Biden transition gets federal government go-ahead as Trump runs out of options

Trump

The US federal government has recognised Joe Biden as the "apparent winner" of the November 3 presidential election, formally starting the transition of power after Donald Trump spent weeks testing the boundaries of American democracy.

He relented after suffering yet more legal and procedural defeats in his seemingly futile effort to overturn the election with baseless claims of fraud.

Mr Trump still refused to concede and vowed to continue to fight in court after General Services Administrator Emily Murphy gave the green light on Monday for Mr Biden to co-ordinate with federal agencies ahead of his inauguration on January 20. But he did tweet that he was directing his team to co-operate on the transition.

The fast-moving series of events seemed to let much of the air out of Mr Trump's frantic efforts to undermine the will of the people in what has amounted to a weeks-long stress test for American democracy. But his attempts to foment a crisis of confidence in the political system and the fairness of US elections have not ended and are likely to persist well beyond his lame-duck presidency.

Ms Murphy, explaining her decision, cited "recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results".

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Donald Trump in the days since his election loss
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Donald Trump in the days since his election loss
President Donald Trump is tossed a golf ball as he golfs at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Donald Trump, second from the left, plays golf at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Surrounded by Army cadets, President Donald Trump watches the first half of the 121st Army-Navy Football Game in Michie Stadium at the United States Military Academy, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in West Point, N.Y. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
El presidente Donald Trump camina por el jardín sur de la Casa Blanca, el 12 de diciembre de 2020. (AP Foto/Patrick Semansky, File)
President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at in Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, to travel to Michie Stadium at the United States Military Academy to attend the 121st Army-Navy Football Game at West Point, N.Y. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump speaks during an "Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit" on the White House complex, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
El presidente Donald Trump escucha la pregunta de un reportero durante la ceremonia de entrega de la Medalla Presidencial de la Libertad, el máximo honor civil, al exentrenador de lucha y campeón olímpico Dan Gable, en la Oficina Oval de la Casa Blanca, el lunes 7 de diciembre de 2020, en Washington. (AP Foto/Patrick Semansky)
President Donald Trump prepares to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, to Olympic gold medalist and former University of Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally for Senate Republican candidates, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., at Valdosta Regional Airport, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Valdosta, Ga. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a news conference in the briefing room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump leaves after speaking at the White House, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a news conference in the briefing room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: President Donald J. Trump departs after delivering remarks on delivering lower prescription drug prices for all Americans in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Friday, Nov 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: President Donald Trump stands by after speaking to reporters about prescription drug prices in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Friday, Nov 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to speak to the press in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on November 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Donald Trump held his first press conference in over a week to make an announcement on prescription drug prices as he continues to challenge the results of the 2020 Presidential election. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump watches from the motorcade as he returns to the White House in Washington, DC, after playing golf on November 7, 2020. - Joyous celebrations erupted in Washington on Saturday after Joe Biden was declared winner of the US presidency, as several people poured into the streets of the US capital -- some of them chanting, cheering and singing in front of the White House. (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump plays a round of Golf at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling Va., Sunday Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
President Donald Trump plays a round of Golf at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling Va., Sunday Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
President Donald Trump gives two thumbs up to supporters as he departs after playing golf at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling Va., Sunday Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
President Donald Trump gives two thumbs up to supporters as he departs after playing golf at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling Va., Sunday Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
President Donald Trump returns to the White House after playing a round of golf, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump returns to the White House after playing a round of golf, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump arrives at the White House after golfing Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump talks on the phone as he arrives at the White House after golfing Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump arrives at the White House after golfing Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump participates in a round of golf at the Trump National Golf Course on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Sterling, Va. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
US President Donald Trump watches from the motorcade as he returns to the White House in Washington, DC, after playing golf on November 7, 2020. - Joyous celebrations erupted in Washington on Saturday after Joe Biden was declared winner of the US presidency, as several people poured into the streets of the US capital -- some of them chanting, cheering and singing in front of the White House. (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump returns to the White House from playing golf in Washington, DC on November 7, 2020, after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election. - Joyous celebrations erupted in Washington on Saturday after Joe Biden was declared winner of the US presidency, as several people poured into the streets of the US capital -- some of them chanting, cheering and singing in front of the White House. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump arrives to speak in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC on November 5, 2020. - Democrat Joe Biden is leading President Donald Trump in the race for the 270 electoral votes that will put one of them over the top, with the Democrat's campaign asserting they believe he has enough votes to win in key battleground states that remain undecided, like Pennsylvania. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Washington, as White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany listens. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 05: U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to speak in the briefing room at the White House on November 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Votes are still being counted two days after the presidential election as incumbent Trump is in a close race against challenger Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, which remains too close to call. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
El presidente Donald Trump habla en la Casa Blanca, Washington, 5 de noviembre de 2020. (AP Foto/Evan Vucci)
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She acted after Michigan on Monday certified Mr Biden's victory in the battleground state, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed out a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state.

It also came as an increasing number of Republicans were publicly acknowledging Mr Biden's victory, after weeks of tolerating Mr Trump's baseless claims of fraud. The president had grown increasingly frustrated with the flailing tactics of his legal team.

In recent days, senior Trump aides, including chief of staff Mark Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, had also encouraged him to allow the transition to begin, telling the president he did not need to concede but could no longer justify withholding support to the Biden transition.

Yohannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden transition, said the decision "is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track".

Ms Murphy, a Trump appointee, had faced bipartisan criticism for failing to begin the transition process sooner, preventing Mr Biden's team from working with career agency officials on plans for his administration. The delay denied Mr Biden access to highly classified national security briefings and hindered his team's ability to begin drawing up its own plans to respond to the raging coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Murphy insisted she acted on her own.

"Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official – including those who work at the White House or GSA – with regard to the substance or timing of my decision," she wrote in a letter to Mr Biden.

Biden Transition Federal Roadblock
General Services Administrator Emily Murphy (Susan Walsh/AP)

Mr Trump tweeted moments after Ms Murphy's decision: "We will keep up the good fight and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same."

Max Stier, president and chief executive of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, criticised the delay but said Mr Biden's team would be able to overcome it.

"Unfortunately, every day lost to the delayed ascertainment was a missed opportunity for the outgoing administration to help president-elect Joe Biden prepare to meet our country's greatest challenges," he said. "The good news is that the president-elect and his team are the most prepared and best equipped of any incoming administration in recent memory."

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the GSA action "is probably the closest thing to a concession that President Trump could issue″.

Noting that the nation "faces multiple crises that demand an orderly transition″, he urged Democrats and Republicans to "unite together for a smooth and peaceful transition that will benefit America″,

Ms Murphy's action came just 90 minutes after Michigan election officials certified Mr Biden's 154,000-vote victory in the state. The Board of State Canvassers, which has two Republicans and two Democrats, confirmed the results on a 3-0 vote with one GOP abstention.

Mr Trump and his allies had hoped to block the vote to allow time for an audit of ballots in Wayne County, where Mr Trump has claimed without evidence that he was the victim of fraud. Mr Biden crushed the president by more than 330,000 votes there.

"The people of Michigan have spoken. President-elect Biden won the State of Michigan by more than 154,000 votes, and he will be our next president on January 20th," Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said, adding it is "time to put this election behind us".

Mr Trump was increasingly frustrated by his legal team, led by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose erratic public performances drew bipartisan mockery in recent weeks. Nevertheless, the legal challenges were expected to continue, as Mr Trump seeks to keep his supporters on his side and keep his options open for opportunities post-presidency.

In Pennsylvania on Saturday, a conservative Republican judge shot down the Trump campaign's biggest legal effort in the state with a scathing ruling that questioned why he was supposed to disenfranchise 7 million voters with no evidence to back their claims and an inept legal argument at best.

But the lawyers still hope to block the state's certification, quickly appealing to the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which ordered lawyers to file a brief on Monday but did not agree to hear oral arguments.

The campaign, in its filings, asked for urgent consideration so it could challenge the state election results before they are certified next month. If not, they will seek to decertify them, the filings said.

Mr Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes.

Pennsylvania county election boards voted on Monday, the state deadline, on whether to certify election results to the Department of State.

The boards in two populous counties split along party lines, with majority Democrats in both places voting to certify. After all counties have sent certified results to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, she must then tabulate, compute and canvass votes for all races. The law requires her to perform that task quickly but does not set a specific deadline.

In Wisconsin, a recount in the state's two largest liberal counties moved into its fourth day, with election officials in Milwaukee County complaining that Trump observers were slowing down the process with frequent challenges.

Mr Trump's hope of reversing Mr Biden's victory there depends on disqualifying thousands of absentee ballots – including the in-person absentee ballot cast by one of Mr Trump's own campaign lawyers in Dane County.

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