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Biden and Democrats push back against Trump and Republicans’ recalcitrance over election results – The Washington Post

Biden and Democrats push back against Trump and Republicans’ recalcitrance over election results – The Washington Post

“It’s an embarrassment, quite frankly,” Biden said of Trump’s refusal to concede. “How can I say this tactfully? I think it will not help the president’s legacy.”

In the face of repeated challenges from Republicans casting Biden as illegitimate, his early strategy has been to continue making the moves of any traditional incoming president: appointing transition officials, talking to international leaders and deliberating over who will staff his administration. He has offered guidance to Americans on how to handle the coronavirus pandemic, forcefully asking them to wear masks to save lives, and he has pledged to protect their access to health care, even as President Barack Obama’s signature law faced a legal challenge in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

In private, some of his advisers have discussed potential legal challenges to Trump’s refusal to recognize Biden’s electoral victory. But in public Biden has been trying to cast himself, as he did during the campaign, as a leader intent on soothing the nation’s upset even in the face of one of the most unusual and tense transitions in modern American history.

Biden’s approach so far has reflected the disciplined optimism about bipartisan cooperation for which he was frequently criticized throughout the Democratic primaries and general election from those who said that he underestimates the lengths to which Republicans will go to block his agenda.

He said repeatedly on Tuesday that he believed Republicans would eventually drop their opposition to him and come around, adopting a friendlier brand of politics. While that strikes some in Biden’s party as a throwback to a long-gone period, others said he has no real alternative than to continue to build his administration and appear the bigger man in his public utterances.

“I understand the sense of loss. I get that. But I think the majority of people who voted for the president . . . I think they understand we have to come together,” Biden told reporters Tuesday after delivering remarks on protecting the Affordable Care Act. “I think they’re ready to unite. And I think we can pull the country out of this bitter politics that we’ve seen the last five, six, seven years.”

When asked how he believes he can work with Republicans who won’t even acknowledge he won the election, Biden smiled. “They will,” he said. “They will.”

Others offered harsher verdicts.

“I don’t think many of us expected President Trump to leave office of the presidency with grace,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech on Tuesday. “But the extent to which the Republican Party is legitimizing the president’s assault on our democracy is infuriating and deeply, deeply wrong.”

Even as most Republicans have refused to concede the election, leaders around the world continued to call Biden on Tuesday to congratulate the incoming American president. He spoke with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin, according to statements from each country and Biden’s transition team.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who developed a close relationship with Trump, also released a statement congratulating Biden.

The calls were not coordinated with the U.S. State Department, as is the typical practice, because a Trump appointee is refusing to issue an acknowledgment that Biden won, which allows the transition to formally begin.

“There will be a smooth transition,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday, “to a second Trump administration.”

When asked about the message it sends to the world that the United States calls for free and fair elections in other countries but that Trump is refusing to accept the results in his own, Pompeo replied, “That’s ridiculous.”

Biden chuckled later in the day when asked about Pompeo’s remarks.

Although his top advisers have evaluated legal options — and on Monday night said they were thinking of utilizing them to force the Trump administration to formalize the transition — Biden himself said Tuesday that “I don’t see the need for legal action, quite frankly.”

Despite delays in receiving intelligence briefings, and the potential national security implications that could follow, Biden suggested his team had everything it needed.

“We’re already beginning the transition. We’re well underway,” Biden said. “The fact that they’re not willing to acknowledge we’ve won is not of much consequence.”

He also downplayed the importance of additional intelligence briefings.

“It would be nice to have it, but it’s not critical,” he said. “I’m not in a position to make any decisions on those issues anyway.”

Though there has been some low-level cooperation between current Trump administration officials and the Biden team, the formal transition process — which includes additional meetings, office space, funding and a handoff of briefing books — cannot begin until the election result is confirmed by the General Services Administration. So far GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, a Trump political appointee, has refused to sign the paperwork.

Even as the Trump administration continued blocking his access, Biden on Tuesday named a team of 500 experts who will form the backbone of his preparations for leading the federal government in January, learning from the existing workers what to expect at every agency on personnel, technology, policy and program matters.

Even if the Biden team will be unable to make formal contact with Trump appointees and career staff now in government, Biden transition officials stressed that they are working through informal channels to learn what they can, talking with think tanks, labor and nonprofit groups, and those who previously served at federal agencies.

“We may not be making formal contact, but the transition work is continuing to move full speed ahead,” said a Biden transition official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss their planning efforts.

Yet three former senior government officials on Tuesday raised alarms about Trump blocking the transition, with two warning that delays could impact the Biden administration’s ability to respond swiftly to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are in the midst of a crisis and what we know is that every lost day is a lost life and a lost livelihood,” said Kathleen Sebelius, who began her tenure as secretary of health and human services in 2009 amid the swine flu pandemic. “Every day wasted is a life that is unfortunately wasted.”

The limits on transition cooperation could also prevent Biden’s team from knowing all of the research and capabilities for distributing a vaccine.

“If you are going to distribute hundreds of millions of vials of vaccine as quickly as possible, the incoming administration needs to know the status of each and every one of them,” said Leslie A. Dach, a former senior counselor at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration and now chairman of the group Protect Our Care, which organized a briefing Tuesday.

Another former Cabinet secretary, David Shulkin, who led the Department of Veterans Affairs under Trump and was undersecretary in the final years of the Obama administration, said the transition process is governed by law, but the nation is seeing “complete disregard of essentially what should happen.”

Orders from the White House not to recognize the election results are “putting us into quicksand, where [government officials] are feeling paralyzed until they get that direction from the White House,” Shulkin said.

As part of the Democratic pushback, the Biden campaign on Tuesday afternoon dispatched some of its top officials to reject the baseless claims that Trump has made about the elections, with one calling them “noise and theatrics” and “puffery and propaganda.” Biden’s smallest margin in a contested state is more than 14,000 votes, his lead in Georgia.

“Since 2000, in 31 statewide recounts, the average change in votes was 430,” said Bob Bauer, a top attorney for Biden’s campaign. “End of story. These margins simply cannot be overcome in recounts.”

“There’s no question. They can’t overturn the outcome of this election,” he added. “Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021.”

But a number of Republicans still called the election returns incomplete and said the country should wait until legal options have been exhausted before declaring a winner. That was not their position in 2016, when Trump won with exceedingly slim margins in three states.

“You know, the president wasn’t defeated by huge numbers. In fact, he may not have been defeated at all,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said at a news conference, in a shift from two days earlier when he said the legal challenges were not likely to change the result.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also dismissed concerns about a delay.

“At some point here, we’ll find out, finally, who was certified in each of these states, and the electoral college will determine the winner, and that person will be sworn in on January 20th,” he said. “No reason for alarm.”

Republicans are facing a clear dilemma because of Trump’s apparent desire to remain a central player in politics after he leaves office. He retains considerable sway over Republican voters and an ability to weaponize that influence against Republicans who cross him. Few on Capitol Hill forget the tea party uprising that followed Obama’s election, which threatened Republican incumbents as much as Democrats.

With two upcoming U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia — which could decide the balance of power in the chamber — the current calculation in the party is that there is no upside in forcing a showdown with Trump now.

Biden has long argued that he would be able to win over Republicans and that they would shed their loyalties to Trump and be more willing to compromise with Democrats after Trump leaves office.

“The whole Republican Party has been put in a position, with a few notable exceptions, of being mildly intimidated by the sitting president,” Biden said on Tuesday.

“Look, I am not a pessimist. I think enough Republicans have spoken out,” Biden added. “And there will be a larger number, once the election is declared, to get things done.”

He said that he had not yet spoken with McConnell but that he would “in the not-too-distant future.” Biden said he had confidence that, if he remains majority leader, McConnell would be fair in considering Biden’s Cabinet nominations.

“I’ll take Mitch McConnell at his word,” he said. “That’s a negotiation that I’m sure we’ll have.”

Several Democrats said that there was little Biden could do to counter Trump directly and that he was smart to simply prepare for the transition.

“The Biden campaign is exactly right,” said Jim Messina, former White House deputy chief of staff and the 2012 campaign manager for Obama. “You shouldn’t legitimize what isn’t.”

Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic strategist and founder of the think tank New Democratic Network, said the Republican response amounted to “a level of partisanship that we all hoped would recede after the election.”

“In a few months, Joe Biden will become president, and if he does a good job, he will bring people around,” he said. “There is nothing we can do to control what Donald Trump and the Republicans say. The focus has to be now on governing well and moving beyond this rancor for the American people.”

Lisa Rein and Lenny Bernstein contributed to this report.

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