WASHINGTON: Inside the wrought-iron fences that surround the 18-acre White House complex, the 2020 election rages on, with President Donald Trump angrily refusing to concede. But the rest of the world — and President-elect Joe Biden — is moving on.
The leaders of Western Europe have called Biden, as has the president of the world’s rising superpower, Xi Jinping of China. PayPal’s chief executive extended his “warmest congratulations to President-Elect Joe Biden, who will become the 46th president of the U.S.A.” The Boeing Corp., which benefited from Trump’s demands for big-ticket defense items, issued a statement Friday saying, “We look forward to working with the Biden administration.”
It is as if the vast machinery of diplomacy, business and lobbying has suddenly been recalibrated for the Biden era. Trump, by far the dominant world figure for the past four years, is increasingly treated as irrelevant.
Bank trade groups have begun meeting with Biden aides in anticipation of new fights over regulation. Foreign diplomats assuming a sharp turn in U.S. foreign policy are retooling their agendas. Corporate executives, who are usually allergic to political statements, are saying out loud what most of Trump’s supporters have so far refused to acknowledge.
“Vice President Biden was fairly elected as our next president, and it’s time for the transition to proceed,” said Larry Merlo, the chief executive of CVS Health.
Biden is seizing the moment, not to aggressively confront the president he defeated but to act presidential in his stead. Even as he demands that an orderly transfer of power be allowed to begin, the president-elect is proceeding as if the political drama created by Trump amounts to little more than noise — or what his new chief of staff called the “hysterics” of a lame-duck president.
A senior Biden official called Trump’s intransigence irritating, but aides said they were not alarmed. They have become resigned to the president’s denialism, have no expectation he will ever admit he lost and are willing to employ all legal options to ensure the transition goes forward.
But they are also preparing for the possibility that he will not allow the gears of a formal transition to engage because that would amount to an acknowledgment that he lost.
Directing his sprawling transition remotely from his home in Delaware, Biden and his aides are moving swiftly to set up the next administration by announcing senior members of his White House staff and moving on to nominating Cabinet secretaries next week. Policy experts are developing plans for what Biden can do as soon as he is inaugurated.
The growing acceptance that there will be a new president is taking place against the backdrop of a pandemic that has hit the United States particularly hard, killing more than 253,000 people on Trump’s watch. But it is Biden, not the sitting president, who is determined to keep the focus on the threat from the coronavirus.
On Friday, Trump made a brief public announcement about efforts to lower drug prices, ranted on Twitter about the election and met with Republican state lawmakers from Michigan as he desperately sought to strong-arm local officials who he believes are his last hope of closing his Electoral College deficit.
Biden continued to press his case for more aggressive action to confront the health crisis, meeting with the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to begin discussing negotiations on another stimulus package to help businesses recover and to provide additional funding for states and local governments struggling with the cost of the nearly yearlong response.
On Thursday, the president-elect hosted a virtual meeting with five Democratic governors and five Republican governors in an effort to demonstrate the need for bipartisan cooperation, especially on the pandemic. After the meeting, Biden said he was encouraged that the Republican state leaders seemed eager to work together.
Even as Biden has repeatedly expressed frustration at what he calls the “embarrassment” of Trump’s refusal to accept defeat, the president-elect’s aides have assiduously sought to avoid being distracted by the outgoing president’s daily eruptions.
But they are more than happy to draw the contrast between an outgoing president who has been consumed with political survival schemes and an incoming president determined to deal with the growing crisis of record coronavirus infections.
“You’ve seen, over the last several days, Donald Trump holed up in the White House consulting with people like Rudy Giuliani and, you know, basically hatching conspiracy theories about Venezuela and China,” said Bob Bauer, the lawyer overseeing the election challenges for Biden’s campaign. “And you’ve seen President-elect Biden meeting on a bipartisan basis with governors, addressing the public health emergency and acting like the president-elect that he is.”
The swing from Trump to Biden is particularly obvious on the world stage, where both allies and adversaries are doing an about-face.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who took office hoping to exploit his rapport with Trump, pivoted immediately. Cheered by an early phone call with the president-elect, Johnson this week rolled out ambitious initiatives in military spending and climate policy that seemed calculated to please Biden and dovetail with his priorities.
The Iranians have begun to put out statements clearly meant to lure the new Biden administration into a conversation about returning to the fundamentals, if not the letter, of the 2015 nuclear accord.
And the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said this week that his government was preparing proposals for Biden and welcomed the new president’s enthusiasm for the NATO alliance, which Trump frequently threatened to abandon. Every foreign ministry across Europe is doing the same, said François Heisbourg, a French defense analyst.
“People are assuming that the U.S. is a constitutional democracy,” he said. Europeans are watching the court challenges and the efforts to throw the election into Congress, but most have no idea what happened in 1800 or 1876, when the presidency was decided there. “But if you do,” said Heisbourg, a student of American history, “you wonder a little — just a little.”
There are exceptions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel exulted in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to a Jewish settlement on the West Bank — a powerful U.S. endorsement of an Israeli occupation that runs counter to international law and counter to U.S. policy before Trump. Netanyahu knows that the U.S. embrace of those settlements will soon change, but he is doing what he can to use the visit to cement facts on the ground and make it harder for Biden to openly reverse course.
Closer to home, corporate America has also rapidly come to the conclusion that it should adjust its focus.
On Nov. 7, the day most major news organizations called the race, several major companies and trade groups recognized Biden’s victory.
Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United Airlines, reached out to the Biden campaign that evening and offered to work with the new administration to combat the pandemic and kick-start the economy. “While there will always be differences in any country as large and diverse as the United States, I continue to believe that there is far more that unites us than divides us,” Kirby said in a letter to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
In the days after the election, Goldman Sachs began preparing its clients for an expected Biden administration. A client call on Nov. 5, held to discuss Biden’s likely win, drew thousands.
David Solomon, the firm’s chief executive, has not yet spoken with the president-elect, a Goldman spokesman said, but senior officials at the firm, including the regulatory affairs head, Kathryn Ruemmler, and the communications head, Jake Siewert, both of whom worked in the Obama administration, have been in contact with members of Biden’s transition team.
Since then, Michael Gonda, a McDonald’s spokesman, has reaffirmed in a statement the company’s belief that Biden has won the election, saying, “We have been in touch with the transition team to let them know we would like to be helpful on a number of fronts, including on COVID response by sharing our safety and hygiene protocols.”
JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, has said it bluntly: “We had an election. We have a new president. We should have unity to that.”
And Doug McMillon, Walmart’s chief executive, said Tuesday on the company’s earnings call: “We look forward to working with the administration in both houses of Congress to move the country forward and solve issues on behalf of our associates, customers and other stakeholders.”
Meetings have already taken place between Biden’s teams and the American Bankers Association as well as the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. No one dreamed of delaying those meetings until Trump conceded, said one banking lobbyist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail closed-door discussions. They are uniformly confident that Biden will take over as president Jan. 20, the lobbyist said.
Business executives have also united around a call for Trump to accept his fate and allow his administration to begin the formal transition, freeing career officials — especially in public health agencies — to coordinate with the incoming team.
“President-elect Biden and the team around him have a wealth of executive branch experience that should allow them to hit the ground running,” Thomas Donohue, the chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement to Axios. “While the Trump administration can continue litigating to confirm election outcomes, for the sake of Americans’ safety and well-being, it should not delay the transition a moment longer.”
That demand was echoed by the National Association of Manufacturers, which on Wednesday called on the Trump administration to work with Biden.
“It is highly appropriate that the Trump administration allow key individuals from the Biden team to access critical government personnel and information now,” the trade group, which represents many of the country’s largest companies, said in a statement.
This week, Brad Karp, the chairman of the law firm Paul, Weiss, hosted a webinar for 1,000 of the firm’s clients that was called, “Transition to a Biden Administration, Strategies and Insights.”
“Neither we, nor my partners, nor anyone in attendance,” Karp said on the video call, “has any doubt as to the outcome of this election.”