On December 8th, 2020, the Institute of Politics and Public Service partnered with the Brunswick Group to host three separate conversations exploring the processes and decisions that go into a presidential transition.
Building A New Administration
The first conversation of Transition 2020 was moderated by Karen Travers (C’00, MA ’03), White House correspondent for ABC News, in conversation with Andy Card, former Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush, and John Podesta (L ’76), former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton. Both Card and Podesta signaled the faith they continue to have in presidential transitions, confidently saying that “the process works”.
Card detailed the challenges ahead for staffing up the Biden Administration, as the transition team will need to fill around 4,000 jobs before January 20th. He stated that the primary focus of the incoming administration should be staffing the White House first and then focusing on other agencies. Podesta noted that President-Elect Biden’s pick for Chief of Staff role says the most about where his administrative agenda is headed, adding that Ron Klain (C’83) is bringing in a historically “diverse set of people to serve.”
Card added, “even if [President Trump] doesn’t concede, he will be replaced on January 20th, 2021.” Despite Card’s confidence in a peaceful transition of power, Podesta expressed concern that because President Trump is convincing a large portion of the American public that elections are rigged, President-Elect Biden will have more work to do once he takes office to restore faith in our democracy and unify the country.
The Confirmation Process
GU Politics brought Chris Lu, Executive Director of the Obama-Biden Transition Project, and Sara Fagen, White House Political Director for the George W. Bush Administration, for a conversation on the selection and confirmation of nominees. Lu and Fagen discussed the Biden transition team’s strategy for choosing personnel that both possess extensive experience in their issue area and contribute to a diverse set of voices. They also spoke to the potential challenges for pushing through nominees in a bitterly divided Senate, especially if Republicans maintain control following the upcoming Georgia runoff elections.
As a final point, Lu and Fagen highlighted the benefits of management experience for officials in the Executive Branch, the decreasing space for bipartisanship in the current moment, and the increased need to vet the personal and social media statements of possible nominees.
Setting a New Agenda
The final panel of Transition 2020 featured Stef Feldman, National Policy Director for Biden for President, in conversation with Yamiche Alcindor (C’09), White House Correspondent for PBS NewsHour. Feldman spoke about Joe Biden’s plans for his first 100 days in office, his strategy for tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, his intentions to overcome congressional gridlock, and how he intends to address America’s “four crises:” the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, climate change, and racial inequities.
Feldman fielded a question from the audience concerning how Biden can protect his policies from being overturned by future administrations, saying, “a lot of the role of the President is persuasion.” Students asked additional questions on the President-Elect’s foreign policy agenda, opportunities for bipartisan cooperation, and the potential use of executive orders to achieve policy goals.
Feldman concluded, “there is no one who knows the Senate better than President-Elect Biden,” and reassured the audience, saying “there is less fighting and turmoil in Washington than most people think.”