Biden transition head speaks out on 'difficult and intense' process

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Ted Kaufman, Biden’s longtime chief of staff and a former senator, says that leading Biden’s transition team “has been the most difficult and intense workload that I've ever experienced.”

"I thought we [saw] the most difficult transition because of the Great Recession, the financial crisis, in 2008, but it's nothing like this," he said in an interview with the Center for Presidential Transition’s David Marchick for their “Transition Lab” podcast.

It is the most extensive recorded interview Kaufman has done since Biden’s victory and revealed some fresh details on the transition team’s planning, including that Biden tapped Kaufman to work on the transition back in the early spring, well before Biden announced Kaufman's appointment on June 20. "You can't start too early," he said, calling it one of the smartest decisions they made. Kaufman said he also immediately brought on fellow Biden aide Mark Gitenstein.

Kaufman also discussed how the transition sought to avoid leaks, at least before Election Day. One of the rules staff tried to operate by, he said, "was ‘what happens in the transition, stays in the transition.'"

"I mean, if you've spent any time in Washington, it's like the greatest parlor game, rabbit hunt, in Washington for the period that the transition is ongoing," Kaufman continued. "Who's going to get a job, when are they going to get them and who's going to get what, who's going to be in line — those types of things.”

He boasted that, “We did have a lot of reports of what was happening in the transition, but very little of it was accurate.” After the election, however, many personnel decisions did leak out earlier than the Biden team wanted, including his choice for Pentagon chief, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin.

Kaufman has been with Biden since Biden’s first Senate race in 1972. After seeing up close the challenges the 2008 Obama transition faced, Kaufman became a fierce advocate for more government funding and infrastructure for those overseeing the handover from one presidential administration to the next. A recent law on the transition process is even named after him.

Kaufman, always a loyal soldier, spoke optimistically about the coming Biden administration. “Joe Biden brings more experience to this job than any other person that became president in our history."

POLITICO asked the 81-year-old Kaufman if he would be joining the administration himself. He did not immediately respond.

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