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Is President Trump directing the GSA to decline to call Joe Biden the president-elect? They won’t say

Agency misses deadline for giving a response to Congress

The General Services Administration building is pictured in Washington on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020.
The General Services Administration building is pictured in Washington on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

The General Services Administration has missed a deadline to say whether the decision to not recognize President-elect Joe Biden is at the personal direction of outgoing President Donald Trump.

Three House Democrats wrote to GSA Administrator Emily Murphy on Monday questioning why the agency has not issued an ascertainment that Biden is in fact the president-elect.

Among the questions from Democratic Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey, Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia and Dina Titus of Nevada were about specific interactions between GSA and White House personnel, up to and including the president himself.

“Have Donald Trump, adjutants of Mr. Trump, or other White House officials directed you to block commencement of the presidential transition? Please detail any interactions you have had with White House personnel on the presidential transition,” the members wrote.

The lawmakers set a Wednesday deadline for a reply, and received none, a House Democratic aide confirmed Thursday morning. Separately, CQ Roll Call highlighted those questions for both the GSA and the White House, and received no reply.

Few congressional Republicans have been  running to join the calls for the GSA to begin providing funding to support the presidential transition, along with intelligence briefings for the president-elect even as the Biden transition operation and its supporters are expressing concerns about national security risks.

“This is a very difficult time, and the importance of this transition time to assure continuity of government and continuity of government services,” former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Tuesday on a call organized by the Coronavirus War Room.

Shulkin was in office during the transition from President Barack Obama to Trump, since he was retained as VA secretary for the first part of the current administration..

One Republican senator who thinks the transition planning should get under way is Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

The acting chairman of the Intelligence Committee said Monday that he thought the contingencies should be in place for the presidential transition, and he dismissed the idea that taking basic steps to begin the transition would undermine Trump.

“I don’t think allowing GSA to move forward with the transition work in any way prejudices any of the legal claims the president has had to bring,” Rubio told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said in a Wednesday radio interview that regardless of legal disputes, Biden should be receiving high-level intelligence known as the President’s Daily Brief by the end of this week.

“That should be resolved by Friday. GSA has to certify that election to start turning it around. The first day they can do that on the calendar is Friday,” Lankford said Wednesday on KRMG radio. “I’m on the committee of oversight; I’ve already started engaging in this area.”

“There’s nothing wrong with the former vice president getting those. Kamala Harris is on the Intelligence Committee, she has all the clearances that she needs to be able to do that,” Lankford said. “If that’s not occurring by Friday, I will step in as well and to be able to push and say this needs to occur.”

Trump and his legal team are continuing to argue that the incumbent president has in fact won reelection despite providing no evidence of any of the kind of widespread voting irregularity that could possibly overturn the Biden victory.

Biden himself has publicly expressed less concern about the GSA’s delay, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that the former vice president’s experience would serve him well.

“He’s going to be just fine in the transition. It’s most unfortunate that the Republicans have decided that they will not respect the will of the people,” Pelosi told reporters. “And let me just say it’s like the house is burning down, and they just refuse to throw water on it.”

Biden on Wednesday named longtime adviser Ron Klain to be White House chief of staff.

Democratic lawmakers, particularly those representing large portions of the federal workforce in Virginia, are highlighting other logistical and security concerns about a delayed transition.

“The transition team is being denied access to intelligence and secure facilities it needs to map out defense strategies after the President-elect is sworn in as Commander in Chief. Donald Trump’s firing of national security officials adds to this leadership vacuum, and our adversaries are watching,” Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., D-Va., said in a statement Tuesday.

Beyer has particular experience in presidential transitions because the Northern Virginia lawmaker oversaw the transition at the Commerce Department at the start of the Obama administration before becoming ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Virginia’s senators — Democrats Tim Kaine and Mark Warner — also highlighted how unusual the situation is in their own letter to Murphy, sent Tuesday.

“In previous election years, GSA has provided ascertainment almost immediately after the general election has been independently called. Any delay or inaction by your office may lead to the first transition delay in modern history save for when the Supreme Court settled the 2000 election recount dispute between Al Gore and George W. Bush,” they wrote.

Chris Cioffi and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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