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Latest On Presidential Transition, Trump's And Biden's Whereabouts


Today President-elect Joe Biden held the kind of year-end press conference that presidents usually hold just before the holidays. Meanwhile, at the White House, President Trump tweeted another all-caps false claim about the election being rigged. It's another telling moment in what has become a very unusual transition. And we're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith to talk us through it.

Hi, Tam.


SHAPIRO: Let's start with President Trump, who is still actively fighting the election results even as his successor is announcing Cabinet picks. Has there ever been anything like this?

KEITH: This is unprecedented. The Supreme Court has spoken. The Electoral College has voted. Trump lost. But yesterday president - the president had members of the House of Representatives over at the White House to strategize about potentially blocking the final step in the process, the formal counting of votes by Congress on January 6. This has no chance of succeeding, but it certainly would add to President Trump's efforts to undermine his successor. I spoke with Jeffrey Engel of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University for some perspective.

JEFFREY ENGEL: We are trained in graduate school, as historians, never to use the word unprecedented because it usually suggests that you're not looking hard enough, you know? If you look harder, you can find an example from history that will speak to you.

KEITH: But in this case, he says he is really coming up empty. The closest he can think of is the transition from Hoover to Roosevelt in 1933. Hoover, another one-term president, was trying to make it hard for Roosevelt to bring in his New Deal big-government policies and to tie his hands. But even still...

ENGEL: He didn't do anything in any way, shape or form that I can see to undermine Roosevelt's legitimacy as president and to undermine the legitimacy of the U.S. government.

SHAPIRO: President Trump has less than a month in office left. At this point, aren't most outgoing presidents trying to cement their legacies?

KEITH: Yeah. Usually they're celebrating the things that they're most proud of, but in President Trump's case, his efforts to overturn the election results will likely become a defining part of his legacy, you know? I looked back to George H. W. Bush, and he is another - the last one-term president. There's quite a contrast there. Engel says Bush saw accepting defeat as his last political act. So 28 years ago, departing for the holidays, President George H. W. Bush also did some chopper talk. But unlike what President Trump is expected to do tomorrow when he goes to Palm Beach for vacation, the message was all about wishing everyone a merry Christmas, including the team coming in to replace him.


GEORGE H W BUSH: I want to say that to everybody that's worked so hard in our administration. I want to say that to Governor Clinton's new team, to wish them all the very best in the new year.

KEITH: President Trump has been absent in the public act of governing since losing the election, whether dealing with the COVID-19 crisis or that big hack of government and business systems that appears to have been done by Russia.

SHAPIRO: And meanwhile, Biden did talk today about how serious that hack is. Tell us about what he said.

KEITH: So he - it was an exercise in contrast with Trump, who has downplayed this. Biden said his team isn't getting enough information about it from the Trump administration and that while Secretary of State Pompeo has blasted Russia, he says President Trump needs to step up and attribute blame and take action. And Biden said once he becomes president, he will invest in repairing the breach and will take an appropriate response.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.