In the face of mounting pressure from the public and members of Congress, President Donald Trump and his head of the General Services Administration late Monday cleared the way for President-elect Joe Biden to formally begin the transition process following weeks of delay that analysts warned could hinder the incoming government's ability to quickly respond to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and economic collapse.
GSA chief Emily Murphy—the administrator of a typically low-profile agency that has garnered national attention thanks to her previous unwillingness to greenlight the transition process—sent a letter to Biden Monday night informing the president-elect that she is officially making the "resources and services" of the federal government available to him and his transition team, a move Democratic lawmakers welcomed as a long-overdue first step.
"Thankfully, the threat of having to explain herself before Congress was enough for Emily Murphy to do the right thing."
—Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
"It should not have taken the ire of Congress and the American public to convince Administrator Murphy to do the right thing," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said in a statement. "Her actions were dangerous and Congress must ensure it never happens again. Now that she has belatedly begun the transition, I urge GSA to work expeditiously to make sure the Biden team has the resources to which they are entitled."
In recent days, as the pandemic continued to take lives and with the nation's economy in shambles, Democratic lawmakers and watchdog groups had condemned Murphy's resistance to beginning the transition process as a damaging act of subservience to Trump, who has refused to accept his election defeat and is challenging the results in court with a slapdash legal effort that has thus far repeatedly faceplanted.
Murphy, who was appointed by Trump in 2017, insisted Monday that her decision-making on the transition was not driven by "fear or favoritism."
In a series of tweets late Monday on the heels of Murphy's letter, Trump once again declined to concede defeat even as he announced he has instructed his team to cooperate with the Biden transition.
"Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good fight," the president wrote shortly after Michigan's election board certified Biden's victory in the key battleground state despite the Trump campaign's legal challenges.
"There you go," one unnamed Trump adviser told CNN in response to the president's announcement. "It's over."
"Trump still retains significant power to hinder the incoming administration and an obvious willingness to sabotage his successor on his way out the door with policy announcements and additional attacks on the civil service."
—Rep. Don Beyer
Hours later, Trump fired off another tweet downplaying the significance of the formal start of the Biden transition and peddling now-familiar lies about "fake ballots" costing him the election. Like so many of his other election-related tweets, the president's post was flagged as misleading by Twitter.
"What does GSA being allowed to preliminarily work with the Dems have to do with continuing to pursue our various cases on what will go down as the most corrupt election in American political history?" the president wrote. "We are moving full speed ahead."
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) characterized Trump's tweets approving the start of the transition while also falsely disputing the election results as "probably the closest thing to a concession that President Trump could issue," a sentiment that was echoed by other commentators.
"The nation faces multiple crises that demand an orderly transition," added Schumer, "and I look forward to working with President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris to get things done to help the American people."
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who coordinated the Obama administration's 2008 transition at the Commerce Department, said the delay in officially beginning the Biden transition was "costly and unnecessary" and urged Trump to "follow the valued tradition established by his predecessors and issue a concession."
"But whether or not he does, we have very important work to do right away," said Beyer. "Trump still retains significant power to hinder the incoming administration and an obvious willingness to sabotage his successor on his way out the door with policy announcements and additional attacks on the civil service."