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  • Martha Kumar, Ph.D., is director of the White House Transition Project, a nonpartisan effort by presidential scholars to provide information on presidential transitions and White House operations to those who come into the White House. Dr. Kumar is emeritus professor aTowson University and author of Before the Oath: How George W. Bush and Barack Obama Managed a Transfer of Power (2015) and Managing the President’s Message: The White House and the News Media (2007 and 2010).


MODERATOR:  Hello, everyone.  Welcome to the Foreign Press Centers video conference briefing on “Transitioning to a New Administration.  As a reminder of today’s ground rules, this briefing is on the record.  A video recording and transcript will be posted on our Foreign Press Centers website.  I’d like to introduce our briefer today, Dr. Martha Kumar.   

Dr. Martha Kumar is director of the White House Transition Project, a nonpartisan effort by presidential scholars to provide information on presidential transitions and White House operations to those who come into the White House.  Dr. Kumar is emeritus professor at Towson University and author of Before the Oath: How George W. Bush and Barack Obama Managed a Transfer of Power, and Managing the President’s Message: The White House and the News Media.   

As a reminder, the views expressed by non-U.S. Government speakers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Government.  Dr. Kumar will provide her remarks, and then we will take your questions.  So with that, over to you, Professor.   

MS KUMAR:  Thank you very much, and good morning everyone.  I’m looking forward to speaking with you.   

In looking at presidential transitions, I’m going to look at three things: what the laws are; what the tacit understandings are that aren’t written down that are – that generally occur between the incumbent president and the president-elect dealing with the operation of the presidency and the commitment to a smooth transition; and then a third element is the truncated – this truncated transition and how has Biden done.  And I also would like to put in a fourth element, and that is leaving behind ticking timebombs, which we can look at as a tacit understanding that usually a president wants to make sure not to do.   

In looking at the laws of the – the laws really stretch back to a commitment that Harry Truman made when he was president.  He came in on January 20th of 1945.  And on April 12th, Franklin Roosevelt died.  And during that period, he had no real preparation for the – for his office, the vide presidency, or the presidency.  It was at that time not – it was not a part of coming into office.  You just – he had been a chair of a senate committee and so he knew the presidency from that angle.   

But 13 days after he came in, the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson came to him and told him that he wanted to talk to him about a project.  And that project was the Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb.  And he was unaware of it.  And it – it really seared him.  So that when he decided that he was not going to run again – and this was late winter in 1952 – he gathered his staff together, and he said that he had come in unbriefed and unprepared.  And he did not want that to happen to his successor, whoever it was.  So when there were – so he had people that were in the Bureau of the Budget.   

The Bureau of the Budget was the one agency that stretched over – all over government.  And they could bring together informations on programs, budgets, and that sort of thing.  And so he, in the summer after the party conventions, decided that he was going to offer Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate, and Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican one, an opportunity to come into the White House for a day, and in the morning have a CIA briefing, and then have lunch with the cabinet, and then in the afternoon meet with White House staff.  And they could talk about whatever issues were on their minds.   

And Stevenson did come.  He took – he took him up on it.  And Eisenhower wrote him and said, no, he was not going to.  That he thought it would be confusing in the minds of the voters that he would be coming to the White House since he was running against what the Truman administration had stood for.  Truman was irritated and wrote him back, that he was sorry that a bunch of screwballs had convinced him of not – not to do it.  But he said he did want the CIA briefings.  Eisenhower wanted the CIA briefings.  And there was some cooperation between them even if there was not a lot of love lost between them.   

And – so you begin having information passed – information is passed from Truman to Eisenhower, and Eisenhower to Kennedy.  And Kennedy was proposing a campaign reform bill that had a transition element to it.  Now you’d wonder, why would that have anything to do with the campaign?  But whatever transition preparations there were were paid for by political parties, not by government.   

And so what Kennedy proposed is one of the elements of a campaign reform that the General Services Administration take over the function of providing resources for a president-elect.  And the person who sponsored the bill and who was the floor manager, Dante Fascell of Florida, said that when you think about it after the election, the president-elect really is a government employee, and that it’s the government’s obligation to provide for a transition.   

And so what he was interested in was having – having the sitting administration provide access to information and to people and cooperation that those were two – the two parts that he wanted to make sure to institutionalize a transition.  Because he said there may come a time when a president – a sitting president is running for re-election and he loses and decides that he doesn’t want to cooperate.  And so in that circumstance, you want to have a structure in place that is going to provide resources and information to these – to the president-elect.  And this is the – this is the Dante Fascell case – his horror that he worried about has been the case in this administration because President Trump has – personally has not cooperated.   

However, the structure that exists, that has been created over the years, has provided information that has been very important to making this transition actually work so that Biden is – there’s information that he’s been lacking, but he has been – he has been well prepared.  So you start out with the transition where you have the General Services Administration providing information.  And then it provided office space and some resources and staff.   

But after that, you finally have an all-of-government involvement in the transition, so that now the transition starts earlier than it once did.  September 11th had a big impact on transitions, as it did in many parts of government.  The 9/11 Commission recommended that people who were going to work on a transition get their security clearances done early so that whoever wins, their key people will have already gone through the security and able to start the day after the election if the election is decided then.  And that was adopted in 2004 in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.   

The funding that the government first gave turned out to be not sufficient.  So then candidates were allowed to go out and raise funds privately as long as they reported those funds to the government and that they would be made public, and then the funds be no more than $5,000 from an individual.   

And after September 11th, there was – there was concern that it should really – the transition preparation should start earlier.  In fact, candidates did begin their transition preparations but very privately.  They would begin sometimes in the spring.  So then in 2010 you have a PreElection Transition Act.  And that – that bill provided that after the major party conventions – after both of them took place, then the government through the GSA would provide them with office space, the technology to have secure communications – the computers and that sort of thing.   

And so that took place in 2012 when Romney got – he got the office space, and Obama of course was already in office.  So then in 2016 both Trump and Hillary Clinton had space right after the conventions, and in fact they were in the same office building.  So you have the transition moving up earlier.  And then you have the creation – first through executive orders you had Presidents Clinton, Obama, and Bush create a White House transition council that would do planning for a transition.   

And now you have it so that every presidential election the White House transition coordinating council is created.  And it’s created six months before the election.  And that goes back to a 2015 piece of legislation, the Presidential Transition Improvements Act, and – which was named after Ted Kaufman, who was a senator from Delaware who took Biden’s place and – when he became vice president and Mike Leavitt who ran the Romney transition and who served in the cabinet of George W. Bush.  And Ted Kaufman interestingly was the person who was one of the chairs of Biden’s transition, so – for this transition.  So you knew right from the start, you had a pro in place, somebody who knew transition planning.  Because when he was in the Senate, Kaufman focused on transition legislation.   

So you also have an Agency Transition Director’s Council.  So the White House group establishes what the policy is and then the Agency Transition Directors Council is composed of career people from the 15 departments.  And there are another seven that are from agencies like the Office of Government Ethics, National Archives, which are involved in the transition.   

So the work that – there’s a work schedule of when things have to be completed, and all of the materials that the Agency Transition Directors Council gather – these are things like budgets, programs, schedules for the upcoming year – because one of the things to take into account is that when a president comes in, he is jumping on a moving train.  The government is in operation, and so you want to know what’s ahead if you’re a department head, and also what are the hot issues, what things are causing you trouble, and what things need to be dealt with quickly, what are legal problems, and that sort of thing.  

So all of that material is prepared well before the election and is ready to go once the administrator of the General Services Administration says who won the election.  Now, in the case of Obama the administrator ascertained and called one of the heads.  The executive director of the transition Chris Lu called him like at 1 o’clock in the morning to say that – after the election to say he had won, that Obama had won.  And now this time we know that it didn’t occur until the 23rd of November, which put them behind as far as getting those materials were concerned.  And that obviously was a problem because we have the crisis of the pandemic, the economy, and those were things you needed information about – vaccine production, distribution – and that material wasn’t available until – at least it wasn’t available from the government side.  

So in addition to the law, there has been an understanding – you can call it a tacit understanding – between incumbent presidents and the president-elect that both of them are at one in making sure that there is continuity in the law and that they want a smooth transition.  For an incumbent president, how they go out is part of their legacy and it makes an impact on how they’re viewed in history.  And for a president-elect, a smooth transition is key because there is a goodwill at the beginning that can dissipate pretty quickly once you get into some partisan battles. 

For example, in Bush’s 2000 transition, he came in with fewer votes than Gore had.  He had 47.9.  He had fewer votes, but after a few weeks in office, his Gallup Poll rating of job approval was 57 percent.  And what that came about – how that came about was because he had a good transition, even though it was a truncated one.  Instead of the normal 78 days, he had 37.  But in that time, he was able to pull together his cabinet and his programs and got off to a good start as far as his policies were concerned, and we’ll talk about that in a few minutes. 

So tacit understandings are important, and even in cases where a president has run for re-election and lost, how he went out of office was critical.  That was true of Jimmy Carter when he lost to Reagan, and it was key also for George H.W. Bush when he lost to Bill Clinton.  In fact, one of his senior advisors, Roger Porter, who was his economic and domestic policy advisor, said that the morning after the election, and when he knew he had lost, he gathered his senior team together, and he said I want this to be a smooth transition; I want you to be helpful to the Clinton people; and I don’t want you to leave any ticking time bombs.  And as upset he was – as he was about losing the election, he said it was important to have a smooth transition.   

He told his director of the transition Andy Card, one of the policy items he talked about was he told him that he wanted Clinton to have a briefing, a security briefing on the Haitian boat lift, because he said there was so much misinformation that it was important early on that he really realize how complicated the situation was.   

And he also told Card that he wanted him to talk to Warren Christopher, who was the director of their transition at that point, and talk to him about whether the Clinton people would like for Bush to fire all of the people he had appointed in political positions.  Should he fire them, or did Clinton want to do that when he came in?  Well, nobody wants to do that when they come in, to spend their time firing people.  So in fact, the Clinton people did want Bush to get rid of the people in political positions and let them have a free hand there.   

And that’s the kind of action.  It’s not in law, but it’s the kind of understanding that people have, and that is because they want the presidency to have continuity to it and have the continuity of law, even in a context of change.  And I think that both the sitting president and the president-elect realize that transition is a fragile time, that you’re changing not just the president but also political appointees, and so in that time there are things that could happen.   

And in 2009, there was a real threat on the inauguration.  And there is a tradition, which is not going to be upheld tomorrow, but there is a tradition that the president-elect, his wife, and the vice president come in and have coffee or tea in the Blue Room.  And while that was taking place with the Bushes and Obamas, their national security staff and their cabinet members who had anything to do with national security were meeting in the Situation Room along with the chief, the incumbent chief of staff Josh Bolten and the new one, Rahm Emanuel.  And they all talked about the threat on the inauguration and how they would handle it and where was the threat coming from.   

And the incumbent cabinet secretary, say, of Homeland Security sat next to the new one, Michael Chertoff next to Janet Napolitano.  And they had already spoken with one another because that was part of their transition, to make sure that the incoming and the outgoing had conversations, which they did.  And Chertoff offered to stay later if she would like, because she was going to be confirmed, and would she like him to stay for a few hours after the inauguration just to help out in case they needed it, and she did, in fact, take him up on it.   

And that’s the kind of transition that usually does take place.  That’s not taking place this time, because you have no concession.  And both Carter and George H.W. Bush conceded quickly, and that has not happened so that other things didn’t kick in, such as the ascertainment by the GSA administrator, who has resigned.  She’s a political appointee and she did resign. 

Well, with all the turmoil that there’s been, and the president denying that he lost the election, what kind of transition has he had?  And there was a Gallup poll that came out this morning that asked the question of the public of how did the transition go; how did Biden’s transition go as opposed to earlier presidents.  And the approval of his transition was at 68 percent, and so you can see that even though the focus often was on President Trump and his claims that this wasn’t a fair election and trying to sow the seeds of distrust in the electoral process, and in spite of that, that Biden actually was able to have a very good transition.   

And the reasons – there are several reasons why his transition was effective, and one of them is his own experience.  He has been in Washington.  He was in elective office from 1973 through the Obama administration.  And with only four years out, it’s possible to bring in a lot of people from earlier times, and he has had a loyal staff that has been with him for decades.  Ron Klain, for example, who is the chief of staff of the White House, worked for him as chief of staff when he was vice president.  He also worked for Al Gore as his chief of staff, and he worked for Biden when he was in the Senate.  

So you have his personal experience, and then I think a key item was his campaign, that in his campaign Biden talked about issues that were going to be priorities for him.  He said the pandemic was A-Number 1 issue, the economy as a result of the pandemic was going to be second, and racial justice was going to be third, and he also put in climate change there.  So the effect of that is, is he talked about those issues throughout his whole campaign, and so people were aware when he won how was he – what was he going to do?  Well, it was clear what he was going to do, because he said it during the campaign.  And one of his first actions was to create an advisory committee that dealt with the pandemic and how would the vaccination process work. 

He then built a White House staff that is heavy on experience, in experience of – in a variety of positions.  One of the things he wanted to do was build confidence of the public, because the public, as we have seen the last four years, has lost a lot of confidence in government and that government is representative of who they are.  And so he wanted to make sure to bring in people that were representative of the population as a whole.  So for example, in his White House, the whole communications team of the leadership are women, and women are prominent in public relations and they have been in communications in various levels of government.  Now they have come up and had experience at a lower level, a middle level, and so you had many more women appointed in not just the White House communications as all over the White House, and then in the departments and agencies as well. 

And he created a personnel system early to look for people in what kind of experiences they had in – when Clinton came into the White House, he appointed his leadership team about – it was around a week ahead of the inauguration, and that’s it.  With Biden, you now have – my last count was around 200 people who have been appointed to White House positions.  So you have the various White House offices staffed, and these were offices – the White House offices, while you could change them from one administration to another, that has tended not to be the case, that you have the same office, like the press office, communications, counsel, personnel.  And he’s dug down deep to appoint people so that they can operate immediately. 

The same thing is happening with positions in Senate-confirmed positions that are leadership positions in departments and agencies, in addition to the secretary, the under secretaries, deputy secretaries.  And he has appointed not only the secretary but the deputy secretaries in the key departments, so that he has already – as of I think yesterday, he had 44 people that he has nominated for Senate-confirmed positions, and that’s about double what you would have in recent administrations. 

And then I think another factor is that there are many groups now that provide information that are helpful to transitions.  For example, the Partnership for Public Service is an organization that’s interested in the federal government service, and they have a tutorial on appointments.  If you want to have an – you want to be appointed to a job, you go through these and you find out what questions you have to ask, what information you need, what are the financial disclosures requirements, conflict of interest, how are they resolved, so you know well beforehand what you’re getting into. 

And so I think all around Biden has been able to have a very good transition even if he was not able to get all of the information he needed.  But he also could go to private companies like talking to Pfizer or Moderna about the vaccine and about their vaccine distribution plans.  So there are a lot of ways of gathering information, in addition to what the government had.  And so I think all in all it’s a transition that has been particularly successful and against enormous odds. 

But they’re in a position where you’ve got a split Senate, and so getting confirmations on all your appointees is going to be difficult.  But having the vice president in the chair to break a tie, that’s going to be very helpful.  Usually, vice presidents do a lot of traveling at the beginning of an administration, like Mondale went around the world for Carter and talked about the administration and what their plans were.  But I think that Kamala Harris is going to be spend a lot of time in the Senate chair, breaking ties, being prepared to break a tie if needed.   

So now I’ll take whatever questions you have. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much, Professor.  If folks have questions, please do raise your hand using the little blue hand feature.  I see two folks who have raised – two journalists raised their hands so far.  And I would also note that if people would like to ask a question in a chat, you can also type it in there.   

So I will ask Ian Cavazos from Verificado in Mexico to start us off with his question.  Ian, you can unmute yourself and ask your question. 

QUESTION:  Good morning. This is Ian Cavazos for Verificado from Mexico.  So I actually have two questions.  My first question is:  What exactly is that information that Joe Biden has lacked as president-elect, so that – the one that you mentioned?  And what was the cause?  So was the cause of delay in the transition process because Trump didn’t concede?  And I believe you said it is coronavirus-related information, or was there anything else?   

And my second question is:  Can we expect those tacit understandings you said to start becoming lost in the United States after what happened in the current transition process?  So do you think transition laws could improve at all after what happened this year? 

MS KUMAR:  Yes, I do think that transition law is going to take another – there’s going to be another view of it and of what kinds of things can be sewn into law to make ascertainment an easier process, and maybe the distribution of other information earlier.  The kinds of information that were lacking, in addition to the specifics on the virus, has been information from the Defense Department.  Even though you had ascertainment by the GSA administrator, the Defense Department leadership changed at the end of the administration.  And the Biden people complained that they did not have the kinds of meetings that they wanted to have that they thought were important to gather information.  And the Environmental Protection Agency was another one where the Biden people felt that they were not sufficiently cooperative.  

And that is important, the Department of Defense one was – is particularly important because of all the actions the administration was taking.  It was doing troop drawdowns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and they wanted to know more about it.  So I think in the national security area they were getting less information than was the case in earlier administrations, and then on the virus, it was particular information.  I mean, one of the things that came out – and just in the last few days, over the weekend – is Alex Azar, who’s the secretary of Health and Human Services, indicated, well, actually, they hadn’t kept back second doses.  They had given out all the doses they had rather than holding back the second dose for Moderna and – for the Moderna vaccine.  And that was in contradiction to what they had earlier said.  I mean, they had said all along that people would get the second dose, that they were keeping those second doses, because they have to be given at a particular time.  And that kind of information one would want to have as early as possible so that you could then deal with Pfizer and Moderna about how to – how do you pick up the slack there. 

And I think in Biden’s case, he wants to invoke the National Defense Production Act, because there has been so little leadership at the national level and coordination at the national level.  And that’s something that he wants to do to – not only for the vaccine but all of the protective equipment that the hospital workers need to have.  But that was not information they had or that anybody seemed to have as far as in – people being in the public space. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’ll go now to Camila Adames from Panama.  Camila, you can please unmute yourself and ask your question.   

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me?  

MODERATOR:  Hi.  Yes. 

MS KUMAR:  Hello – yes, I can (inaudible).  

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Camila Adames from TVN Noticias in Panama.  I have two questions as well.  First, what are some of the ticking time bombs that you think the Biden administration will encounter as soon as they come into office tomorrow?  And second, how does it work for security in institutions – say the Pentagon or things like that – but particularly in cases where you have active conflicts, say during the Vietnam War or the Iraq War?  Like, how would that work in terms of transition? 

MS KUMAR:  If you mean of protecting the Pentagon?  

QUESTION:  Yeah, in terms of like, when you have like, very high security situations or where you have like, command, because the troops like follow a chain of command.  Like, does that change between administrations?  Or is it a constant?  How does it work when you have an army involved? 

MS KUMAR:  Well, you can have the changes in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the president selects the secretary – the secretaries of the Army and Navy and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  And so the notion of civilian control over the military is very important, and to that end, the secretary of defense needs a waiver in cases where he served in the last – I think it’s seven years – in the military, because the – that principle of civilian control dominates.  And James Mattis needed a waiver, and so does Lloyd Austin, and because that waiver was given to Mattis, it made some people nervous about having a military person in – of having two of them in back-to-back administration, provided with waivers. 

But the Pentagon is a secure location, so even though you had – you had demonstrations at the Pentagon during the Vietnam War, but most of the demonstrations actually have been not on the military, but on the decision makers of the war.  And so you had demonstrations at the White House during the Nixon administration, and I remember at one point where they had buses, DC buses around the White House, protecting the south part of the White House.  Now we have in Washington – I’m in Washington, and there are trucks and DC – there have been some DC dump trucks and trash trucks, those kinds of things, blocking some areas.  But you have – now you have the military, you have the National Guard, and then you have some regular military, which is – this place has been locked down in a way I haven’t seen it.  In September 11th, there was there was a military presence in town, but we didn’t have the place shut off in the same way that it currently is.   

Oh, and the ticking time bombs.  Well, declaring the Houthi rebels a terrorist group; you have the troop withdrawal – drawdowns and – in Iraq and Afghanistan; and then you have some personnel choices like having Michael Ellis, who was associated with a lot of Trump initiatives, having him be put in as the general counsel for the National Security Agency.  So there – it’s people but it’s also programs.  And I think there are a lot of them in executive orders.   

But one of the things that you can do with the changes of the new rules that might have been put in to make determinations for a department of things that are allowed or are not allowed.  If it’s a government rule, there’s a Congressional Review Act that provides that rules made within a certain number of days of the end of a Congress – legislative days – that they can be reviewed and overturned.  And now that you have a Democratic Senate – well, it’s 50-50, but you have Harris in the chair – then the Congressional Review Act is a possibility.   

Trump used the Congressional Review Act I think to void about 18 rules.  Before that, it only had been used once against a Clinton rule, but I think we’re going to see it be used again, and with executive orders the President can make changes there – like he’s already announced that we’re going to get into the Paris Climate Agreement.  We’re going to go into that again. 

So I think one of the reasons presidents have been very active at the beginning with executive orders is they want to show who they are and that they’re starting strong, and that this is their brand of leadership – these are issues that they are interested in – because people coming into an administration realize that the public is actually paying attention when a president first comes in.  They may not after six months, but they do when he’s coming in and there’s a lot of goodwill at the beginning.  You can see with 68 percent approving – Gallup approval – of his transition that Biden is starting out strong in spite of the campaign that Trump had to sow seeds of distrust in the election, that Biden has come in with people knowing what he’s standing for and who his people are. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’ll take a question from Mladen Petkov from Bulgarian National Radio.  You can please unmute yourself and ask your question. 

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  Thank you, Professor.  I have a question – I actually had a question about the ticking time bombs, but you kind of answered that question.  I also wanted to ask your opinion about other examples in history and whether the current level of hostility toward the incoming administration is unprecedented.  Can you give other examples of such a time where things were not very friendly? 

MS KUMAR:  Yeah.  Well, you have stylistically where you have a sitting president who doesn’t come to his successor’s inauguration.  You have both Adams, John Adams and John Quincy Adams, did not go to their successors’, nor did Andrew Johnson, who missed impeachment by a hair.  So you’ve had that, but you have not had it in the period since there has been a focus on transition – I would say from Truman forward, when you are getting into institutionalized transitions that are – where you have both sides committed to a good transition.    You don’t have that.  And I mean, you have – Nixon was doing – was working to hold back the negotiations on Vietnam, and so you have some of those kinds of things that made a difference.  You have – when Reagan came in, right after he came in the Iran hostages were released, and that was very important to the defeat of Carter, the Iran hostage-taking.   

So you have those kinds of things, but presidents concede.  But concession isn’t in the Constitution as a requirement.  It may be in the administrator’s mind – if Trump had conceded, then I think you would have had the administrator declare that there was a victor earlier than she did.  But it is – it really is unusual to have this kind of hostility, especially when you’re in the middle of crises.  You have the pandemic, which clearly we do not have a hold on and that needs to be addressed; the economy, a fragile economy; and then we’ve seen over the last six months or so the raising of the issue of racial justice.  And so you have a critical situation that was – that’s unprecedented.  You have 400,000 people who’ve died in a year, and that is unprecedented.   

So the transition has been particularly important, and fortunately Biden started thinking about governing – in fact, he’s better at governing than campaigning, and governing is what he likes to do.  And so he started early and with a team of people who knew government well and also who knew transitions well. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  [Let’s] take a question from Ivonne Valdes from Vanguardia, Mexico.  Ivonne, you can please ask your question. 

QUESTION:  Good morning and thank you for calling on me.  I would like to know, with all the division – can you hear me well? 

MS KUMAR:  Yes. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  With all the division that has been going on in the country throughout this year’s elections in many different situations, what are some of the key actions that the president-elect and vice president-elect should take during the transition to bring some sort of closure?  And what is the current President, Donald Trump, actually blocking currently by taking a position of not being cooperative about, like, the funds that he didn’t allow to be used for the inauguration or stuff like that? 

MS KUMAR:  Yeah.  Well, I think that we can go back and take a page from George W. Bush when he came in in a difficult transition of 37 days.  What he did was not talk about the election at all, focus first on a bipartisan issue – which was education – and then focus on one issue after another that’s critical and go forward and don’t go backwards.  And I think that is the thing to do: see what’s an issue that you can get some agreement with Republicans on, like infrastructure.  Infrastructure would be good for the economy, but it seems to have been a difficult issue under Trump.  Trump announced Infrastructure Week I don’t remember how many times it was, but there were a number of occasions in which there was going to be infrastructure.  So picking issues – you obviously have to deal with the pandemic, number one, which should be critical in every state, and see how we’re going to get national leadership on it.   

And I think that Biden’s way of operating is good for the times.  He is not somebody who likes to operate in public but rather reach consensus on issues.  One of the difference between legislators and executives is that legislators see where compromises can be brought together and try to fashion them, and that is the measure of success.  For a president, it’s usually take a position and see how you can pull it together, and I think that as a president, he’s going to use a lot of the negotiating style that he had when he was in the Senate and also as vice president, because Obama didn’t have a long history in the Senate and he had Biden, who knew most people very well.  And so he used him because he could go and talk to people personally and negotiate.  So I think you’re going to see a lot of personal negotiation. 

Now, the times are more hard-edged than they were four years ago, even.  And I don’t know how well that’s going to work.  But we need to be able to move ahead on law and have situations where we can create legislation that is acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans.  And I think that Biden is in the position to do that as well as anybody could. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our final question, I will read one from the chat.  This comes from Santiago Estrella from El Comercio de Ecuador.  He asks, “In the (inaudible) post transition, does the former administration have any duties after they leave the office?”  And he notes that he understands that the former president get information about security.  In this case, as an impeached president, will President Trump still have his briefings? 

MS KUMAR:  If convicted, then he will lose the various perks that a former president has – office space and staff.  He would lose that.  The duties – I think a common understanding is you write a book.  [Laughter by Ms. Kumar.]  That often what happens is a president leaves office and he really doesn’t have a lot of money, and then he can go on a speaking tour and also write a book about his time.   

And the books can really be interesting.  I thought “Decision Points” by George W. Bush – I don’t know how well it sold, but it was a very interesting book about his decision making.  And as a presidency scholar, I found it interesting.  And Obama’s book about his life has garnered a lot of attention and has certainly made him a wealthy man, as Michelle Obama’s has too.  And she was very popular.   

And I think that’s one of the things that presidents find.  Their staffs usually at the beginning are worried, “What’s the first lady going to say?  Because she’s not a political person, and she’s going to get us in trouble.”  And then by the midterms when the president’s poll numbers are falling, then they realize, “Oh, the first lady’s numbers are really high,” and so they use the first lady. 

But Michelle Obama was particularly popular for all the programs.  And one of those programs that was popular was one she did with Joe Biden on military and military families.  So I think Jill Biden is also very read-in to the role of a first lady because she’s seen it as a second lady herself and has done so much with Michelle Obama. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  With that, I’d like to thank our briefer today, Professor Kumar, and to thank all of our journalists who participated.  With that, that concludes our briefing.  We – again, we will post a transcript and video on our website later.  So thank you again. 

MS KUMAR:  Thank you.  Thank you, Katie.  It was very nice.  I enjoyed the session.  And follow — 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, all. 

MS KUMAR:  And continue following the first hundred days, and what happens in the first hundred days.  Will there be 100 million vaccinations in a hundred days?  And it’s just the hundred days is an – very interesting time, and sets up a presidency.   

MODERATOR:  Yes.  Thank you. 

MS KUMAR:  Thank you.  

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future