WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will announce the first of his Cabinet appointments on Tuesday and is planning for a scaled-down inauguration due to the coronavirus pandemic, aides said on Sunday, as he lays the foundation for his new administration despite President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede.
Since Biden, a Democrat, was declared the winner of the Nov. 3 election two weeks ago, the Republican president has launched a barrage of lawsuits and mounted a pressure campaign to prevent state officials from certifying their vote totals, suffering another emphatic legal setback on Saturday in Pennsylvania.
Ron Klain, Biden’s choice as White House chief of staff, again urged that the Trump administration – specifically a federal agency called the General Services Administration (GSA) – formally recognize Biden’s victory to unlock resources for the transition process.
“I hope that the administrator of the GSA will do her job,” Klain added, referring to GSA chief Emily Murphy.
Biden is due to take office on Jan. 20.
“A record number of Americans rejected the Trump presidency, and since then Donald Trump’s been rejecting democracy,” Klain told ABC’s “This Week” program.
Biden, working in his home state of Delaware, has announced a series of selections for White House posts. Klain said that “you’re going to see the first Cabinet picks this Tuesday,” but declined to reveal the choices or the posts to be filled.
Biden said on Thursday he had chosen a treasury secretary. Candidates on Biden’s short list include former Fed Chair Janet Yellen, current Fed Governor Lael Brainard, Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former Fed governor, and Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
Biden allies also indicated he could announce his selection for secretary of state as soon as this week, with former national security adviser Susan Rice and veteran diplomat Antony Blinken seen as among the candidates.
Klain said there will be “scaled-down versions of the existing traditions” for Biden’s inauguration. Inauguration ceremonies and related events typically draw huge crowds to Washington. COVID-19 cases and deaths are surging in many parts of the country amid a pandemic that has killed about 256,000 Americans.
“We know people want to celebrate. There is something here to celebrate,” Klain said. “We just want to try to find a way to do it as safely as possible.”
Critics of Trump, including Democrats and some Republicans, have accused him of trying to undermine faith in the American electoral system and delegitimize Biden’s victory by promoting false claims of widespread voter fraud.
“Fight hard Republicans,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday morning as he pressed his unsubstantiated narrative of voter fraud.
Attempts to thwart certification of vote tallies have failed in courts in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Arizona. U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, in dismissing the Pennsylvania lawsuit on Saturday, compared the Trump team’s arguments claiming voter fraud to a “Frankenstein’s Monster” that was “haphazardly stitched together” using meritless legal arguments and speculative accusations.
Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress are now breaking ranks though many, including the most senior ones, have not.
“We’re beginning to look like a banana republic,” Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan told CNN’s “State of the Union” program, criticizing the refusal of many in his own party to acknowledge Trump’s defeat. “Frankly I’m embarrassed that more people in the party aren’t speaking up.”
Republican Senator Pat Toomey on Saturday said Brann’s ruling “exhausted all plausible legal options” for the president in Pennsylvania, congratulated Biden, and urged Trump to concede.
Republican Senator Kevin Cramer told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program on Sunday that the start of the presidential transition process is overdue, though he declined to recognize Biden’s victory.
“I hope they would start to accept the reality,” Klain said of Republican leaders.
Critics have said Trump’s refusal to facilitate an orderly transition carries serious implications for national security and the fight against COVID-19.
Jen Psaki, a senior advisor to Biden’s transition team, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that legal action to compel the GSA to recognize Biden “isn’t our preference.”
Klain said Biden is being denied intelligence briefings to which he is entitled, background checks on potential Cabinet nominees, and access to agency officials to help develop plans including avoiding delays in COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
“The question is: how can we get 100% of Americans a vaccine in short order?” Klain said.
U.S. congressman Cedric Richmond, Biden’s pick for a senior White House post, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Monday’s expected certification of the Pennsylvania election results should prompt the Trump administration to begin cooperating with Biden’s team.
Biden received 6 million more votes nationwide than Trump and, more importantly, prevailed 306-232 in the state-by-state Electoral College system that determines the election’s victor.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, David Morgan, Linda So, Lisa Shumaker, Andy Sullivan, Andrea Shalal and Makini Brice; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Daniel Wallis)