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As Biden Team Carries Out Transition Process, Jarrett Says Help Is On The Way


Valerie Jarrett is on the line next. She is a longtime adviser to President Obama and one of the co-chairs of the Obama-Biden transition team back in 2008-2009. Ms. Jarrett, welcome to the program.

VALERIE JARRETT: Good morning. It's a pleasure to be with you.

INSKEEP: And we're talking on this day when Joe Biden is going to introduce members of his team, many of whom have been announced. Tony Blinken as Secretary of state; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Jake Sullivan with the key national security job; John Kerry with a climate job, the former secretary of state. And we've reported that Janet Yellen is the pick for the Treasury Department.

You must know all or nearly all of these people. What do you make of the group?

JARRETT: I know them all. They are competent, experienced, very well-respected, patriotic public servants. And I think that I would say to America, help is on the way.

INSKEEP: On the way, you say. But do you expect the crisis, by which I mean both the economy and the pandemic, to get worse before that team can go into office January 20?

JARRETT: Well, quite possibly. As we listen to the health experts with the new spike in the coronavirus pandemic, we are seeing just astronomical increases. We know we're going into a holiday season, and we've seen so many people not heeding the warning and continuing to travel. And so, yeah, I'm very concerned about that. And obviously, the economy is suffering as a direct result of that.

But here's the good news. President-elect Biden and his team are the most experienced people going into a crisis. He's been through it before. He served as vice president during a crisis when President Obama and he were elected. And he has surrounded himself, Steve, by the most extraordinarily qualified public servants who just have the depth and breadth of experience that will enable him to really hit the ground running.

And that has been made a lot easier now that the Trump administration has decided to go through with the ascertainment and open up not just resources - financial resources but, really, very importantly, every single agency of the federal government can now meet with the transition team and share information that will allow the president-elect to make decisions that will enable him to be an effective president.

INSKEEP: You - I want people to recall - were managing a transition when there was also an economic crisis, 2008-2009, so you may have some insight on this. Biden is not the president. There's one president at a time. Trump is the president but seems largely to have stepped back from his duties other than spreading conspiracy theories about the election judging by his public statements. What can Biden do, if anything, to ease the pain in the next 57 days? Or does he just have to wait his turn?

JARRETT: Well, he certainly has to wait his turn in terms of fulfilling the role of - as president. But he doesn't have to wait to be a leader. And we've already seen him assemble a coronavirus task force, meeting with health care workers, meeting with the nation's mayors yesterday, announcing his team - all which is giving him and the public confidence that he'll be prepared on Day 1.

But in terms of decision-making, you're absolutely right. There is one president at a time. I will say to you, though, from my experience as chair of the Obama-Biden transition back in 2008, to have had President Bush from Day 1 cooperate with the transition team - and even though we may have disagreed on every single policy, having his full cooperation and that of his administration made for a seamless, smooth transition of power. And I'm hoping that the Trump administration now will follow in that traditional footstep.

INSKEEP: Can I get your - I don't know - prognostication, if that's the word, about Republicans in the Senate? There are a couple of runoff elections to come. Democrats could still capture the Senate, but they may not. The president-elect was asked yesterday about Republicans blocking his nominations in the Senate. Would they do that? His response was, are you kidding me? - which I mean, I get. A president normally gets his nominations. And these are people who've been through the Senate before. But I also thought, it's a partisan time. You know, Republicans have blocked other things. Do you expect to get an ordinary level of - or do you expect Biden will get an ordinary level of cooperation from Republicans?

JARRETT: Well, I certainly hope so - and - because this isn't about the president-elect or the Republicans. This is about our country and ensuring that the - that when the president takes office, his team is assembled. Particularly given the crisis that we're in, it is so important that he be able to hit the ground running. And as you said, many of the people who will be coming forward for confirmation have been confirmed before. There is no one who can question their subject matter expertise and their commitment to our country. And I'm hoping that because of the relationship that the president-elect has with many members in the Republican Party in the Senate but also, more importantly, because I hope that we can appeal to them to do what's right for our country, that the confirmations will move forward swiftly and with the support of both sides of the aisle.

INSKEEP: Briefly speaking, what would you have the president-elect do, if he asked you, about the millions of Americans who - I don't know - they're watching Newsmax. They are getting their news wherever they are. They just don't believe the fact that he won, and that's the reality they're living in. How would the president reach out to them, if at all?

JARRETT: Well, he will certainly reach out to them. He made the commitment during the campaign that he campaigned as a Democrat, but he'd govern for all of America. And I think he has just the right temperament and touch to make it clear that he knows he has a role in helping the nation heal. And he's committed to doing that as well as the team around him. And he'll reach out in many different ways to make it clear that he's there for all of them, including making sure that we tackle this vaccine and get it out and distribute it around the country as quickly as possible.

INSKEEP: Ms. Jarrett, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

JARRETT: You are welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: Valerie Jarrett is in New York. She was a senior adviser to President Obama and co-chair to Obama's transition in 2008. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.