Nearly a week after all major media networks projected that Joe Biden was the President-elect, Biden’s transition team is not sweating the Trump administration’s continued refusal to begin the official transition process — mostly.
Sure, transition adviser Jen Psaki acknowledged in a briefing Friday, it’s in America’s interest for the incoming administration to have up-to-date intelligence briefings and additional information on such topics as the status of COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans.
Biden’s team still doesn’t have access to secure facilities, thousands of pages of government memos, State Department assistance to communicate with foreign heads of state, or even .gov email addresses. And none of that can change until the head of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy, officially “ascertains” that Biden won the election.
“Our preference would be that the GSA ascertainment happens, that the letter is signed, and we all move forward in preparing President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to govern,” Psaki said.
But, she added, “We’re not interested in having a food fight with the GSA administrator or anyone, really.”
Psaki kept up the rhetorical poker face throughout the briefing: While it was “imperative” that the transition team quickly get access to COVID-19-related information, she said at one point, Biden’s own COVID-19 advisory board — “some of the foremost experts in the country” — has plenty of advice they can provide in the interim.
“Their role was never going to be to directly engage with federal officials, so they can continue providing advice just as we had planned,” she said. “But certainly we would prefer, and I think the American people would prefer, if the incoming administration and the incoming President could have access to the real-time current information and plans.”
Johannes Abraham, who’s running the transition’s day-to-day operations, said separately that the transition had been in “regular contact” with administration officials working on the transition as part of the GSA’s Agency Transition Directors Council.
Americans don’t need to look to the Biden team to make the case that withholding transition resources is dangerous. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) was one of several Republicans to ring alarm bells this week about Biden not receiving intelligence briefings.
Republicans and Democrats from multiple past administrations, as well as former Trump administration officials, have also noted the 9/11 Commission’s finding that George W. Bush’s truncated transition period distracted his national security team from the threats America faced in the months leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Biden, of course, is a decades-over D.C. veteran and former vice president who “knows his way around the Situation Room,” Psaki said Friday. And plenty of his transition team’s members are very recent federal employees who know their way around the executive branch bureaucracy.
But that’s not really the point, she said. The transition team wants up-to-date information, especially on national security matters. And on that front, every new day without access to the government is worst than the last.
“It’s been six days, but with every day that passes, it becomes more concerning that our national security team and the president-elect and the vice president-elect don’t have access to those threat assessments, intelligence briefings, real-time information about our engagements around the world,” Psaki said. “You don’t know what you don’t know.”