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News Brief: Biden's Cabinet And Civil Rights Priorities, Staying Safe On Black Friday

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Joe Biden is wasting no time getting ready for the White House.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The president-elect is preparing to announce more key staff positions after the holiday weekend. His transition aides now have clearance to work with members of the outgoing administration. Donald Trump, the departing president, still claims he won the election. But during this week, his actions and even some of his words have been more in line with the reality that he lost.

GREENE: And we have NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid with us this morning. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.

GREENE: OK. So Biden has already unveiled his foreign policy, national security teams. What is he turning to this week?

KHALID: Well, the big news of this week was that the General Services Administration told Joe Biden's team that it could officially begin the transition process. So what this means is that he will likely begin to have his first in-person national security briefings next week. He will likely began receiving the president's daily brief on Monday. And, you know, typically, the incoming administration or the incoming president would receive classified intelligence briefings just so that they have a sense of, you know, what they're stepping into into the White House. But Biden had not been receiving these classified briefings because of the delays in the transition process. You know, in terms of other key appointments, we already know, thanks to my colleague Franco Ordoñez's reporting, that Biden is planning to nominate Janet Yellen as his treasury secretary. She, of course, has plenty of experience navigating tough economic environments. But we'll get a fuller picture of the other people on Biden's economic team. And I'm really interested to see this in part, David, because it's coming at a critical moment when, you know, millions of people are set to lose unemployment benefits at the end of the year. And there's this ongoing debate about additional COVID relief.

GREENE: So the president-elect didn't make any public appearances over Thanksgiving itself, right? But he and the future first lady did put out an op-ed. I mean, what message are they trying to convey now?

KHALID: They're really trying to focus on collective sacrifices that people are making and the importance of acknowledging that this is all happening against such a deadly pandemic. You know, they wrote in this op-ed and they also called front-line workers, firefighters and nurses yesterday to thank them, to emphasize this idea of gratitude and recognition for people having this pared-down Thanksgiving. It was a message akin to the one that he delivered on Wednesday afternoon. He gave this Thanksgiving address to the nation. And I will say it felt like a rather jarring contrast from what we've seen and heard from the president lately. You know, where the president, I think, has sounded somewhat divisive and, frankly, kind of petty at times, Biden is trying to sound presidential, delivering this message of reconciliation, unity and resolve in the face of a pandemic with record numbers of cases and increasing numbers of deaths.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: Two hundred sixty thousand Americans and counting. It's divided us, angered us, set us against one another. I know the country has grown weary of the fight. We need to remember we're at war with a virus, not with one another, not with each other.

KHALID: You know, David, he talked about how hard it is for families to forego traditional Thanksgiving celebrations, but that it's what's needed in this moment.

GREENE: Well, then we also did hear from President Trump, I mean, talking to reporters for the first time since the election, sounds like - what? - not a concession but maybe getting closer to accepting reality?

KHALID: That's right. You know, for the first time, President Trump explicitly did say that he will leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for Joe Biden.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Certainly, I will. Certainly, I will. And you know that. But I think that there will be a lot of things happening between now and the 20 of January - a lot of things.

KHALID: And, you know, he didn't say what those lot of things were. But I will say that he continues to push his legal team and continues to push these baseless allegations of voter fraud. There really is no route for him to overturn the election results. So at this point, you know, it feels largely like rhetoric, nothing that's going to actually be able to change the outcome.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Asma Khalid. Asma, thank you so much.

KHALID: You're welcome.

GREENE: All right. Now, in terms of what President-elect Biden is going to focus on once he is in office, he's made it pretty clear that protecting civil rights is going to be a big priority.

INSKEEP: And civil rights activists say he has some work to do. President Trump set the tone early in his administration when he relayed this message to law enforcement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I said, please don't be too nice. Like, when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put the hand over - like, don't hit their head. And they've just killed somebody. Don't hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK?

INSKEEP: The president also limited options for police oversight.

GREENE: All right. Let's bring in NPR's Carrie Johnson to look ahead with us to a Biden administration and talk about Donald Trump's legacy when it comes to civil rights. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So I know you've been talking to people in the justice community asking them about what this president's legacy is as we look back over the last four years.

JOHNSON: I put that question to Kristy Parker, a former Justice Department prosecutor. Here's how she responded.

KRISTY PARKER: Where I think we see a real fall down by this administration and a purposeful one is in prosecutions of police officers who do their work, you know, out on the streets.

JOHNSON: Sources are telling me it's not just cases against individual cops who break the law. Justice Department veterans say there's been a retreat on another front - that's investigating entire police departments for patterns or practice of discrimination. Jonathan Smith used to run that unit at DOJ. Here's what he told me.

JONATHAN SMITH: There's been 70 investigations that were brought, and 25 of those were brought during the Obama administration. And one was brought during the Trump administration.

JOHNSON: Just to underscore, 25 in the Obama years, one under Trump.

GREENE: Yeah. Wow. Well, I mean, largely if we look at this, was it mostly a change in tone when it comes to policing in America or are there actual policies that are now in place from President Trump that were not there before?

JOHNSON: Actual policies, David. Trump's first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, viewed state and local law enforcement as partners. He said federal investigations would just demoralize police. And in one of his last acts in office, Sessions issued a memo removing a key tool from civil rights enforcers. That memo made it nearly impossible to use court-enforced consent decrees to help oversee the police. Vanita Gupta ran civil rights in the Obama years, and she says that memo should be withdrawn on day one of the Biden administration. This country, she says, is a very different place as far as police oversight now.

VANITA GUPTA: I think there is no question that George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis this summer really forced a crucial reckoning around race and public safety.

GREENE: OK. So what some are calling a crucial reckoning moment, Carrie, so what - how different will things be under a President Biden?

JOHNSON: Biden says there has to be some accountability. He wants to bring police and civil rights groups into the White House next year to talk about the issues. And civil rights advocates tell me the election has highlighted another big action item that's doing more to protect voters. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund says the Justice Department could actually bring more cases, as it did in the Obama years, to protect voters against discriminatory policing and changes. But that, of course, was reversed under President Trump. You know, the civil rights division was created to protect vulnerable communities. And civil rights activists say it needs to get back on that mission under President-elect Joe Biden.

GREENE: NPR's Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks, as always.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Well, if you look at the calendar, the official holiday shopping season is upon us.

INSKEEP: And this year, despite the pandemic, despite the difficulty in the economy, retailers are forecasting record sales. Surveys show that the majority of Americans plan to shop in the next few days.

GREENE: And we're joined by NPR retail correspondent Alina Selyukh. Good morning, Alina.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: I mean, I was looking at trying to buy access to a streaming service last night, and I got a Black Friday deal. I mean, it still exists in a big way, right?

SELYUKH: I feel like every year I come here and I declare Black Friday dead. And then, you know, I get a bunch of annoyed messages from people who love it. But it's just...

GREENE: Keep trying. You can keep trying.

SELYUKH: It's just no longer that obsession with this, you know, one single day. You may have heard these ads weeks ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) This year, Walmart turned Black Friday into deals for days, starting Saturday, November 7.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) This year, Target has Black Friday deals all November.

SELYUKH: Actually, this year, sales began as far back as October. When I say sales, most of them are online, and a lot of people have already started their holiday shopping and don't intend to stop.

GREENE: So how much are people actually going to stores?

SELYUKH: A fair amount, although, obviously, probably to a lot of people, the vast majority are shopping online. A big thing that happened this year is that a lot of people became online converts for the first time. If you think about groceries, health and beauty products, stuff that people used to, you know, have to see or feel first, they're buying it online now. Here's Vivek Pandya who tracks online shopping at Adobe Digital Insights.

VIVEK PANDYA: About 31% of consumers reporting that they rarely shopped online or had never shopped online before and the COVID pandemic was essentially a forcing function.

SELYUKH: OK. But on the other side, every year, the International Council of Shopping Centers does a shopper survey. And this year - so even this group is reporting a huge drop in the number of people who say they plan to shop in a physical store. But in that survey, almost two-thirds of respondents said they do plan to go to a physical store and that COVID safety measures will be the main driver of where they go instead of, like, normally you would your best deals. Now, let's go over the safety measures. And for stores, those often include things like, you know, requiring masks, stores are counting consumers, again, to limit crowds. And they're drawing a lot of attention to the cleaning measures, which are these, you know, unglamorous things that stores usually like to distract from. Well, now, you know, you got sanitizers front and center.

GREENE: Yeah, there's no choice. But wherever people are buying stuff, what are they buying this year?

SELYUKH: Classic stuff - clothes, gift cards, toys, electronics, smart TVs, home speakers, that sort of thing. For years we watched this shift toward experiences rather than things. Well, this year, we're back to things, you know, until we can start jumping back into massages or classes or whatnot. And especially I'm talking things for the home where we're spending all this time now - more holiday decorations to deck out the houses, books and crafts to occupy time. My favorite hot seller for the COVID time is - apparently air fryers are big for, you know, all that comfort food. So many families are still struggling financially. We hear about that every day. They still seem to say they want to feel special. They want to celebrate. The National Retail Federation predicts, on average, shoppers are going to spend almost a thousand dollars on gifts, food, decorations and other holiday things, which is only a little bit less than last year when the economy looked extremely different.

GREENE: NPR's Alina Selyukh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.