Donald Trump directs team to co-operate on Biden transition

First sign that president has accepted election result, though he stops short of concession

US President Donald Trump looks on after delivering an update on “Operation Warp Speed” in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, earlier this month. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

US President Donald Trump looks on after delivering an update on “Operation Warp Speed” in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, earlier this month. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

 

US president Donald Trump has instructed his team to co-operate with incoming president Joe Biden, in the first sign that he has accepted the results of the presidential election.

In a tweet he said he had instructed his team to “do what needs to be done” with regard to initial protocols, officially permitting the presidential transition to begin. But he said that his case “strongly continues”, and “I believe strongly we will prevail”.

The intervention by the president follows confirmation by the General Services Administration – the federal agency responsible for overseeing the presidential transition – that it had ascertained Mr Biden as the winner of the election. While usually this is a procedural matter, GSA head Emily Murphy, a Trump appointee, had refused to designate Mr Biden as the apparent winner, an ascertainment which allows the incoming president access to resources and information needed to prepare for the presidency.

But in a letter sent to the Biden transition team on Monday, Ms Murphy said that, because of recent developments involving legal challenges and certification of results, she had determined that the Biden team could access resources and services as set out in the Presidential Transition Act.

Ms Murphy said that she came to the decision “independently, based on the law and available facts” and was not pressured by the executive branch. This conflicts with Mr Trump’s assertion in his tweet that he had instructed the GSA chief to begin the process.

Decision

Ms Murphy also defended her decision to delay the ascertainment. “I do not think that an agency charged with improving federal procurement and property management should place itself above the constitutionally-based election process,” she said, noting that she had received threats to herself, her family, her staff and her pets over the process.

The formal sign-off from the GSA means that Mr Biden’s team will gain access to classified information, resources and information related to the country’s Covid-19 strategy and $6.3 million in government funding as the president-elect prepares to take office on January 20th.

Ms Murphy’s decision was announced after a tense exchange between her office and Congress throughout Monday. While the GSA first announced that Ms Murphy’s deputy would brief congressional committees on the state of play on November 30th, Democrats in a letter demanded that Ms Murphy herself appear this week to answer questions. The Biden team received a letter informing them of the ascertainment decision shortly afterwards.

Mr Trump’s decision to allow his team to co-operate with Mr Biden comes after further defeats for the president in his efforts to challenge the outcome of the election, which was declared for the Democratic candidate more than two weeks ago.

Michigan’s board of canvassers voted to certify the state’s election results on Monday. The decision was a blow to Mr Trump, who had hoped to sway the Republican members of the board to declare him the victor in Michigan, despite Mr Biden winning the state by about 155,000 votes. In the end three of the four members of the board voted to certify.

College of electors

Pennsylvania was expected to become the latest state to certify its results. All states must formally announce or “certify” the results in their elections before December 14th, when the college of electors meets.

In a statement, the Biden team welcomed the GSA decision as “a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track”.

Biden Transition executive director Yohannes Abraham also noted that transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to “discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies”.

The development comes as Mr Biden unveiled his foreign policy and national security team, stepping up plans to assume the presidency.

Antony Blinken, the former deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser, will replace Mike Pompeo as secretary of state. Jake Sullivan, a former Hillary Clinton aide who also served as Mr Biden’s national security adviser in the Obama administration, will be national security adviser, while career diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield has been proposed as the new US ambassador to the United Nations.

Avril Haines

In addition, the former vice-president has nominated the first female candidate to head the US intelligence services – 51-year-old Avril Haines. Lawyer and long-term government official Alejandro Mayorkas will be the first Latino to lead the department of homeland security, the agency responsible for immigration matters.

Former secretary of state John Kerry has been named as the administration’s climate envoy – an indication of the priority Mr Biden will give to climate change during his presidency. This will be the first time a climate change envoy will sit on the National Security Council.

Tweeting on Monday, Mr Kerry said that America “will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is”. Mr Biden is expected to rejoin the Paris climate agreement in the early days of his presidency.

Though not confirmed, it has been widely reported that Janet Yellen, the former head of the Federal Reserve, will be the new treasury secretary – the first woman to lead the agency in its 231-year history.