Growing uncertainty about the results of the US 2020 presidential election has delayed the transition of power to Democratic contender Joe Biden. It has also time-lapsed running mate Kamala Harris, and others slated to serve in Biden’s administration should he emerge the eventual winner.
On Nov. 9, the Washington Post reported that Emily Murphy, who heads the Trump administration’s General Service Administration, refused to sign documents that would start the transition to a Biden presidency.
GSA spokeswoman Pamela G. Pennington said the same day that “an ascertainment has not yet been made. GSA and its Administrator [Murphy] will continue to abide by, and fulfill, all requirements under the law and adhere to the prior precedent established by the Clinton Administration in 2000.”
That has delayed Biden’s team from taking on transition issues such as securing millions of dollars in federal funding and meeting with intelligence and other department officials.
The delay has prevented the Biden team from officially starting to form a government, which under normal circumstances occurs following a U.S. presidential election in early November and is completed by Jan. 20, the date on which the former president leaves office.
While most media outlets have called the Nov. 3 election for Biden, a deluge of voter fraud allegations, chiefly in critical swing states, has prompted the Trump campaign to file lawsuits and challenge the apparent outcome of the election.
Such a delay is unprecedented in modern American history, with the exception of the disputed 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Both Biden and Harris delivered acceptance speeches on Nov. 7. Two days earlier, President Donald Trump addressed the nation saying he won the election “if you count the legal ballots.”
Open litigation amid calls for speedy transition
On Nov. 11, the Republican National Convention reported more than 11,000 allegations of various kinds of voter fraud nationwide, such missing ballots, invalid ballots, suspicious behavior by local election officials, unconstitutional election laws, and errors in recently introduced voting software.
Additionally, state authorities have yet to ascertain that Biden has won the election. As such, the transition and procedures associated with it — such as access to transition funding and intelligence briefings — have yet to begin.
The Biden team has urged Murphy to start the transition process, arguing that the country’s national security and economic interests hinge on sending the rest of the world signals that the United States will have a smooth handover of political power.
Sen. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat for Virginia who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Operations, said that a speedy transition is critical given the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The [GSA] administrator plays a critical role in the peaceful transfer of power and ensuring vital government services are not disrupted. This is all the more important amid a deadly pandemic,” Connolly told Reuters.
Since 1963, U.S. law has empowered the GSA to decide when a winner has been determined, before authorizing federal agencies to communicate with the president-elect and providing them with funding to onboard the new administration prior to Jan. 20.
Despite the delays, Team Biden is still making preparations to form a government.
“Until an ascertainment is made, the statute allows for the Biden Transition Team to continue to receive the pre-elect services from the government (e.g., limited office space, computers, background investigations for security clearances). GSA has met all statutory requirements under the PTA for this election cycle and will continue to do so,” a GSA spokesperson said.
On Nov. 10, Biden responded to questions about his team not receiving intelligence updates, saying that the presidential daily brief would be “would be useful, but it’s not necessary” at the moment.
“I’m not the sitting president now,” he said.