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GSA tells Biden transition can formally begin

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The United States General Services Administration has informed President-elect Joe Biden that the Trump administration is ready to begin the formal transition process.

The Cable News Network (CNN) reported this quoting a letter from Administrator Emily Murphy.

The letter is the first step the administration has taken to acknowledge President Donald Trump’s defeat, more than two weeks after Biden was declared the winner in the election.

The letter signals that Murphy will formally sign off on Biden’s victory, a normally perfunctory process known as ascertainment.

The move will allow the transition to officially begin, permitting current administration agency officials to coordinate with the incoming Biden team, and providing millions in government funding for the transition.

The move toward ascertainment comes after Michigan formally certified its election results and Georgia certified its razor-thin presidential results on Friday.

Pennsylvania is nearing certification of its election results, too.

It’s the latest sign that Trump’s legal bid, led by Rudy Giuliani, to circumvent the outcome of the election is nearing an end.

The Trump campaign’s lawsuits to delay certification of the election have been dismissed in multiple states, as his legal team has failed to provide any evidence of widespread voter fraud.

But until now, Murphy had refused to move forward with the ascertainment process, despite Biden’s clear victory, locking the President-elect’s team out of speaking with federal agencies.

Murphy, a Trump political appointee, has faced intense scrutiny and political pressure from Democrats and, in recent days, Republicans calling for the start of a smooth transition.

In a statement yesterday, Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, said that “there is no evidence as of now of any widespread fraud or irregularities that would change the result in any state” and called on the transition process to begin.

After Biden was projected to have won with 306 electoral college votes compared to Trump’s 232,  the president-elect transition spokesman said in an email: “Now that the election has been independently called for Joe Biden, we look forward to the GSA Administrator quickly ascertaining Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the President-elect and Vice President-elect.

“America’s national security and economic interests depend on the federal government signaling clearly and swiftly that the United States government will respect the will of the American people and engage in a smooth and peaceful transfer of power.”

As the campaign wound down, President Trump gave signals that he would not easily hand over the reins to his successor, if there was one.

But for people who have been through them, a presidential transition is a massive undertaking requiring discipline, decision-making and fast learning under the smoothest circumstances. Each lost day puts the new government behind schedule.

“The transition process is fundamental to safely making sure the next team is ready to go on Day One,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, which has set up a presidential transition center and shares advice with the Biden and Trump teams. “It’s critical that you have access to the agencies before you put your people in place.”

The Biden team can now move forward to get preliminary security clearances and begin FBI background checks on potential nominees requiring Senate confirmation.

Another senior administration official who was not authorised to speak publicly said each agency has drafted detailed transition plans for a new administration, but they will not be released to the Biden team until a winner is formally declared.

Trump has been resistant to participating in a transition — fearing it is a bad omen — but has allowed top aides to participate as long as the efforts do not become public, administration officials said. He is unlikely to concede he has lost or participate in traditional activities, the officials said.

In a call on Friday with administration officials, Mary Gibert, the head of the presidential transition team at the GSA, told colleagues the agency was in a holding pattern and not to host people from Biden teams until there is “ascertainment.” She gave no specific timeline on when it was expected.

The delay has already gummed up discussions on critical issues, including plans to distribute a possible coronavirus vaccine, this official said.

GSA has been part of transition planning since the Presidential Transition Act was signed in 1963. Since then, the agency has identified the winner within hours or a day of media projections, and weeks before the results were made official by the electoral college.

Chris Lu, who served as former president Barack Obama’s transition director in 2008, recalled that after Obama was declared the winner over the late senator John McCain on Nov. 4, he went to sleep to get up early the next morning to open the transition office. He missed the call from GSA’s acting administrator, Jim Williams, informing him that he had signed over transition resources to the Obama team.

Read Also: Biden to name first cabinet picks tomorrow

“Jim made the call at 1 a.m.,” Lu said. “There was simply no controversy involved.”

Robert C. MacKichan Jr., an attorney who served as GSA general counsel for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said that because Trump is contesting the election and the electors had not yet voted, it’s too early for Murphy to make a call. Once the administrator issues the letter, the funds can be spent and can’t be recouped.

“I don’t think, at this point, I would feel comfortable making that determination now,” MacKichan said. “It’s premature.”

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