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Biden builds a Cabinet while cracks spread in Trump's partisan wall

The White House Christmas Tree is delivered to

The White House Christmas Tree is delivered to the North Portico on Monday. Credit: Bloomberg / Sarah Silbiger

Sharp shifts ahead

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday announced several notable "firsts" at the top levels of his incoming administration. One is Alejandro Mayorkas, who Biden named to head the Department of Homeland Security, a veteran of the agency who if confirmed will become the first immigrant and first Hispanic in the job. Another is Avril Haines, who under former President Barack Obama held top national-security jobs; she's picked to become the first female director of national intelligence.

Biden also is turning to boldface names that are well-known outside Washington, signifying how sharply and quickly he plans to reverse President Donald Trump's four-year offensive against Obama policies. Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chairwoman, will be nominated for Treasury Secretary, the first woman in that post if confirmed, as she was in the previous position. Stocks rose with the Yellen announcement.

John Kerry, the 2004 presidential nominee, former secretary of state and former senator, becomes "special presidential envoy for climate." As pledged by Biden during the campaign, this move repudiates Trump's disdain for global-warming strategies.

As if to rebuke Trump's discrediting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Biden is expected to turn to Nancy Messonnier for advice, according to Politico. Messonnier triggered Trump early this year by warning of "severe" consequences of the coronavirus pandemic; that was while Trump and the White House downplayed the deadly threat of COVID-19. She is the CDC’s veteran respiratory disease chief.

Biden also will put up Antony Blinken for secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations. All three served in the Obama administration. Biden also tapped two staffers of top Democratic leaders in Congress, Reema Dodin and Shuwanza Goff, to be deputy directors in his Office of Legislative Affairs.

Meanwhile Republican pressure grew on Trump to get on with moving on, rather than hold to the mirage that he may find a way to defy the election and remain in office. More than 100 leading GOP national security experts, including former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, urged congressional Republicans to push Trump to concede defeat.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a loyal Trump supporter, also called on the president to explicitly acknowledge the plain reality that he lost.

Trump and the GOP future

Some Democrats and progressives were celebrating apparent Republican tensions over the two key U.S. Senate runoffs scheduled for Jan. 5 in Georgia. If Republicans lose both, the Democrats would win a razor-thin majority, which would be key to many Biden initiatives.

One Trump voter in Georgia repeated to the Los Angeles Times the false claim that the president won the state. "How serious am I going to be about voting in January when our votes were pulled out from under us?" she said. "Everybody I talk to is saying: ‘Why should we go vote?’ " GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are both on the ballot.

Rep. Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican who lost on Election Day, has claimed fraud on Trump's behalf, casting shade on GOP election officials in the state. Trump's hoax alleging "fraud" against him could end up hurting the Republican cause, pollster Frank Luntz said. That said, Democrats face an uphill battle in both Georgia contests.

Of longer-term importance, division is developing within the national GOP over whether Trump should retain control over party data, money, nominations and other machinery after he leaves the White House.

GSA stops the stall

Confirming the obvious, the General Services Administration officially has ascertained that Biden is the "apparent winner" of the election, clearing the way for the start of the formal transition, which includes funding offices and resources for the incoming administration. An official said Administrator Emily Murphy made the determination, which is what Murphy's letter states. (See the letter.)

Tensions have been building over Murphy's delay, which came amid close results in some key battleground states and Trump's false claims that he won the election. Now Trump administration officials, including members of the White House coronavirus task force, can begin talking with the Biden transition team. The ascertainment also paves the way for Biden to receive the latest classified intel briefings.

Trump tweeted Monday evening that Murphy was commencing with "initial protocols" with his approval but that he will still "prevail" in trying to reverse the election. Late Monday, the president tweeted: "What does GSA being allowed to preliminarily work with the Dems have to do with continuing to pursue our various cases on what will go down as the most corrupt election in American political history?"

The ascertainment process is explained here. Over his tenure, Trump caved sooner or later in standoffs such as these.

Michigan ends the muddle

After another round of Trump-contrived drama, Michigan election officials did what was generally expected since Election Day by confirming Biden's victory in the key state by a margin of 154,000 votes.

The Board of State Canvassers, which has two Republicans and two Democrats, voted 3-0 to certify the results with one abstention. Friends of Trump and of losing GOP Senate candidate John James wanted the board to delay voting so that Wayne County — which includes Black-majority Detroit — could be audited.

Trump's invitation of state Republican leaders to the White House last week became his signature stab at nullifying the outcome and siphoning the state's 16 electoral votes. Biden is on track to get 306 electoral votes, 36 more than the minimum needed to win, when the Electoral College meets Dec. 14.

Pennsylvania, where Trump lawyers have been calling for the disqualification of votes in heavily Black and Democratic Philadelphia, was due to receive its counties' certifications on Monday. Four of the counties Trump won were to be late but not expected to affect the Keystone State's 20 electoral votes for Biden.

What's good for General Motors ...

Speaking of the Motor City, there was a slogan in the last century when American industry reigned triumphant: "What's good for General Motors is good for America." So it's noteworthy that what GM now deems good for itself is to dump its policy support for Trump and align itself with Biden on the matter of fossil fuel controls.

Mary Barra, the automaker's chief executive, is withdrawing her company’s support for the current administration's efforts to strip California of its ability to set its own fuel efficiency standards. That means Biden may win cooperation from the industry as he looks to restore Obama-era climate policy goals.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg remains involved in Florida politics, backing former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz to lead Florida's Democratic Party.
  • WestExec Advisors, a consulting firm, looks like a "government in waiting" as Biden prepares to take over, as Politico describes it.
  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced Monday she is stepping down as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Democratic whip, is interested in succeeding Feinstein in that post.
  • House Democrats are trying to reckon with a diminished majority after losing seats in the election.
  • Obama told The Washington Post that divisions between the major parties have grown so great that an "institutional reboot" is necessary for Congress to pass much-needed legislation.
  • Two White House holiday traditions are set to continue. The official Christmas tree, an 18½-foot Fraser fir from West Virginia, was delivered Monday. The two turkeys selected for Tuesday’s annual presidential pardon for the National Thanksgiving Turkey arrived in Washington from Iowa over the weekend and are in a suite at the Willard Hotel.

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