Biden forges ahead with transition while Trump paralyzes Washington

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks about the U.S. economy during a press briefing at the Queen Theater on November 16, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — By most measures, President-elect Joe Biden had a busy and productive second week of his presidential transition. 

On Monday, Biden convened a meeting of labor leaders and the CEOs of several major companies to discuss economic recovery priorities. The next day, he held a briefing with national security experts on threats facing the United States.

On Wednesday, Biden hosted a virtual roundtable with first responders to discuss the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The day after that, he held a meeting with Republican and Democratic governors to discuss state and federal coordination in a Biden administration.

On Friday afternoon, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris met in person in Wilmington, Delaware, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. There, the nation’s four most powerful Democrats discussed legislative priorities for the coming year.

There were also significant announcements this week about who will staff the Biden White House, with longtime loyalists Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti tapped to serve as the incoming president’s top advisors. 

In addition to the veteran Biden hands, younger Democratic stars such as Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond and Biden’s 2020 campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, will play integral roles in the day-to-day running of Biden’s administration. 

Biden also settled this week on at least one of his Cabinet picks, his Treasury secretary, although he refused to say whom he had chosen. 

Several of Biden’s White House staff announcements quickly drew the ire of progressive groups, which publicly criticized the incoming president for hiring top aides who have ties to the pharmaceutical industry and the oil and gas sector. 

Speaking to reporters Friday, Biden transition advisor Jen Psaki brushed aside the public pressure from the left, saying Biden would assemble a team that reflected his pledge to be a president for “all of the country,” meaning Democrats, Republicans and independents. 

Yet all of Biden’s outwardly normal, run-of-the-mill transition activity this week only served to underscore the fact that Biden’s transition right now is anything but normal. 

President Donald Trump has so far refused to concede the election he lost. And as several key swing states prepared to certify Biden’s electoral victory this week, Trump grew increasingly desperate to overturn the election results.

In the two weeks since Election Day on Nov. 3, Trump’s campaign has lost or abandoned more than two dozen lawsuits it filed, seeking to disqualify votes, prove voter fraud or invalidate election results. 

With fewer and fewer legal avenues available, Trump this week turned his focus to obscure members of state election boards, part of a broader plan to persuade Republican board members in states he lost to refuse to certify the vote tally.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Senator Kamala Harris meet with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate Chuck Schumer (D-NY) at Biden’s transition headquarters in the Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 20, 2020.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

On Friday, while Biden discussed Covid relief funding with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump held a hastily arranged meeting at the White House with a group of Republican legislators from Michigan.

People close to the president said this week that the Michigan legislators are central to Trump’s latest plan to cling to power: a legally dubious gambit wherein state electors would first refuse to certify the election results, and then Republican-controlled legislatures in those states would step in to appoint electors who would certify, falsely, that Trump had won a majority of the votes.

But even as Trump’s attempts to overturn the will of voters begin to seem increasingly absurd, his control over the levers of federal power in Washington looks anything but. 

Trump has so far refused to authorize the start of a formal transition process triggered by the General Services Administration, and he has prohibited federal agencies from communicating with the Biden transition team. 

As coronavirus cases hit deadly new records this week, Trump continued to deny Biden’s health advisory team access to the federal officials leading the pandemic response. 

For now, there is little that Biden can do about it, save for applying public pressure on the intransigent president. 

“More people may die if we don’t coordinate,” Biden said in Wilmington earlier this week. “And so it’s important that it be done — that there be coordination now.” 

Trump, however, seems to be living in a different reality, one where he hasn’t lost the election and Biden is an afterthought. 

“I won the Election!” Trump falsely claimed on Monday. “I won the Election!” he claimed again on Wednesday. 

If there is one aspect of reality that both Trump and Biden appear to agree on, it’s a date, Dec. 14. On that day, electors chosen by voters will convene in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to formally cast their votes for president and vice president. 

Until then, Americans may be forced to watch reality happen only in Wilmington, while Washington remains trapped in the president’s fever dream. 

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