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After A Tumultuous Election, Biden Prepares For The Transition Of Power

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

All right. Next comes the transfer of power, and it will likely be one of the most complicated in U.S. history. So let's turn to someone who's done it before. Chris Lu was the executive director of the Obama-Biden Transition Project in 2008 and carried on as the deputy secretary of the Department of Labor in President Obama's Cabinet. Welcome to the program.

CHRIS LU: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So lots of challenges here. Tell us how a transition team is normally supposed to work, briefly.

LU: Well, normally, as it - what happened in 2008, there was a quick declaration of victory and there was cooperation between the outgoing Bush administration and the incoming Obama administration. We're now, you know, five days past Election Day and their - the formal transition has not started. And frankly, you know, the Biden transition is going to face complications that we just didn't face in 2008. It's just not the economy, but it's also a public health crisis, and then it's trying to plan a transition most likely in an all-virtual environment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, so - that's a lot there and that's interesting. I want to touch on the idea of the all-virtual environment, but I do want to talk about the president because he's refused to concede. What is the expectation here, do you think? How much cooperation will the Trump team actually give?

LU: You know, I don't know. We have a tradition of peaceful transfers of power that have spanned 200 years, even between outgoing and incoming administrations who had bitterly fought campaigns. And so I'm hoping that wiser heads prevail in the White House and the president cooperates because that's not just important for the success of the incoming Biden administration but, at a time like this, you know, we need to be considered - concerned about homeland security, national security issues, because this is a vulnerable time for our country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So if there is no cooperation, how will that work then? I mean, you do need somebody on the other side.

LU: Exactly. But I do think, if there's somebody who can overcome these challenges, it's Joe Biden. This is a person who knows government very well, who is surrounded by people who also have served in the Obama administration. Look, it's not ideal, but I think if somebody can overcome it, it's the Biden team.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let me ask you about this all-virtual because obviously we are in the midst of a pandemic. Normally, I suppose what would happen is that part of the team would actually go to the White House and sort of, you know, engage face to face with the other side. How do you see this playing out in this all-virtual environment?

LU: Right. Normally, you'd have face-to-face meetings between White House incoming and outgoing White House staffers as well as the agency staffs, and there are are going to be dozens of dozens of major agencies where there's going to be a turnover in leadership. I will say this. You know, the Biden campaign has essentially run a campaign for the last eight, nine months virtually. They've picked a vice presidential candidate that way. They have run a convention that way. So I think they're used to operating in this environment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. There is also this period of several months when this transition's supposed to happen. The president is a lame duck, but there are still many things he can do. He could, you know, fire the heads of certain agencies. You know, he could shake things up. What are you concerned about?

LU: Well, I am concerned about sort of the continuity of operations in government. You know, it is an odd tradition to do these presidential transfers of power where you have the entire senior leadership that walks out the door on one day and, right after that, a new group comes right in. And again, it's ensuring that our national security, our homeland security is protected along the way. And in order to do that, you really need close cooperation between the two teams just to ensure that handoff of power. As for the other things, whether it's firing people, whether it's executive orders - as Mara Liasson just said, many of those can be undone by the incoming Biden team. But I really hope that the president puts the national interest above his own political interests at this time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's something else, though, there. You know, the Trump administration has had a pretty unorthodox approach to governing - a revolving door of staff, heavy disregard for process and protocol and, frankly, a bureaucracy that has been gutted in many areas. What will that mean for the new administration?

LU: Well, I think it's going to - this is an important opportunity for the Biden administration to replenish and revitalize the civil service. You know, it's places like the State Department, where you've had diplomats that have left, you've had climate scientists leave. There - this is going to be kind of a renaissance of the federal government.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly, what does the Biden-Harris administration have to do to give Americans reassuring signals during this tumultuous time?

LU: Well, I think they need to come up with a plan for the pandemic. I mean, this is the thing that is on everyone's mind. And as these number of COVID cases continue to go up, to have a clear plan that they will start to implement next January 20.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Chris Lu is the former executive director of the Obama-Biden Transition Project. Thank you very much.

LU: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE POLISH AMBASSADOR'S "DARK BETWEEN STARS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.