The Biden-Harris administration will begin on Jan. 20

By Virginia Chamlee
December 03, 2020 06:21 PM
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris
| Credit: Matt Baron/Shutterstock

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are set to be sworn in on Jan. 20.

Set against the backdrop of an unprecedented pandemic, in which 274,000 Americans have died so far as a result of the novel coronavirus, the transition will prove historic in more ways than one.

Biden's running mate, California Sen. Harris, will be the first woman, the first Black person and the first person of Asian descent to be vice president.

Meanwhile President Donald Trump is refusing to admit defeat, pushing claims of fraud for which he has not provided proof at the same time that he and his allies are calling on local lawmakers and courts to toss out the election results. He has been unsuccessful, however, and more and more Republicans recognize Biden as the next president.

With the inauguration a little over a month away, there's still plenty to look for before Biden takes office, including who he will pick for key cabinet positions and how the Senate will look following the Georgia run-off elections.

And Trump, with less than seven weeks left in office, still has plenty of time to make major last-minute decisions, including pardons or final policy moves.

Here's what is a brief look at what to watch for.

Biden Cabinet Picks

Biden has already announced several of his cabinet picks, many of whom are experienced advisers with impressive resumes and deep political connections. He has also repeatedly promised to staff an administration that, he's said, reflects the country — creating the expectation that he will continue to chose diverse faces for the remaining top jobs, such as those running the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services and Justice.

Biden is expected to announce his remaining senior-most government picks in the coming days and weeks. Various top aides and other key staff for both him and Harris are being named all the time as well.

Election Disputes Resolved

Biden was projected as the winner by major news desks including the Associated Press four days after the polls closed. Since then, Trump has launched a host of legal challenges to the election results — almost entirely without success, as the courts note that he has not provided proof of his claims of wrongdoing.

As his lawsuits have foundered, Trump and his allies have adopted a strategy of pressing their claims in public, including at news conferences and in showy hearings where they are pressed by reporters and lawmakers.

The official deadline to resolve election disputes looms on Tuesday.

First Day of New Congress

The 117th Congress will officially convene on Jan. 3 (a date mandated by the Constitution) at noon. The opening day consists of a host of well-established traditions, including the swearing-in of new and re-elected members; the establishment of a quorum; the adoption of administrative resolutions and standing orders; and the creation of a timeline by which new bills may be considered.

Georgia Senate Runoff

Georgia voters will head to the polls for both of the state's Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5. The results of the two races will determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years.

Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock will face off against Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, while Democrat John Ossoff, a former congressional aide and producer of investigative documentaries, will be up against GOP Sen. David Perdue.

If either Loeffler or Perdue wins, their party will retain a slim majority in the Senate, likely increasing the influence of moderate Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

However if both Democratic candidates win, they will be in control of the chamber with Vice President-elect Harris able to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Electoral College Vote

All of the key battleground states — including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — have certified their results, officially declaring Biden the winner. But there's still one more step: On Dec. 14, electors from each state will meet to cast their ballots for president and vice president and on Jan. 6, Congress will meet in a joint session to count those votes.

Trump has suggested that once the Electoral College chooses Biden, he will be more accepting of his loss.

Final Policy Decisions

Though many of the president's final moves while in office remain more speculative than concrete — including questions about drawing down troops in the Middle East — Congress has already begun preparing to rebuke some of the outgoing administration's foreign policy moves, including a proposed arms transfer to the United Arab Emirates.

As Politico reported this week, aides are currently working to give Trump a list of policies that could be enacted by the end of his term. Among the potential executive orders and regulations are those concerning immigration and school choice.

Trump Pardons

Some of Trump's most controversial moves as president have been the pardons of his friends and allies, some of whom had pleaded guilty to federal crimes. A president's pardon power for federal crimes is largely unrestricted and presidents have historically issued more and more pardons at the end of their terms, when the political consequences hold less sway.

Among those who could potentially receive pardons are onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the U.S. and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice as part of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation

The New York Times recently reported that Trump has discussed granting pre-emptive pardons for his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, as well as his three eldest children: Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Trump Jr.

The White House press secretary previously told reporters that she had "heard no mention of any pardons in any conversations I’ve had in the White House other than the pardon of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn," Trump's first national security adviser.

It remains unclear why Giuliani or Trump's adult children, who are some of his most notable aides, would need pardons given they have not been publicly accused of crimes.

Presidential pardons also do not provide protection against state or local infractions.

Ivanka was recently deposed by Washington, D.C.'s attorney general, regarding an inquiry into Trump inauguration spending. (She has called it "politically motivated.") Other investigations into the family's business dealings remain ongoing in Manhattan.


“It's going to definitely have to be changed,” Ron Klain, Biden's incoming chief of staff, told ABC News in November. “We've started some consultations with House and Senate leadership on that. Obviously this is not going to be the same kind of inauguration we have had in the past.”

Biden's team has not announced much about the Jan. 20 inauguration, which will be held at noon, but as Klain implied it likely won't include the heavy crowds, well-attended parades and as much pomp and circumstance of past events.

Still, those involved with the event told NBC News that construction was underway on a parade viewing box and swearing-in platform large enough to "accommodate up to 1,600 dignitaries."

However, NBC News reported that "everything is under consideration," and Biden has repeatedly stressed the importance of following coronavirus precautions.

It's unclear if Trump will appear at the event, as is customary for outgoing presidents, though some reports have suggested he is planning a competing event of his own.