example of the multiple delays in selecting his running mate. The deadline for that announcement was repeatedly pushed back, aides said, as Biden asked for more information.
While he has leading contenders for nearly all of his Cabinet positions in mind, the outcome of the election has changed the calculus — particularly if Republicans maintain control of the Senate after the Georgia runoff elections in January. For now, aides said, that is the operating principle the transition team is working on.
In the words of one longtime adviser, Biden can often be “slow” to make up his mind on hiring people, but aides say he is also cognizant that time is of the essence. The Biden team is poised to announce an ambitious timeline of its transition to power, hoping to keep driving the perception that they are not being slowed by the Trump administration’s refusal to cooperate.
But there are several reasons to be deliberate, given the political climate and the GOP control of the Senate.
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“There is no room to spare for any embarrassments,” a former senior Obama official who is advising the Biden transition told CNN.
That, of course, is what happened during the Obama transition. President George W. Bush was remarkably gracious and helpful, which Obama notes again in his new book, but several Cabinet nominees were not properly vetted and ultimately had to withdraw: Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services and Bill Richardson and Judd Gregg as Commerce Secretary.
“We made many missteps that Biden does not have the luxury of making,” the Obama official said, noting that significant missteps also came during Bush and Clinton transitions.
The first month of the Obama transition was also weighed down with allegations of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich improperly trying to fill Obama’s US Senate seat. The Obama transition launched an internal review of who spoke to Blagojevich, even as the US Attorney opened a criminal probe.
“I would ask for your patience,” Obama told reporters during one news conference, “because I do not want to interfere with an ongoing investigation.”
This week in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden hinted at a Thanksgiving time frame for some members of his Cabinet. Health, economic and defense are expected to be the first portfolios to be announced, aides said, given the rising coronavirus crisis and unsteady economy. Several posts could be named after the Georgia run-off elections, aides said, when control of the Senate is clear.
But if you look at his words carefully, aides said, there is sufficient wiggle room on the timing.
“I hope we’re able to be in a position to let people know, at least a couple that we want, before Thanksgiving,” Biden said Tuesday, “and we’ll just work this out.”
Biden is not expected to make any announcements over the weekend — which officials said he is taking off to spend time with his family after the 2020 race was concluded last weekend, when news outlets including CNN projected that he had defeated Trump.
But hiring senior White House staffers is “a priority” for Biden and newly named chief of staff Ron Klain, transition adviser Jen Psaki told reporters in a Friday briefing.
Biden’s transition team is also beginning the process of filling 4,000 political appointee roles in the federal government, launching a feature on his transition website — BuildBackBetter.com — in the coming days to seek resumes.
Biden transition officials said they are concerned with the delay by Emily Murphy, the administrator of the General Services Administration, to take the official step of beginning the transition process.
The delay has left Biden’s team unable to access real-time intelligence briefings and updates on plans to distribute a coronavirus vaccine once one is available, Psaki said.
“We’re not interested in having a food fight with the GSA administrator or anyone,” Psaki said.
CNN’s Eric Bradner contributed to this report.