What is happening in the impasse of the American presidential transition? | United States and Canada


President Donald Trump has continued to refuse to concede the presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden, as bipartisan calls have escalated to allow a coordinated presidential transition between incoming and outgoing administrations to begin in earnest.In the meantime, Trump and his allies have launched a series of long-running legal challenges aimed at overturning the results in several key states.

Biden, meanwhile, has officially launched his transition team, starting with a coronavirus task force, 39 transition advisory teams for the myriad of agencies his administration will begin leading once he takes office. , and his White House staff. He also began receiving briefings from national security experts.

Yet the Trump administration’s stalemate, which includes the president preventing his cabinet from coordinating with Biden’s transition team, plunged the period between the Nov. 3 election and the Jan. 20 inauguration into the uncertainty.

The transition period following the election normally operates on two levels, Bruce Jentleson, professor at Duke University and former State Department official in the Obama administration, told Al Jazeera: “One is the affirmation and the other preparation ”.

Supporters celebrate Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 presidential election [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

The assertion is the loser who concedes the election, “the game by the rules, the handshake that normally occurs as soon as the results are announced”, he added. “These standards have already been broken. Even if Trump concedes today, the damage is done.

The preparation consists of replacing some 4,000 politicians, of whom 1,200 require Senate approval, in some 40 branches of the presidential administration, while “exchanging binders, giving briefings and organizing meetings ”with mid-level staff to make sure nothing falls. the cracks. These agencies oversee everything – the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, national security, social services, the economy and commerce.

Biden particularly highlighted the need to coordinate the response to COVID-19 amid promising developments in vaccine technology, as he has increased the pressure on Trump this week.

“More people are at risk of dying if we don’t coordinate,” he said on Monday.

“The way it has developed … is unprecedented”

The unusual stalemate the country currently finds itself in is in part a product of its idiosyncratic electoral process, Karen Hult, a political science professor at Virginia Tech and a board member of the Transition Project of the United States, told Al Jazeera. White House. In this system, while victory is reliably projected by media organizations soon after the election, the final results are not approved by Congress until two weeks before the inauguration. This leaves a great deal of leeway for the sitting president.

Under the Presidential Transition Act, both candidates are required to have a “pre-election transition operation” that organizes all relevant information and documents to be ready for a possible transfer of power, according to Hult.

But in the weeks between the presidential election and the nomination, many remain at a little-known agency called the General Services Administration (GSA). When the head of this agency, currently appointed by Trump, Emily Murphy, “determines” the winner of the election, she unlocks other provisions of the presidential transition law, including transition funding, access agencies and the possibility for new officials to obtain security clearances. .

President Donald Trump has not made many public appearances since his election defeat, although his motorcade greeted supporters in a march alleging electoral fraud in Washington, DC [Julio Cortez/The Associated Press]

“The GSA administrator was not given any clear criteria or parameters on which to base his verification decision,” Hult said. “Typically what the GSA administrator has done is as long as it’s clear that the votes have been counted, and even if there are recounts or court challenges, it doesn’t there is hardly any chance that the result will be changed, they check and move on. ”

If the GSA chief does not verify Biden’s victory in the coming days, Hult said the “next decision point” would likely be December 14, when state voters vote, or January 6, when Congress will approve this vote.

“Its evolution since November 7 is unprecedented,” she added.

Coronavirus response

Republican senators, former Trump officials and even those who still serve in the administration have increasingly called on Trump to move forward with a coordinated transition, with concerns particularly focused on the coronavirus pandemic, as cases continue to climb to record levels in the United States, and national security.

Unspoken warnings have come from Trump’s own coronavirus task force, with Dr Anthony Fauci telling NBC’s Today show that he hopes to get the first doses of the vaccine in December and increase in the first months of 2021 .

“We want a smooth process for this,” Fauci said. “And the way you do that is basically to have the two groups talk to each other and exchange information. “

Dr Anthony Fauci warned of implications of a delayed coronavirus response [Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

Meanwhile, Moncef Slaoui, who heads the Trump administration’s vaccination project Operation Warp Speed, told the Financial Times he hopes “nothing is interfering” with the operation.

When asked if this meant coordinating with the Biden transition, he replied, “I guess so.”

Others highlighted the need to share information on drugs and testing supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilators, hospital bed capacity, and manpower availability to be ready to go. respond to the pandemic from day one.

In a letter sent to the White House on Tuesday, leaders of the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association called on the Trump administration to share this critical information on COVID-19 “to save countless lives ”.

“All information on the capacity of the strategic national stock, the assets of Operation Warp Speed ​​and the plans for the dissemination of therapeutic products and vaccines must be shared as quickly as possible … so that there is no disruption in our ability to care for patients, ”the letter said.

national security

Three former Homeland Security secretaries – Janet Napolitano, Michael Chertoff and Jeh Johnson – have warned in recent days of the risks of a delayed transition.

“Having a transition that starts right away, getting security clearance for the incoming team, giving the president-elect access to current intelligence – it’s all part of the preparation process, so when a new administration comes in, they can hit the and not have to figure out what the threats are and what the response capabilities are, ”Chertoff, a Republican, said in a Nov. 13 webinar at the University of Virginia.

Of particular concern is Biden not receiving the brief confidential daily given to the president and vice president, as is the norm for an elected president. On Wednesday, Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, urged the president to give Biden intelligence information even as he continues to run for office.

In a letter sent to GSA administrator Murphy last week, a bipartisan group of former national security officials warned of delaying Biden’s transition team to receive not the necessary security clearances.

“Each day that the Administrator delays is another day when Biden’s team will be without critical information to prepare to tackle the threats facing the nation,” they wrote in the letter, which first was obtained by Politico.

These officials, and other observers, also pointed out that the official commission on the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States found that a 36-day delay in the presidential transition due to a recount in Florida had had a ripple effect of six months. delay in staffing the national security apparatus.

The report concluded that the delay made the United States more vulnerable, and said future transitions should “minimize disruption to national security policy making as much as possible.”


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