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Biden unveils transition ethics plan aimed at countering Trump

Jennifer Epstein
Bloomberg

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s transition team on Wednesday unveiled an ethics plan aimed at responding to recent stock-trading scandals in Congress and striking a sharp contrast with President Donald Trump’s administration.

Anyone who joins Biden’s transition team must pledge not to trade individual stocks without the approval of the transition’s general counsel. Biden’s campaign has a similar stock-trading rule in place.

Like past Democratic transitions, Biden’s is banning anyone who’s been a registered federal lobbyist or who’s advised foreign governments or politicians in the past 12 months from joining without approval. The rules also forbid lobbying, work for foreign entities and appearances before federal agencies for which an individual had substantial responsibility for 12 months after the transition.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks with United Steelworkers Union President Thomas Conway, right, aboard his train as it travels to Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020. Biden is on a train tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania today.

A transition official said the rules are aimed at rebuilding trust in government after the four years of the Trump presidency and would be followed by stringent government ethics rules if Biden were to win November’s election.

“The Biden-Harris Transition prioritizes integrity and the highest ethical standards to serve the American people,” said co-chair Ted Kaufman, a former Delaware senator who’s helped develop legislation around the transition process since serving on the Obama-Biden team in 2008.

“Our ethics code and plan demonstrate the values that would be part of a Biden-Harris administration and promote accountability to garner trust from the American people at every stage,” Kaufman said.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks aboard his train as it travels to Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020.

The updated policy comes as members of Congress have been criticized for trading stocks at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The Department of Justice is investigating trades made by Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina just before the stock market tumbled as the virus crashed the economy. Investigations into trades made by Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California have been dropped.

The ethics plan and an accompanying code of conduct to be signed by transition staffers are the first to ever be submitted to the General Services Administration in compliance with a 2016 law that’s named for Kaufman and Republican Mike Leavitt, a Cabinet official in the George W. Bush administration.

Many of the limitations on transition staff can be overruled by general counsel Jessica Hertz, a former associate general counsel at Facebook who also worked in the Obama Justice Department.