The president's transition has officially started.
On Monday, Emily Murphy, director of General Services Administration (GSA), sent a letter to President-elect Joe Biden officially approving the beginning of the presidential change. Murphy, after weeks of delay, and under mounting pressure from the Democrats and bipartisan backlash from national security and public health experts to initiate the process, issued the "Finding" letter. Some Republican politicians had also begun to speak out.
The investigation will provide funding for Biden's transition to Harris, and most importantly, will allow Biden's team to meet with their colleagues from various federal agencies in preparation for taking over the new administration in January.
"As an administrator of the US General Services Administration, under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, as amended, I have the ability to provide certain post-election resources and services to assist in the event of a change of president," Murphy wrote on her letter the elected Vice President Biden.
"I take this role seriously and, due to recent developments in legal challenges and certification of election results, I am sending this letter to bring these resources and services to you," she said.
These "recent developments" most likely relate to Trump's failed attempts in court to challenge the election and battlefield states, including Michigan and Georgia, that officially voted for Biden's victory. In the past, most GSA administrators have made their judgments based on media projections, after which the losing candidate usually admits. But Murphy had held back, despite Biden being declared the winner by all of the major US media outlets and Trump's legal challenges in court for the most part going nowhere.
The GSA recognizes Biden's victory and the formal beginning if the transition process is likely to allay concerns about Trump's refusal to accept the election results. After Republicans step back from their defense of the president and quickly closing Trump's legal channels, the reality that Trump has been trying to keep in check for weeks is finally catching up with him. Biden will become president on January 20th – and now he can at least prepare properly.
The role of the GSA in transition is usually superficial. This year, like so much else related to the transition, was not normal.
After most presidential elections – with the exception of the controversial election of George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000 – the GSA administrators quickly identified the new president after the news outlets called the race and conceded the losing candidate.
Murphy's refusal to do so had put pressure on Capitol Hill, including from House Democrats, who wanted Murphy to let them know of the transition's delay. And as Trump's legal losses increased, some prominent Republicans also split from the president, congratulating the new administration and calling for the transition to begin.
Murphy defended her decision-making in her letter on Monday, saying that it set a precedent for previous elections that involve legal challenges and incomplete counts. The GSA does not dictate the outcome of litigation and recounts, nor does it determine whether such procedures are appropriate and justified. “The only modern example of the GSA delaying a change of president came in 2000 due to the Florida recount.
Murphy also denied that the White House pressured her to withhold the finding. “I have devoted much of my adult life to public service, always striving to do the right thing. Please note that based on the law and available facts, I came to my decision independently. I have never been pressured, directly or indirectly, by any executive officer – including those who work in the White House or GSA – as to the content or timing of my decision, "Murphy wrote. "To be clear, I have not been instructed to delay my determination."
But President Donald Trump undermined this a little, saying in a tweet shortly after the GSA acted, "In the best interests of our country, I recommend Emily and her team do what needs to be done about the initial protocols and to do told my team to do the same. "
… fight, and I think we will prevail! Even so, in the best interests of our country, I recommend Emily and her team to do what needs to be done regarding the initial protocols and have told my team to do the same.
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 23, 2020
Even though Trump said his case was "STRONG", this is one of the president's most direct recognitions that his term is ending – even if it's not exactly a concession.
Biden's transition team has since tried to move forward without the assistance of the Trump administration. Biden has begun naming key members of his cabinet and has held meetings with heads of state to better coordinate the federal and state response to Covid-19. He also received a national security briefing from former officials – although this is not quite the same as a US intelligence service threat briefing. With the GSA's determination, both national security and pandemic coordination are expected to begin in earnest.
In a statement, Yohannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden-Harris Transition, described the GSA's determination as "a necessary step in addressing the challenges our nation is facing, including controlling the pandemic and our economy."
"This final decision is a final administrative action to formally begin the transition process with federal agencies," the statement said. "In the coming days, transition officials will meet with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, fully consider our national security interests, and gain a full understanding of the Trump administration's efforts to undermine government agencies."
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