White House Hand Off! Could Next Nominee Get Leg Up On Presidential Transition?

Could the days of presidential hopefuls flinging accusations at one another about “measuring the drapes” at the White House be over?

Sen. Joe Lieberman is aiming to take the presumptuousness out of planning, saying it’s critical for national security to ensure a seamless start for a new president. Lieberman (I-CT) has joined Sens. George Voinovich (R-OH), Ted Kaufman (D-DE) and Daniel Akaka (D-HI) to write a bill that would allow presidential candidates to formally begin transition work once they accept the party nomination.

In the fast-moving political climate as world events travel the speed of the Internet, there’s not a moment to spare when a new president takes office. But the next chief executive isn’t allowed to really plan for taking over the White House until they win the election. The bipartisan legislation proposes giving both major party presidential nominees a two-month jump on the process.If it were to pass — a tall order for anything these days given partisan gridlock and House-Senate tension, not to mention the midterm elections — the nominees would be given a transition staff and offices at the General Services Administration. They’d need to pay for it themselves out of campaign funds, and the staff working on transition projects would be kept separate from political staff.

There’s no doubt that presidential candidates do behind-the-scenes work recruiting top candidates for their (hopeful) future Cabinet, and have a game plan in mind when it comes to the team. But this legislation would formalize that for both candidates.

The John Heilemann/Mark Halperin book on the 2008 campaign, “Game Change,” detailed that then-Sen. Hillary Clinton had actually started her transition team privately before any elections had been held. The book reported that John Podesta of the Center for American Progress led her team. Podesta eventually spearheaded Obama’s transition.

“Fortune favors the prepared … [the bill] will go a long way in removing the stigma that has historically caused candidates to hide or even delay important transition planning until after Election Day,” Kaufman said in a statement.

Voinovich, who is retiring, said candidates should be encouraged to plan and not be called arrogant if they want to prepare before the voters make their choice. Lieberman cited the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, saying that early planning will make the United States safer.

The senators say their bill will “make candidate transition planning an act of responsibility, not presumptuousness.” It also will fund administration assistance to the nominees, and establishes a procedure to have top administration officials such as the chief of staff or Cabinet members to work with each nominee’s transition team.
Read the bill in full here.