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Essential Politics: Biden’s first 10 days

President-elect Joe Biden speaks about economic recovery at The Queen theater, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.
President-elect Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, speaks about economic recovery Monday in Wilmington, Del.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

In the 10 days since he lost the election, President Trump has dominated the media’s attention, generating a slew of stories about his whereabouts, golf game, Twitter meltdowns and lawsuits seeking to reverse the results.

Meanwhile, 120 miles up I-95 in Wilmington, Del., President-elect Joe Biden has quietly begun the work of preparing to take over the government. Though Trump has so far blocked the executive branch from cooperating with the incoming Biden team, the president-elect has been methodically announcing key staff picks, establishing a game plan to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and receiving briefings on national security from outside experts.

“We don’t see anything that’s slowing us down,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington last week.

As we reach the 10-day mark of his tenure as president-elect, here’s what Biden has accomplished so far.

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What has Joe Biden been up to?

Appointing a COVID-19 task force.

In his victory speech Nov. 7, Biden said getting the pandemic under control would be his top priority. Two days later, he formed a panel of expert advisors, Evan Halper and Noam N. Levey reported. The group is led by three experts who had roles in the last two Democratic administrations: former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler, former Surgeon Gen. Vivek Murthy and Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of internal medicine, public health and management at Yale University.

Biden’s team said the panel would consult with state and local officials, focus on racial and ethnic disparities and help guide him as he develops a plan of attack.

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Separately, Biden has become more focused on how he talks about tackling the virus. In speeches, he has called for Americans to wear masks and tempered news of potential vaccines with caution. As economy reporter Don Lee writes, Biden hopes that by boldly confronting the virus — as opposed to Trump’s strategy of downplaying its risk — he can more quickly revive the economy.

Pressing Congress for aid.

Biden faces a serious challenge in stalled Congressional talks over coronavirus stimulus plans. Senate Republicans, emboldened by trimming Democrats’ margin in the House and so far holding the Senate, are resisting new spending measures. Trump has also stopped pursuing talks for new aid, Jennifer Haberkorn writes. The result: The chances of an aid package emerging from Congress before January are dim.

Though Biden has yet to offer a path that could break the gridlock, Janet Hook writes, he has been trying to apply public pressure to Trump and Congressional Republicans and has met with labor and business leaders desperate for federal assistance.

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Selecting staff.

Biden made his first hire in appointing longtime advisor Ron Klain to be his chief of staff, tapping a trusted confidant with a lengthy resume of government service, writes Halper and Janet Hook. Klain served as a top advisor for Biden in his presidential campaign and when he was vice president and senator.

Halper and Hook write that Klain helped manage the Obama administration’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

Chiefs of staff, who do not need to be confirmed by the Senate, serve as the gatekeeper to the president, control the flow of paper in and out of the Oval Office and have a major say over staffing the entire executive branch.

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Biden also announced some lower-level appointments to his transition team, including tapping Linda Darling-Hammond, a leading figure in California education policy, to lead his education transition team, write Howard Blume, Paloma Esquivel and Nina Agrawal. Phil Washington, the chief executive of Los Angeles County’s transit agency, will lead the transportation transition team, Laura J. Nelson reports.

What’s next?

A flurry of appointments are expected to follow as Biden fills out a roster of key staff positions and his cabinet — choices he said he would begin to unveil by Thanksgiving. Among those anticipated: Michele Flournoy, a politically moderate Pentagon veteran, is said to be his pick for Defense secretary. She would be the first woman to fill the role.

While some of those positions may require congressional approval, Biden has plenty of options even if partisan gridlock and legal disputes hold up the process. Climate action, for example, can be achieved quickly by reinstating emissions standards and leveraging foreign allies, Anna M. Phillips writes. A climate plan was a key part of Biden’s platform, though he has not announced any specific actions since his election.

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The latest from Washington

— President Trump on Tuesday fired Christopher Krebs, the director of the federal agency that vouched for the reliability of the 2020 election.

— As Trump’s election lawsuits fizzle, Rudolph W. Giuliani appeared in federal court in Pennsylvania on Tuesday to argue his case. Chris Megerian writes that he argued without evidence that there was a massive conspiracy behind Biden’s victory. But when questioned by the judge, Giuliani admitted, “This is not a fraud case.”

— Sarah Wire reports that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to breeze through her reelection bid — likely her last — in Wednesday’s House leadership vote. Meanwhile, Trump ally and fellow Californian Rep. Kevin McCarthy won reelection as House Republican leader.

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— At President Trump’s direction, the Pentagon on Tuesday ordered U.S. troop levels reduced to 2,500 in both Iraq and Afghanistan, accelerating a planned drawdown but stopping short of the departing president’s promise to end America’s involvement, write David S. Cloud and Stefanie Glinski. Cloud spoke with young Afghans about what a withdrawal would mean for them.

— From Sammy Roth: The climate crisis will once again take center stage under Biden. Though energy politics of the last dozen years were defined by coal, the fiercest battles of the Biden era are likely to revolve around natural gas.

— The first volume of President Obama’s memoirs has been released. In his review, White House reporter Eli Stokols writes that the book is a masterful lament over the fragility of hope.

What’s happening in California

— California officials have hung their hopes on Biden for coronavirus relief and more, including help from a famously train-loving president in saving the state’s beleaguered high-speed rail project. Insiders, however, are dubious about a bailout, writes Ralph Vartabedian.

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— Gov. Gavin Newsom has apologized for visiting a Napa Valley restaurant with friends as his administration called for California residents to avoid similar behavior, write Taryn Luna and Phil Willon. (If you’re interested, Julia Wick, writer of The Times’ Essential California newsletter, has the story of how he got busted.)

— Even as the state has pulled the “emergency brake” on reopening amid a new spike in coronavirus cases, legislators from California and other states maintained plans to attend an annual policy conference in Maui. The pandemic has brought heightened scrutiny of lawmakers, John Myers writes.

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