Call for Trump appointee not to block smooth transition

Emily W. Murphy is the administrator of the General Services Administration that keeps the federal government functioning. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Transition officials for United States President-elect Joe Biden called on a top Trump administration appointee to end what they said was unwarranted obstruction of the money and access that federal law says must flow to the winner of a presidential election.

The officials, speaking on background to reporters on Monday night, said it was nearly unprecedented for Ms Emily W. Murphy, the administrator of the General Services Administration, to refuse to issue a letter of "ascertainment", which allows Mr Biden's transition team to begin the transfer of power.

By law, Ms Murphy, the head of the sprawling agency that keeps the federal government functioning, must formally recognise Mr Biden as the incoming president for his transition to begin.

Ms Murphy has not acted since news organisations last Saturday declared Mr Biden the winner of the election.

The transition officials said her inaction was preventing the President-elect's teams from moving into government offices, including secure facilities where they can discuss classified information. The teams cannot meet their counterparts in agencies or begin background checks of top Cabinet nominees that require top-secret access.

A White House official pointed out, as several Trump allies have, that the transition after the 2000 presidential election was delayed over several weeks by the court fight between the campaigns of then Vice-President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush.

The official said it would be strange for President Donald Trump to send some kind of a signal to allow it to start while he is still engaged in court fights.

But Mr Biden's aides said that the dispute in 2000 involved one state with only about 500 ballots separating the winner and loser, far less than in the current contest.

In every other presidential race for the past 60 years, the determination of a winner was made within 24 hours, they said - even as legal challenges and recounts continued for weeks. They said that they were considering "all options", including potential legal action, to push Ms Murphy to let the transition begin.

Ms Murphy, who described herself as "a bit of a wonk" at her Senate confirmation hearing in October 2017, and also said that she was "not here to garner headlines or make a name for myself", so far has chosen to side with the White House and Mr Trump, standing between Mr Biden's team and a smooth transition.

The President refuses to concede the election and has his campaign contesting results in multiple states. Most Republicans have declined to recognise Mr Biden, much less appointees like Ms Murphy.

And so the transfer of power that must take place is in limbo.

Mr Leslie Dach, who was to lead the transition for the Department of Health and Human Services had Mrs Hillary Clinton won the presidency in 2016, said that despite the advance work done by Mr Biden's team during the campaign, nothing could supplant having direct access to agencies, and that is impossible without Ms Murphy.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2020, with the headline Call for Trump appointee not to block smooth transition. Subscribe