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Trump administration denies Biden access to transition funds, echoing Bush-Gore standoff after 2000 election

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Joe Biden speaks Monday after a briefing from the transition COVID-19 advisory board. Biden is moving ahead with a plan to thwart the coronavirus despite potential delays for other policy areas.


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News organizations have declared Joe Biden the U.S.’s president-elect, but incumbent Donald Trump has not conceded the race, a decision that has delayed a formal beginning to the transition process and may deny the former vice president critical time to get his administration up and running.

According to federal law, the head of the General Services Administration must “ascertain” a candidate to be the “apparent president-elect” before the federal government releases funding, office space and access to federal officials.

“An ascertainment has not yet been made,” Pamela Pennington, a spokeswoman for GSA, told MarketWatch in an email. “GSA and its administrator will continue to abide by, and fulfill, all requirements under the law.”

For the time being, this decision denies the Biden transition team federal office space and nearly $10 million in funding for staffing and other needs.

It also prevents Biden from receiving the Presidential Daily Brief, a top-secret document dealing with national-security and intelligence matters and traditionally shared with an incoming president.

The GSA’s Pennington, however, noted that the administration is “adhering to prior precedent established by the Clinton Administration in 2000.”

In the late fall of that year, President-elect George W/ Bush was denied transition funding and office space — despite being ahead in enough states to secure 270 electoral votes — as the Florida ballot recount continued, leaving the election’s outcome in doubt.

David J. Barram, administrator of the GSA during Democrat Bill Clinton’s second term, told Congress in December of that year that “in this unprecedented, incredibly close and intensely contested election, with legal action being pursued on both sides, it is not apparent to me who the winner is.”

Barram’s decision was criticized at the time by congressional Republicans, as Democrats, and select Republicans, are doing today. The incoming Bush administration was not provided transition funds until Dec. 14, 2000, the day after former Vice President Al Gore conceded, according to Henry Hogue of the Congressional Research Service.

To justify his decision, Barram quoted Democratic Florida Rep. Dante Fascell, a sponsor of the 1963 legislation governing the ascertainment and disbursal of funds, as saying that “in a close contest, the administrator simply would not make the decision.”

At a Tuesday briefing, Biden downplayed the need for GSA funds and added that, while it would be helpful to receive the daily briefing, it’s not imperative, as there is only one president at a time. He said his status as president-elect ultimately would be recognized by Republicans.

In a Sunday letter issued by Presidential Transition Center, a bipartisan group of former cabinet-level officials from the Bush, Obama and Clinton administrations called on the GSA to begin the process.

“We urge the Trump administration to immediately begin the post-election transition process and the Biden team to take full advantage of the resources available,” the letter reads.

“To build an effective government ready to address the urgent needs of our great country, the new president will have to recruit 4,000 political appointees, including 1,250 who require Senate confirmation; prepare a $4.7 trillion budget; implement a strong policy agenda; and assume leadership of a workforce of 2 million civilian employees and 2 million active duty and reserve troops,” it added.

The lack of a decision from the GSA has not hampered the Biden team completely. The Secret Service began beefing up protection for the former vice president, his family and team starting Friday. “The additional security for Biden … doesn’t give him a full protective detail that accompanies a president-elect, but it moves closer in that direction,” according to the Washington Post, while CNN reported that the Federal Aviation Administration has placed flight restrictions over Biden’s Delaware home.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced a new coronavirus task force on Monday led by Dr. David Kessler, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco; Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served as the country’s 19th surgeon general from 2014 to 2017; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of internal medicine, public health and management at Yale University and associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine.

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