With help from Allie Bice and Daniel Payne
Welcome to POLITICO’s 2021 Transition Playbook, your guide to the first 100 days of the Biden administration
Today is the last edition of Transition Playbook. Next week, we will evolve and become “West Wing Playbook,” the name our bosses picked. (We wanted to call it “Tiger Beat on the Potomac.”)
Thank you for reading and making it a success. Our lodestar will be to give you new information about the most powerful people in the Biden administration. “Personnel is policy” will remain our slogan.
Since this is the last day of Transition Playbook, we called up senior officials from past Republican and Democratic transitions to get their take on Biden’s transition — basically the roughly 180 days between Election Day and today, when Biden formed his executive branch.
Overall, both R’s and D’s gave the Biden transition team high marks, even if they ultimately disagreed with the policy outcomes.
CHRIS LIDDELL, who was deputy chief of staff to President DONALD TRUMP during the 2020 transition and coordinated the Trump administration’s side of it, told us that “I think the transition was very well done for their part,” adding that Biden’s team was “very well organized and very disciplined.” Liddell, who also was a senior official on MITT ROMNEY’s 2012 transition team, said that “to a large extent I think they’ve done all the things that they wanted to achieve in the first 100 days.”
Liddell said that “you had literally everything that you can think about that makes a transition challenging,” citing “the polarization of the country, all the social media, all of the focus on it, the contested nature of it, the delayed ascertainment, the January 6th riot.”
“But overall, what I keep reinforcing to people was that there was a successful transition and that a new president was inaugurated on time. There were no issues on January 20th,” he said.
Liddell’s boss from the 2012 Romney transition, former Utah Republican Gov. MIKE LEAVITT, was even more effusive about Biden’s team. “I think they have executed the transition about as well as it’s ever been executed,” he said. “They’ve got staffing still to go. But that’s always the problem.”
One of the keys to their success, he argued, was starting so early. It enabled Biden transition officials to vet and interview enough people so that over 1,100 political appointees were sworn in on Day 1, a record. The prep work also allowed Biden to sign 42 executive orders in his first 100 days. In contrast, Trump signed 33 executive orders in his first 100 days, BARACK OBAMA signed 19, and GEORGE W. BUSH signed 11.
Some presidential candidates in the past have been wary of starting so early, either out of superstition or fear of looking presumptuous to voters.
BILL CLINTON “had a concern about measuring the drapes, starting things too early,” said MACK McLARTY, who served as Clinton’s first White House chief of staff.
While McLarty said it was tough to compare transitions, many people now regard Clinton’s transition as a mess that contributed to his early struggles. He didn’t pick McLarty for the chief of staff post until Dec. 12, and announced much of his White House staff only days before taking office.
The success of Biden’s has even sparked some good-natured rivalry with past Democratic transition leaders.
“So I think it’s been the best transition ever, and I used to think that the one that I helped lead was the best transition ever,” said LISA BROWN, who was co-chair of agency review for Obama’s transition.
JOHN PODESTA, who ran Obama’s 2008 transition, praised the Biden team’s steadiness, calling the transition “extremely well-run” despite “the challenges of both Covid and a president who wouldn’t accept reality.”
“It would have been extremely easy to get thrown off course by the events of Jan. 6” and Trump’s subsequent impeachment, he said.
Impeachment did delay some of Biden’s Cabinet confirmations, along with the passage of his Covid relief bill. Two Cabinet slots remain vacant, but Biden has still managed to nominate more people than his immediate predecessors.
He submitted 220 nominations to the Senate in his first 100 days, 30 more than Obama managed and more than three times as many as Trump submitted, according to the Partnership for Public Service. (Confirmations are another story: The Senate has confirmed 44 Biden nominees, compared with 67 in Obama’s first 100 days and 28 in Trump’s.)
Mistakes were made, of course. Podesta’s friend NEERA TANDEN saw her nomination to be Office of Management and Budget director derailed by opposition from Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.).
“When the Georgia Senate races were won, I think they thought the fight was over,” Podesta said. “And it wasn’t until later that they threw everything at it.”
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He and first lady JILL BIDEN participated in an Arbor Day tree planting ceremony on the North Grounds.
Later, they travelled to Philadelphia, where Biden delivered remarks in honor of Amtrak’s 50th anniversary. Pennsylvania Gov. TOM WOLF, Amtrak CEO WILLIAM FLYNN and Amtrak conductor BLAKE WEAVER, among other Amtrak officials, were in attendance.
She travelled to Cincinnati and delivered remarks about the administration’s investment in public transit.
With the Center for Presidential Transition
This president’s son and his friends were caught firing spitballs at a painting of President ANDREW JACKSON — who was it?
(Answer is at the bottom.)
ADMINISTRATION EASES ACA ENROLLMENT RULES — The Biden administration announced today that Americans who weren’t able to enroll in benefits under the Affordable Care Act during the regular sign-up season will have another opportunity to do so, RACHEL ROUBEIN reports.
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EMBRACING THE FIRST 100 DAYS — As Obama neared his 100th days in office in 2009, DAVID AXELROD scoffed at the significance of the milestone, calling it the “journalistic equivalent of a Hallmark holiday.” President DONALD TRUMP didn’t think much of the trope, either. “I think the 100 days is, you know, it’s an artificial barrier,” Trump told The Associated Press in 2017. “It’s not very meaningful.”
Not Biden, who has governed with the milestone in mind. He set a goal of administering 100 million Covid shots (later raised to 200 million) and pledged to open most schools in his first 100 days. He waited to give his first joint address to Congress until the eve of his 100th day in office, then used the phrase “hundred days,” “100 days” or “100th day” 15 times in his speech.
White House chief of staff RON KLAIN has been equally enthusiastic. He started tweeting about the accomplishments of Biden’s first hundred days weeks ago, boasting back in March that Biden had already nominated more judges in his first 100 days than his predecessors. He even bought commemorative 100 days pins for White House staffers.
So is the 100 days a real milestone or a hackneyed Washington concept?
“I think both,” Podesta told Transition Playbook. “It’s a hackneyed Washington concept that they have to manage toward. Witness when the joint session speech is [day 99], the fact that they’re putting a lot of markers across the board.”
“They know that you guys will write about it, so they need to govern toward that reality,” he added.
KERRY’S PAYDAY — It’s not uncommon for former Cabinet officials to go into consulting or join corporate boards after leaving office. Then there’s Biden’s climate envoy, JOHN KERRY, who joined Bank of America’s global advisory council in 2017 after leaving the Obama administration. Kerry’s personal financial disclosure, obtained by Axios, shows how much the gig paid: $5 million a year.
Some context: That’s more than four times the $1.2 million Secretary of State TONY BLINKEN, who was Kerry’s deputy in the Obama administration, made in two years of running the lucrative consulting firm he co-founded, WestExec Advisors. It’s around 150 times the base pay of a typical Bank of America teller in Washington makes, according to Glassdoor. And it’s about 20 percent of the $24.5 million that BRIAN MOYNIHAN, Bank of America’s chairman and chief executive, pulled in last year (presumably working longer hours than Kerry).
DON’T BUILD THE WALL — The Department of Defense announced that Biden is canceling further construction of the wall along the U.S. and Mexico border, NICK NIEDZWIADEK reports.
In one of his first acts in office, Biden halted progress on the border wall — a signature policy of former President Trump —by freezing money for border wall construction projects and terminating Trump’s national emergency declaration along the border. Today’s action is another step toward ensuring those projects do not move forward and will free up that money to go to other construction projects within the military’s purview.
INDIA TRAVEL ON HOLD: The Biden administration is restricting travel from India beginning next week, the White House announced this afternoon. Press secretary JEN PSAKI said in a statement that the move was made “on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention … in light of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating” in the country.
The travel restrictions go into effect on Tuesday and will not apply to U.S. citizens or humanitarian workers. More on the decision HERE from ADAM CANCRYN.
Meet Biden’s pick to fill Merrick Garland’s seat on the D.C. Circuit (The Post’s Ann Marimow)
Outside group allied with Biden that doesn’t disclose donors hits the air (NYT’s Jonathan Martin)
How Biden is thinking about North Korea (The Post’s John Hudson and Ellen Nakashima)
Treasury Secretary JANET YELLEN will be on Meet the Press Sunday.
Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN will be on CBS’ 60 Minutes Sunday.
Biden’s Deputy Secretary of State WENDY SHERMAN is actually pretty tight with former Secretary of State MADELEINE ALBRIGHT — Sherman started working for Albright in 1997, as a counselor for the State Department.
“She had this amazing ability to separate fact from fiction,” Albright told Foreign Policy in 2013. “She basically served as my watchdog.”
The two became so close working together in the late-90’s, they even hosted a joint Halloween party together, according to the Foriegn Policy piece.
We’re not entirely sure what Albright’s costume was for the party, but she wore a colorful Moroccan wedding gown, the article notes, while Sherman was dressed up as The Wizard of Oz’s DOROTHY.
We’re more wicked witch of the West folks, tbh.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT’s son, QUENTIN, was caught with a group of friends slinging spitballs at the Jackson painting. He had to clean up the mess and was grounded for one week.
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