For Trump, it’s all over but the tweeting
Two years ago, President Trump teased Carrots the turkey, who he said had “refused to concede and demanded a recount” of a vote that the bird supposedly had lost in the annual White House turkey pardon contest.
On Tuesday, shortly before Trump officially pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey named Corn in a similar Rose Garden ceremony, the president aligned himself with Carrots, tweeting, “I concede nothing!!!!!” in capital letters and suggesting the Nov. 3 election be re-run.
But after three tense weeks, the vast federal government was suddenly moving on with a formal transition to President-elect Joe Biden, and Trump’s rage-filled tweets appeared detached from any plausible political reality.
Following a decision Monday night by the head of the General Services Administration, Biden’s team was given over $6 million to hire staff; was cleared for classified intelligence briefings and to seek FBI background checks on nominees; and received cooperation in plans to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and administer a vaccine.
The Defense Department, the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal departments and agencies announced they were providing materials and arranging meetings for the Biden team, as the law requires for a normal transfer of power to an incoming administration.
The White House also gave approval for intelligence officials to begin giving Biden the same classified briefings about security threats and operations that Trump receives “as part of the support to the transition,” according to a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“We’re going to do it on a regular basis,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Del. He said the briefings had not begun yet.
Trump’s ability to overturn the election results — never seriously within reach — effectively collapsed Tuesday as two more contested states, Nevada and Pennsylvania, certified their electoral votes for Biden, following similar decisions in Michigan and Georgia.
“He sees the writing on the wall,” said one former White House official, who requested anonymity to discuss the president. The former official said criticism from conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh showed how Trump’s once impregnable GOP base was cracking.
A growing chorus of Republican lawmakers, national security veterans, pundits and others have publicly urged the president to either provide evidence of massive fraud — which his campaign has yet to find — or concede and prepare to leave the White House on Jan. 20.
Continuity of government — including the safety and welfare of Americans — is too important to use as a bargaining chip, said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group that closely tracks the transition.
“You don’t take your own family hostage,” Stier said. “This is something that should stand apart.”
By delaying the formal transition, Trump exposed yet another seemingly strong democratic institution as vulnerable to political mischief.
Stier advocates changing federal law to set a lower and clearer bar for designating a likely winner in presidential elections, rather than leaving the decision to a political appointee. Emily Murphy, the head of the General Services Administration who refused to authorize the transition until Monday, was appointed by Trump.
Biden and his senior team are all experienced in government, especially compared with Trump’s family members and several other neophyte advisors when he took office.
But Biden and his aides have less than two months to prepare to preside over the world’s largest economy and lead a government that includes 4,000 politically appointed staff, a $4.8-trillion budget, and the world’s most powerful military.
Trump’s continued defiance suggests he may never offer a traditional concession speech to graciously urge the country to unify behind the new president.
He took no questions during his two appearances Tuesday — his first since Friday other than golfing — using the opportunities, including the turkey pardon, chiefly to tout the latest surge in the stock market. He has shown little sign since the election that he is doing much beyond watching cable TV and tweeting.
Trump has mused to aides about running again in 2024, and his baseless complaints about this year’s election may give him a fresh grievance to run on. For now, his campaign has blasted out a text to supporters, complaining that the news media failed to expose electoral problems and asking for donations.
But Trump’s tweet indicating that he had directed the GSA to start the transition — something Murphy, the agency’s administrator, adamantly denied — suggests that he knows the jig is up.
“It’s always been up, and it means that he is coming to the realization that it’s up,” said Elaine Kamarck, a government expert at the Brookings Institution think tank who served in the Clinton administration.
She criticized the Republicans in Congress who had yet to acknowledge Biden’s win.
“They continue to treat this guy like a 4-year-old with a gun,” Kamarck said of Trump. “They’re terrified of him, and they indulge all his whims.”
Times staff writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.
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