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Former Gov. Mike Leavitt (R-Utah) On Ensuring Successful Transition Of Power

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now as we finish up this hour and await remarks from the - President-elect Joe Biden, we're going to go to Mike Leavitt. He is the former governor of Utah. He is a Republican who planned the former presidential candidate, now Senator Mitt Romney's prospective transition. He's written a book about peaceful transitions of power and works with a center on them. But he also served as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and administrator of the EPA for the George W. Bush administration. And I hope that we can draw upon both of those experiences as we talk about the challenges facing the incoming administration, which include a global health crisis which continues. Governor Leavitt, thank you so much for joining us.

MIKE LEAVITT: Thank you. I'm pleased to join you.

MARTIN: So what are the most critical elements for a successful transition of power in the weeks ahead and being mindful of the fact that the incumbent has not conceded, says that he won't is continuing to fight bitterly, obviously very angry, continuing to make charges which have no support of or there's of - for which there is no evidence that this was stolen from him? Having said all of that, we've had better moments in American history before. What do you think needs to happen?

LEAVITT: Transitioning power, as you have pointed out, is a fundamental to American democracy. Until 2010, transitions of presidential power took place in quite informal ways. At that point in time, Congress passed the Presidential Transition Act, which requires any major candidate for the presidency to begin planning well in advance of the election.

Consequently, former Vice President Biden and his team have been working to prepare since late April. And they have had a quite considerable number of people who have been working, basically, to do four things. The first is to be ready to put a team on the field. The second would be to implement the commitments that he made during the campaign, particularly those that need to be fulfilled in the first 100 or 200 days. The third is to build a beachhead of support and relationships with Congress and foreign leaders and others that need to have contact. And the second is to just take good care of the president-elect and the vice president-elect before they get to the White House and develop a staff resource. So this is a process that's been going on for some time.

MARTIN: So they - you think they've been doing their part. What about on the Trump side? I understand that perhaps you have some relationships there. Are people on the Trump administration side doing their part as well to ensure a successful transition should it occur?

LEAVITT: Second-term transitions, if you're going to go forward, are different, of course, than if you're transitioning out of office. And we don't know yet exactly what the response will be. As you said, the election in their mind is going forward. But can I just say - that will turn out the way it will. Right now, I think it's incumbent on the president-elect to prepare to assume responsibility of the presidency. And much of that either has been done or will be done and is ongoing. We can all hope that that will happen in an orderly way.

MARTIN: Before we let you go - and I just want to ask if I could draw upon your other experience in building. You led the development of a federal pandemic response plan after the 2005 avian flu outbreak. What should President-elect Biden's first move be to control the pandemic, which continues to rage around the world?

LEAVITT: I believe the first job is then to assure that he has a team together. And I understand that he will implement a pandemic task force on Monday. Very important, even though he's not president, to be up to speed and to know that he has full briefing on the situation as it exists. Then a second will be to find out exactly what federal responsibilities need to be met. Where are we with vaccines? Where are we with medical countermeasures? I think the third is to gain the confidence of the American people and to begin to have a dialogue with them about the reality of where we are. We're clearly at a point where we're seeing a spike. I think Joe Biden will have an opportunity to begin to speak with the American people about that.

MARTIN: That is the former governor of Utah, Mike Leavitt. He is an authority on presidential transitions as well as a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Governor Leavitt, thank you so much for spending time with us and sharing your expertise. We really appreciate it.

LEAVITT: Thanks for inviting me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.