Biden on His Cabinet Picks: “This is Not a Third Obama Term…We Face a Totally Different World than We Faced in the Obama/Biden Administration”

In an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt, President-elect Joe Biden responds to whether he would support investigations into President Trump after he leaves office, saying: “I will not do what this president does and use the Justice Department as my vehicle to insist that something happened. There are a number of investigations that I’ve read about that are at a state level. There’s nothing at all I can or cannot do about that. What I’m focused on is getting the American public back at a place where they have some certainty, some surety, some knowledge that they can make it. The middle class and working class people are being crushed. That’s my focus.”

Biden also denied the notion that he is creating “a third Obama term,” telling Holt: “We face a totally different world than we faced in the Obama/Biden administration … President Trump has changed the landscape. It’s become America first, it’s been America alone.”  

Other topics discussed during the wide-ranging interview include: Biden’s Cabinet picks, the formal transition of power, his Covid response plan, distributing the vaccine, reopening schools, his priorities during the first 100 days as President, racial injustice and more.

Below is a rush transcript to the portion that ran on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. Click here to watch part one and click here to watch part two.

Additional portions will air tomorrow on “TODAY” and “NBC Nightly News.”

PLEASE CREDIT: “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt”


LESTER HOLT: You announced some key members of your cabinet today, a very experienced group, a very diverse group. Clearly, you’re trying to send a message. Can you articulate what that message is?

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN: America’s back. We’re at the head of the table once again. I’ve spoken with over 20 world leaders and– they all are literally– they were pleased and somewhat excited, America’s gonna reassert its role in the world and be a coalition builder.

HOLT: This line-up, those you’ve selected so far, a lot of familiar faces among them. What do you say to those who are wondering if you’re trying to create a third Obama term?

BIDEN: This is not a third Obama term because there’s– we– we face a totally different world than we faced in the Obama/Biden administration. The president this– President Trump has changed the landscape. It’s become America first, it’s been America alone. We find ourselves in the position where alliances are being frayed, It’s totally– that’s why I found people who, who joined the administration in key points that represent– the spectrum of the American people as well as the spectrum of the Democratic Party.

HOLT: Have you considered for the sake of national unity, selecting or nominating a Republican, someone who voted for President Trump?

BIDEN: Yes. And we still have a lot more appointments to make. I want this country to be united. The purpose of our administration is, once again, uniting. You can’t keep this very political dialogue going. It has to end. 

HOLT: Should we expect an announcement?


HOLT: Not ever or not soon?

BIDEN:  No, not soon.

HOLT: What about former rivals from your own party, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren,  have you talked to them about cabinet positions?

BIDEN:  Well, what I’ve– I’ve– I’ve talked to– look, as I said– we already have significant representation among progressives in our administration. But there’s nothing really off the table. One this is really critical, taking someone out of the Senate, taking someone out of the House– particularly a person of consequence is a really difficult decision that would have to be made. I have a very ambitious, very progressive agenda. And it’s gonna take really strong leaders in the House and Senate to get it done.

HOLT: The head of the GSA yesterday unlocked the mechanisms for there to be a formal transition of power, recognizing your status right now. Is that happening on the ground? Are people talking right now who weren’t talking yesterday?

BIDEN:  Yes. Immediately we’ve gotten outreach from the National Security shop. From, just across the board. They’re already working out my ability to get Presidential Daily Briefs. We’re already working out meeting with the Covid team in the White House. And how to not only distribute, but get from a vaccine being distributed, to a person being able to get vaccinated. So I think we’re going to not be so far behind the curve, as we thought we might be in the past. And there’s a lot of immediate discussion, and I must say, the outreach has been sincere. There’s has not been begrudging so far. And I don’t expect it to be. So yes it’s already begun.

HOLT: Did you receive the presidential daily brief today?

BIDEN:  Not today. But we are– it will be– starting very shortly– maybe as early as tomorrow.

HOLT:  Have you had any conversations with President Trump post-election about, you know, paving the way for this transition to happen? Any back channel communications?

BIDEN:   No. I believe that his chief of staff and my chief of staff have spoken. But no, I have not heard anything from President Trump.

HOLT: You don’t anticipate any harm from this delay in terms of your ability to do what you want starting day one?

BIDEN: Well, look– it’s a slow start. But it’s starting. And there’s two months left to go so I’m feeling good about the ability to be able to get up to speed and I fully expect based on what occurred so far we’ll get full cooperation with each of the agencies in question. 

HOLT: The day you take office there could be two, maybe three vaccines out there.


HOLT: We understand that health care workers will be first in line. What about the rest of us? How will it roll out? We will go to our doctor’s office? Will we line up at a stadium to get them? Who will determine the order of recipients?

BIDEN: Well, look– first of all, allegedly, that– not all– I don’t mean that accusatory way – allegedly, the administration has set up a roll-out how they think it should occur, what will be available when and how. And we’ll look at that. And we may alter that, we may keep the exact same outlay. But that’s in train now. We haven’t gotten that briefing yet. Secondly, I think talking to, as you may know, I’ve talked to– I’ve had a Zoom with leading governors in the country, Five Republicans, five Democrats. We’ve talked extensively about the need to cooperate and get the vaccine into places where you can actually get vaccinated and their ideas of who they think should go first, I think we should be focusing on obviously the docs, the nurses, those people who are the first responders. I think we should also be focusing on being able to open schools as rapidly as we can. I think it can be done safely. So there’s a lot to work out in the next two months as to exactly how it will be distributed. Now maybe the hope is we can actually begin to distribute it ,this administration can begin to distribute it before we are sworn in to take office. So it’s all in train right now, I’m feeling good though that now we’ll be able to get all the hard data we need which has been unavailable to– to us now.

HOLT: We know the vaccine is going to happen. But as we speak, people are ignoring advice to stay home, they’re crowding airports around the country right now. You’ve called for a national mask mandate. How much power as president will you have to influence people in ways you have not been able to as a candidate?

BIDEN:  I hope as president and many of the Republican governors and mayors felt the same way, I hope that we’re gonna be able to have a united voice on the need to mask, socially distance, testing and tracing. They’re critical, critical pieces to dealing with bringing down this virus in a more manageable place.The words of a president matter. And I think it’s critically important, I think it’s a patriotic responsibility to wear a mask, to socially distance.

HOLT:  A moment ago you mentioned schools. I wanna ask you about that. New York City recently went back to at-home learning only. Some other big cities have made the same choice. What will you do to get kids back in school? How much will you be working the phones and working with governors and–

BIDEN: Well —

HOLT: – -with the mayors?

BIDEN:   — it takes a lotta money to get ’em back. The estimates are $150 billion to $200 billion for the year it would take to get safely open our schools. For example, we know that we have to change everything from the ventilation systems in schools. We know we have to change the sanit– we have to make sure the sanit– everyone from sanitary workers, right through to the bus drivers. They have to be clued in. They have to be protected and they need the PPE. They need the gear. They need the ability to have smaller modules of classes.

HOLT: You’ve got schools closed right now in places where restaurants are open. Are our priorities correct?

BIDEN:  I think we should be able to do both. But look, I’m very concerned about the schools. And I,  for example, I was on call yesterday was– Mayor de Blasio, the largest school district in the country. He is– he is in a position where it cost tens of millions of dollars to be able to safely open the schools. So there’s a lot we can do but it– it is the single best expenditure of our dollars we could engage in now is to provide for these kinds of protections. Not only the protective gear but the PPP, meaning the ability to allow the businesses and other operations to be able to open and have the wherewithal, the financial aid to open safely.

—- PART TWO — 

HOLT: Tell me about day one in the White House. And day one through 100, your first 100 days. What are– what– your priority is gonna be in those first days?

BIDEN: Some of it’s gonna depend on the kinda cooperation I can or cannot get from the United States Congress. But I am going to make a commitment in the first 100 days, I will send a immigration bill to the United States Senate with a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people in America. I will also be moving to do away with some of the, I think, very damaging executive orders that have significantly impacted on making the climate worse and making us less healthy from methane to a whole range of things the president has done as, in my view, has eviscerated the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency. There’s also things that I want to do that relate to the ability to make sure we get immediate assistance to state and local governments to keep them from basically going under. 

So it’s gonna be instead of what– in a normal circumstance you’d set your priorities– there’s multiple things that are gonna have to be taking place at the same time. But the most important thing, I think, is while I do, we try to do all of this, focus on those folks who are always, when the crisis hits, they’re the first one hit  and recovery comes, they’re the last one in. That’s basically minority communities who’ve been hurt very badly. Making sure we get the aid that was voted on in the House and passed by the Senate, in some cases, and much of which is not passed, get the kind of help to keep people afloat. People, I mean, I remember I– I remember my dad being restless and I remember one night, feeling, I could hear my dad, you could just hear the bed moving, so the next morning I said, “Mom, what’s wrong with dad?” She said, “Honey, he’s worried. He just– we just lost our– he had moved jobs. He lost his health insurance. He doesn’t know what to do.” Think of all the people, all the people who are laying at night, awake at night, staring at the ceiling thinking, “God forbid. What happens?” We have to act. We have to act to guarantee them they have access to affordable health insurance. This is more than just a financial crisis. It’s a crisis that is causing real mental stress for millions of people. Millions of people. And it’s within our power to solve it and to grow the economy at the same time. The same time.

HOLT: Some Democrats want investigations to go forward against President Trump after he leaves office. Do you support that?

BIDEN: I will not do what this president does and use the Justice Department as my vehicle to insist that something happened. There are a number of investigations that I’ve read about that are at a state level. There’s nothing at all I can or cannot do about that. What I’m focused on getting the American public back at a place where they have some certainty, some surety, some knowledge that they can make it. The middle class and working class people are being crushed. That’s my focus.

HOLT:  2020 is not only the year of Covid, it’s the year of Breonna Taylor, of George Floyd. If something like one of those cases happens on your watch, what would be the response? How will the Biden administration approach that?

BIDEN: Well, first of all, the way– we approached in the last administration. And that is not hype it up, not make it– look at the facts. Make sure that it is determined what happened, have the agency, the police agency have to be investigated if, in fact, it were get all the detail.Look, the only thing I know all the years I’ve worked both the community as well as police, is that the only people that dislike bad cops more than the community are cops. The vast majority of them are straight, honest and responsible. And the last thing they need is bad cops. Cops who are– act out. And so there has to be accountability and we’re gonna be working with police chiefs, with the community, with civil rights organizations and convening [INAUDIBLE] in the White House, in the White House to determine how we move forward. It’s about bringing people together.


NBC News contact:

Dana Klinghoffer

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