A Government Official Is Holding Up Trump-Biden Transition Process — but Work Can Still Be Done
Officials at the General Services Administration are nonpartisan and a spokesperson for the agency said in a statement that Administrator Emily Murphy “will continue to abide by, and fulfill, all requirements under the law”
A Trump-appointed government official currently holds the power to release $9.9 million of federal funding and access to a plethora of government information for President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, which is already at work.
But the official is not opening the door just yet — citing an ambiguity about the election results advanced by the Trump administration.
A spokesperson for the General Services Administration says Emily Murphy, the GSA administrator, hasn't signed off on the transition yet because she's waiting for an “ascertainment” about who officially won the 2020 presidential election, which President Donald Trump is contesting without evidence.
The logistical delay comes as President Trump's campaign and his allies mount a series of legal and public-relations challenges to the vote tallies — claiming, without proof, that the election's results are fraudulent.
Trump, 74, appointed Murphy in 2017. Officials at the GSA are nonpartisan and a spokesperson for the agency said in a statement to PEOPLE that Murphy “will continue to abide by, and fulfill, all requirements under the law.”
“The GSA administrator does not pick the winner in the Presidential election,” the spokesperson’s statement read, adding that “the GSA Administrator ascertains the apparent successful candidate once a winner is clear based on the process laid out in the Constitution.”
Biden, 77, was projected as the winner of the election after victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as well as in Arizona and Nevada; he also holds a slim lead in Georgia.
Trump, however, has yet to concede his election loss and promised to pursue court intervention if possible
"Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated," he said in a statement on Saturday. His campaign, however, has not provided evidence of the kind of fraud that would overturn the election.
Jen Psaki, an aide on Biden's transition team, urged Murphy to immediately approve the transition in order to aid the new administration's efforts on combating the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its economic impact.
“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,” Psaki tweeted.
Even without the GSA approval, Biden’s transition team is still able to carry out some steps it needs to take to ensure the new administration is prepared to take over the White House on Jan. 20.
The GSA spokesperson says Biden’s transition team will still have access to “pre-elect” government services, such as “limited office space, computers, background investigations for security clearances.”
However, The Washington Post reports that Murphy’s delayed approval means Biden’s team will not yet be granted access to the $9.9 million the GSA set aside for the process.
Also, the Post reports Biden's team won't yet have office space at all the federal agencies, certain government information regarding ongoing projects and the team will temporarily lose out on consultation from current administration officials to help them get their feet wet before fully taking over in January.
(A Biden campaign source notes, however, that their transition has already been working out of some government space and the GSA delay does not meaningfully delay their focus.)
White House historian Martha Kumar tells PEOPLE that during the transition process outgoing administration officials usually “cooperate with one another and generally want to see [the incoming administration] succeed.”
Although transitions generally go smoothly, Kumar says ,“there is an atmosphere that’s established by a president" and “usually the outgoing president is very positive."
“GSA Admin Emily Murphy must begin the Biden transition without delay,” tweeted Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democratic lawmaker from Virginia. “The 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. Do the right thing.”
The New York Times reports Biden independently raised about $7 million for his transition team it had prepared for scenarios in which Trump’s administration may not cooperate with the process.
Meanwhile, Kumar says Biden’s campaign “put together their transition staff pretty early" and his staff will still be able to work on early-stage transition efforts despite any hold ups on Trump’s end, including putting together incoming staff and deciding on who will be part of the president-elect's cabinet.
On Monday, the transition team — led by Biden’s longtime friend and his former chief of staff Ted Kaufman — had already announced a team of health officials to advise the president-elect on the pandemic.
Biden’s White House cabinet nominees are expected around November or December.
• With reporting by ADAM CARLSON