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Politics & Government

GSA Ascertains Biden's Victory, Democrat To Begin White House Transition Process

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a virtual meeting with the United States Conference of Mayors on Monday.
Mark Makela
Getty Images
President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a virtual meeting with the United States Conference of Mayors on Monday.

President Trump tweeted Monday that he's recommending the General Services Administration and others in his administration begin "initial protocols."

Updated at 7:30 p.m. ET

President-elect Joe Biden can finally, formally begin his transition to power, after the General Services Administration on Monday officially ascertained the Democrat's victory over President Trump.

The news came shortly after Trump, who has still yet to concede in the White House race, tweeted that he was recommending the GSA and others in his administration begin "initial protocols" to kickstart the formal transfer of presidential power.

Emily Murphy, the Trump appointee who heads the GSA, has faced weeks of criticism from Democrats, national security experts and health officials, who argued that delaying the formal transition was hampering the incoming Biden administration from getting up to speed on the response to the coronavirus pandemic and jeopardizing national security. A handful of GOP lawmakers also called for the Murphy to allow the transition to get underway.

In a "letter of ascertainment" to Biden, Murphy wrote that she was now making available resources for his campaign to begin the transition process.

"As you know, the GSA Administrator does not pick or certify the winner of a presidential election. Instead, the GSA Administrator's role under the Act is extremely narrow: to make resources and services available in connection with a presidential transition," Murphy wrote.

"As stated, because of recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results, I have determined that you may access the post-election resources and services described in Section 3 of the Act upon request. The actual winner of the presidential election will be determined by the electoral process detailed in the Constitution."

Murphy said that she had reached the decision to release the funds and information independently, contradicting the president's tweet that he had directed her to make the decision.

"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. To be clear, I did not receive any direction to delay my determination," she wrote.

"Contrary to media reports and insinuations, my decision was not made out of fear or favoritism. Instead, I strongly believe that the statute requires that the GSA Administrator ascertain, not impose, the apparent president-elect."

The Biden-Harris transition team confirmed that Murphy had officially ascertained Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris as the "apparent winners of the election."

GSA Administrator Emily Murphy had been blocking President-elect Joe Biden from receiving government funds and office space to begin his transition.
Susan Walsh / AP
GSA Administrator Emily Murphy had been blocking President-elect Joe Biden from receiving government funds and office space to begin his transition.

"In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration's efforts to hollow out government agencies," the statement from Biden-Harris Transition Executive Director Yohannes Abraham continues.

Trump thanked Murphy for her "dedication and loyalty," and also bemoaned the criticism she received.

Trump also said Monday his "case strongly continues." The president has not conceded the election despite numerous legal setbacks and the certification of votes in some key states, including Michigan on Monday.

The decision means that Biden's team should now have access to government office space, will be able to formally meet with Trump administration officials to discuss policy issues, and will receive some $7.3 million to pay staffers and other expenses.

Under the 1963 Presidential Transition Act, it was up to Murphy as head of the GSA, the federal agency that acts as a leasing agent for the government, to make the ascertainment, though the law is vague about the criteria that should be used. The GSA had cited the precedent set by the 2000 election, in which Republican George W. Bush wasn't declared the winner over Democrat Al Gore until the Supreme Court ruled in Bush's favor in a dispute over recounting Florida's ballots. The margin then was just 537 votes, a far narrower outcome than Biden's win over Trump.

That shortened transition period was cited by the 9-11 Commission as a factor in Al Qaeda's attacks in September 2001, because of the time it took Bush to get his national security team in place.

The GSA decision was the second major blow on Monday to Trump's effort to overturn the election's result. Earlier in the day, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers voted to certify Biden's win in the state. The typically ministerial duty had become a national focal point as Trump and his allies launched a failed effort to either delay the results' certification or install Trump loyalists in the place of electors who would vote for Biden.

The decision to certify the outcome was 3 to 0 with one abstention vote.

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