With help from Allie Bice
Welcome to POLITICO’s 2021 Transition Playbook, your guide to the first 100 days of the Biden administration
Democrats were not happy when President DONALD TRUMP nominated BRIAN MILLER, a lawyer in his White House counsel’s office, as special inspector general overseeing the pandemic recovery efforts last year.
“Your time working as one of President’s Trump’s impeachment defense attorneys should have disqualified you from being nominated to oversee the president’s management of one of the largest corporate bailouts in American history,” Sen. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-Mass.) told Miller during his confirmation hearing. Just one Democratic senator — former Sen. DOUG JONES (D-Ala.) — voted to confirm him.
Nearly three months after President JOE BIDEN took office, however, Miller still has a job. He’s one of dozens of Trump administration appointees who remain in office, either temporarily or for the foreseeable future.
Miller spent nine years working as the General Services Administration’s inspector general under Presidents GEORGE W. BUSH and BARACK OBAMA before serving in Trump’s White House. He was praised by some oversight experts when Trump nominated him.
Still, Warren’s opinion of him doesn’t seem to have improved.
“Brian Miller has shown himself to be a partisan and unprofessional leader by refusing to investigate examples of corrupt lobbying for CARES Act funds by former Trump officials,” Warren said in a statement to Transition Playbook. “He needs to start taking his job seriously.”
A spokesperson for Miller’s office said he “admires Senator Warren’s interest in rooting out corporate corruption and holding officials accountable” and would like to work with her as he investigates “those improperly benefitting from CARES Act funds.”
While presidents are allowed to fire inspectors general, it can spark a backlash if they do.
President RONALD REAGAN was criticized for dismissing 16 inspectors general after he took office in 1981. (He reinstated five of them months later.) President BARACK OBAMA faced similar blowback when he fired GERALD WALPIN, the little-known inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service, months after taking office. He never fired another IG.
Trump was not known for shying away from public backlash. And he generated an outcry of his own — largely from Democrats — last year when he ousted several inspectors general who had oversight of agencies ranging from the State Department to the intelligence community. “I think we’ve been treated very unfairly by inspector generals,” he said at the time.
The White House declined to comment on why it had decided to keep Miller on board. But MICHAEL GWIN, a White House spokesperson, told The New York Times earlier this year that Biden was committed to protecting the “independent role” of inspectors general in his administration.
It’s not unusual for new presidents to keep a handful of their predecessors’ officials on the job, and Biden has kept dozens of them in office, according to data provided by the Partnership for Public Service.
Many of them are ambassadors, whose replacements Biden hasn’t had a chance to nominate yet, or inspectors general. The Railroad Retirement Board’s inspector general, MARTIN JAY DICKMAN, has been in office since 1994, when President BILL CLINTON nominated him.
But others are more powerful.
Biden has kept on JOHN DEMERS, Trump’s assistant attorney general for national security, at least until his replacement can be confirmed.
“John is a well-respected national security expert and graciously agreed to continue serving during this time of transition,” ANTHONY COLEY, a Justice Department spokesperson, wrote in an email to Transition Playbook.
Two U.S. attorneys nominated by Trump, JOHN LAUSCH of Illinois’ Northern District and DAVID WEISS of Delaware, also remain in office as they oversee political sensitive investigations.
Weiss is handling the Justice Department’s investigation of Biden’s son, HUNTER BIDEN. And Biden agreed to keep Lausch after Sens. DICK DURBIN (D-Ill.) and TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-Ill.) urged him not to fire Lausch until his successor is confirmed. (Lausch’s office is working on a political corruption investigation.)
Several of Trump’s foreign policy hands have stuck around as well, including ZALMAY KHALILZAD, the special representative for Afghan reconciliation; ROGER CARSTENS, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs; and JOHN EBERHARDT, the special representative for nuclear nonproliferation.
Washington Post writer JASON REZAIAN, who was held captive by the Iranian government for nearly a year and a half while serving as the paper’s Tehran bureau chief, urged Biden in a January column not to dismiss Carstens. Keeping him on “would send a powerful message to the families of Americans currently being held abroad and their captors that the U.S. government is always committed to the safe return of Americans wrongfully or arbitrarily detained,” he wrote.
While presidents are usually wary about keeping their predecessors’ team around, MAX STIER, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, said he thought it should be far more common, especially in management positions that have little responsibility for crafting policy. Not only does it spare a confirmation battle, he said, “it spares you the learning curve.”
“No matter how good you are, it takes real time before someone is fully functional and at the top of their game,” he said.
Still, Biden might have had fewer opportunities than other presidents to keep people on due to the high number of vacant jobs in the federal government by the close of the Trump administration as well as questions about many Trump officials’ competency, said Stier.
“I’d say he was fishing in a smaller pond,” he said.
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Delivered remarks at the Virtual CEO Summit, where National Security Advisor JAKE SULLIVAN, National Economic Council Director BRIAN DEESE and Commerce Secretary GINA RAIMONDO were also in attendance.
Among the CEOs in attendance: SUNDAR PICHAI of Google, THADDEUS ARROYO of AT&T and MARY BARRA of General Motors.
Biden also met with Sens. MARIA CANTWELL (D-Wash.), DEB FISCHER (R-Neb.), ALEX PADILLA (D-Calif.) and ROGER WICKER (R-Miss.), along with Reps. GARRET GRAVES (R-La.), DONALD PAYNE JR. (D-N.J.), DAVID PRICE (D-N.C.) and DON YOUNG (R-Ark.) to discuss his infrastructure proposal.
With the president.
With the Center for Presidential Transition
Who was the first sitting president to wear contact lenses in public?
(Answer is at the bottom.)
CAVAZZONI TO LEAD HEAD DRUG CENTER — PATRIZIA CAVAZZONI will lead the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, as the administration continues to search for a commissioner to run the larger agency, ADAM CANCRYN reports. Cavazzoni has led CDER in an acting capacity since May 2020, when JANET WOODCOCK was appointed acting FDA commissioner.
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A PLEA FOR PEACE — Biden argued there is “absolutely no justification for violence” and called for “peace and calm” today when speaking about the shooting of DAUNTE WRIGHT by a police officer in Minneapolis.
“Peaceful protest is understandable. And the fact is that we do know that the anger, pain and trauma that exists in Black community in that environment is real, serious, and consequential. But that does not justify violence,” he said. Some progressive activists felt Biden’s remarks were not focused enough on the violence against Wright.
The comments came hours after news broke that the White House was abandoning its proposal for a commission on police shootings and violence, though some civil rights groups thought such an idea was unnecessary.
WINDOW DRESSING?: The White House insisted today that his bipartisan meeting with lawmakers today wasn’t just a form of political theater to make it look like he’s willing to make bipartisan concessions on his policy agenda … without actually having to.
“You don’t use the President of the United States’ time multiple times over… if he didn’t want to authentically hear from the members attending about their ideas,” press secretary JEN PSAKI said. Asked about Republican complaints that the meetings were just window dressing, Biden responded, “I’m not big on window dressing if you’ve observed.”
Some Republicans remain skeptical: “Watch what the Biden Administration does, not what they say,” said a Senate Republican aide familiar with recent bipartisan talks. “And what they’re doing is trying to pass as many partisan bills through partisan processes as they can before they lose the House in the midterms…It’s starting to feel like we’re all trapped in a bad episode of Veep.”
P.S.: After the meeting at the White House today, Sen. Wicker told reporters that Biden’s infrastructure proposal “would be an almost impossible sell from the president to come to a bipartisan agreement that included the undoing of that signature achievement [the 2017 corporate income tax cut]. And I did tell him that.”
P.P.S.: The 2017 bill lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Biden is proposing to bring it back up to 28 percent. So not an “undoing” so much as a rolling back.
MADAME (ARMY) SECRETARY — LARA SELIGMAN and CONNOR O’BRIEN scoop that Biden will nominate Pentagon veteran CHRISTINE WORMUTH, a former top policy official at the Defense Department during the Obama administration, to be the country’s first female Army secretary.
The White House also announced that it will nominate former Rep. GIL CISNEROS (D-Calif.), who lost reelection last year, as under secretary for personnel and readiness and SUSANNA BLUME as director of cost assessment and program evaluation.
They were part of a stream of nominations to national security posts the White House rolled out today:
DHS — Biden will nominate Tucson, Ariz., police chief CHRIS MAGNUS as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and UR JADDOU — who previously served as director of DHS Watch, a project of the immigration reform group America’s Voice — as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, QUINT FORGEY and ANITA KUMAR write.
Biden also announced several other nominees for high-profile posts at the department, including JON MEYER as DHS general counsel; ROBERT SILVERS as DHS under secretary for strategy, policy, and plans; and JOHN TIEN as DHS deputy secretary.
DOJ — KENNETH POLITE has been tapped as assistant attorney general for criminal division, CHRISTOPHER SCHROEDER as assistant attorney general for the office of legal counsel, and ANNE MILGRAM to be administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Biden also named two former National Security Agency officials to top cybersecurity positions:
ERIC GELLER reports that the president will tap former NSA Deputy Director CHRIS INGLIS to be national cyber director, a newly created White House office that will guide Biden’s cyber strategy and oversee agencies’ digital security. He will also nominate JEN EASTERLY, a former deputy director of the NSA’s counterterrorism center, to lead the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
And Biden named CHRISTY ABIZAID, a counterterrorism expert who served on President Obama’s National Security Council, as director of the National Counterterrorism Center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
GET WOKE: At Foggy Bottom, meanwhile, Secretary of State TONY BLINKEN named GINA ABERCROMBIE-WINSTANLEY to be the department’s newly created chief diversity and inclusion officer, NICK NIEDZWIADEK reports.
Abercrombie-Winstanley is the former ambassador to Malta and the first woman to lead a foreign diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia. “The State Department simply isn’t as diverse and inclusive as it needs to be,” Blinken said.
The White House also announced several other nominations for State Department roles: MARCELA ESCOBARI as the assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at USAID; C.S. ELIOT KANG as the assistant secretary for international security and non-proliferation, and TODD ROBINSON as assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs.
ON THE CALENDAR: Biden is meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus Tuesday at the White House. “The primary purpose from our perspective is to discuss the American Jobs Plan and how to move that forward,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. But a Hill aide told LAURA BARRÓN-LÓPEZ that police reform and criminal justice reform are also expected to come up.
Rep. Jim Clyburn interviews HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge (Clyburn Chronicles podcast)
Michigan’s Plea for More Vaccines Is Rejected by Biden Team (Bloomberg’s Fiona Rutherford)
FP goes deep on Jake Sullivan with “The Sullivan Model” (FP’s Elise Labott)
Biden’s claim that the ‘average rapist rapes about six times’ gets 3 Pinocchios (Wapo’s Glenn Kessler)
You know you want to read Graydon Carter’s newsletter on Ella Emhoff (Air Mail’s Ashley Baker)
Before DHS Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS worked in the federal government, he was a U.S. attorney in California.
His main claim to fame then? The successful prosecution of HEIDI FLEISS (aka the “Hollywood Madam”) for tax evasion and money laundering back in 1996.
And despite sending her away to spend 37 months in prison, Fleiss had lots of good things to say about Mayorkas in a 2000 Los Angeles Magazine article.
“He comes across so personable and sweet — I think Ali should run for office,” she said.
“I shouldn’t say this, but I really like him,” Fleiss continued, “even though he was the little fucker who was begging the judge to give me 10 years.”
LYNDON B. JOHNSON wore contacts while appearing at a Washington, D.C. television studio on Oct. 18, 1964.