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A Non-Transfer of Power – The New York Times

archived recording

(CROWD CHANTING) Thank you, George!

archived recording (george h.w. bush)

Thank you so much. Now, here’s the way I see it. Here’s the way we see it, and the country should see it, that the people have spoken and we respect the majesty of the democratic system. [MUSIC] I just called Governor Clinton over in Little Rock and offered my congratulations. He did run a strong campaign. I wish him well in the White House.

archived recording (john mccain)

Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences and he has prevailed. No doubt, many of those differences remain. These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face. I urge all Americans — [APPLAUSE] — to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together.

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. Today —

archived recording

I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction. But the nation chose another leader. And so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation.

michael barbaro

— Maggie Haberman on why the traditional transfer of power is not happening this year, and the implications of that delay. It’s Friday, November 13.

Maggie, what usually happens when someone has been declared the winner of a presidential election in the United States?

maggie haberman

So Michael, normally what happens is the media, various outlets, make calls on election night, or shortly after, declaring a winner.

archived recording (richard nixon)

My congratulations to Senator Kennedy for his fine race in this campaign.

maggie haberman

The person who has lost concedes.

archived recording (herbert humphrey)

I have lost. Mr. Nixon has won. The democratic process has worked its will. So now let’s get on with the urgent task of uniting our country.

maggie haberman

There is usually a phone call between the two.

archived recording

A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him — [CROWD BOOING] Please. — To congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love.

maggie haberman

And then that concession allows the formal transfer of power to begin.

archived recording (george h.w. bush)

I want the country to know that our entire administration will work closely with his team to ensure the smooth transition of power. There is important work to be done, and America must always come first. So we will get behind this new president and wish him well.

maggie haberman

Within days, there is often a formal meeting between the outgoing president and the incoming president.

archived recording (george w. bush)

Last night I extended an invitation to the president-elect and Mrs. Obama to come to the White House.

maggie haberman

These kinds of meetings have happened even after the hardest-fought contests.

archived recording (george w. bush)

It’ll be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House.

maggie haberman

In 2008, when you had President Obama running against George W. Bush’s record, Bush still invited Obama in when he won.

archived recording (george w. bush)

I told the president-elect he can count on complete cooperation from my administration as he makes the transition to the White House.

archived recording (barack obama)

I had a chance to talk to President-elect Trump last night —

maggie haberman

In 2016 —

archived recording (barack obama)

— to congratulate him on winning the election. And I had a chance to invite him to come to the White House tomorrow.

maggie haberman

— after Donald Trump questioned whether President Obama was a legitimate president by creating a lie about his birthplace —

archived recording (barack obama)

We are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country.

maggie haberman

— President Obama still sat with him for a 90-minute meeting in the Oval Office to demonstrate his continuity of government.

archived recording (barack obama)

Now, it is no secret that the president-elect and I have some pretty significant differences. But remember, eight years ago, President Bush and I had some pretty significant differences. But President Bush’s team could not have been more professional or more gracious in making sure we had a smooth transition so that we could hit the ground running.

archived recording (al gore)

I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside. And may God bless his stewardship of this country.

maggie haberman

Even in elections where there have been bitter court fights —

archived recording

Neither he nor I anticipated this long and difficult road. Certainly neither of us wanted it to happen.

maggie haberman

— like the 2000 recount election between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

archived recording

Yet, it came, and now it has ended — resolved, as it must be resolved, through the honored institutions of our democracy.

maggie haberman

You had Al Gore accept the results, even though Democrats were incredibly upset about them. And this acceptance of the result is a hugely important signal to voters that people should have faith in the process and that democratic norms are being respected.

michael barbaro

So Maggie, these are the rituals around the transfer of power meant for public consumption. What usually happens behind the scenes during this time period?

maggie haberman

When there is a concession, the administrator of the General Services Administration of the federal government puts forward what’s called an ascertainment. And that means they have ascertained who the next president will be, who the president-elect is. And that puts in place a pot of money being available to the incoming president, incoming administration, and allows agencies to begin the process of the transfer of power — briefing books, meetings, so-called “landing teams” or “beachhead teams,” as they are often called for the incoming administration, meeting with agency officials to talk about what work needs to be done, how they want to handle the transfer of power. In the case of Joe Biden, there are a lot of people who have been in government before, which always helps. But they still need to figure out where things stand on a whole range of issues going forward.

michael barbaro

And what has been happening this year in the now six days since Joe Biden was declared the president-elect?

maggie haberman

So basically, Michael, everything that I just described as what normally happens has not happened. None of it.

michael barbaro

And what has happened instead?

maggie haberman

What’s happened, instead, Michael, is President Trump has refused to concede. He has been in the Oval Office tweeting, very frequently, news clips or things he sees on Twitter that he insists affirm his belief that he has won the election. But that has meant that everything is in limbo. Joe Biden has not started getting intelligence briefings. There has not been agency handoffs with the incoming team. There has been a delay in the number of appointments that Biden has announced. And we don’t have full clarity on this, because of security reasons. But there might have been a delay in Joe Biden getting the full complement of Secret Service protection that an incoming president gets.

michael barbaro

So suffice it to say, this is not the usual transition. This is, in fact, the complete opposite of the usual transition. In fact, this isn’t really a transition at all.

maggie haberman

Correct. There is, so far, no transition. There is just a standstill.

archived recording

I’m here tonight to stand with President Trump. He stood with me. He’s the reason we’re going to have a Senate majority. He helped Senate Republicans who are going to pick up House seats because of the campaign that President Trump won.

maggie haberman

And so far, the president is being supported in this by a number of top Republican officials.

archived recording (lindsey graham)

Senator, have you congratulated Vice President Biden yet?

archived recording

No.

^archived recording (mike pompeo)

^ There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.

maggie haberman

That includes Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader.

archived recording (mitch mcconnell)

Let’s not have any lectures about how the president should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election.

maggie haberman

That includes a number of 2024 Republican presidential hopefuls.

archived recording (ted cruz)

By throwing the observers out, by clouding the vote counting in a shroud of darkness, they are setting the stage to potentially steal an election. It is lawless and they need to follow the law.

maggie haberman

The vast majority of Republicans are either not contradicting what the president is doing or mouthing words that sound as if they’re being supportive, because most Republicans are afraid to go against him on this.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

So Maggie, what should we make of this? Because you and I have talked about this before. While it is shocking on the part of the president in this willingness to cross this Rubicon, it’s perhaps not all that surprising. However, the last time we talked, we were still waiting to find out if the rest of the Republican party would respond in a similar way, if the system would support his actions or they would reject them. And what we’re finding is that the system is supporting what he’s up to, which I have to say, feels both more surprising and a lot scarier than just the president’s actions. So I want to understand the deep-seated motivations of both the president and the Republicans, especially in leadership. And I want to start with the president. What is animating this particular decision, this refusal to concede?

maggie haberman

Michael, I’ve become a bit of a one-note Cassandra on this over the last four years, saying to people that there’s not a whole lot of strategy going on when the president does things like this. And so I’ll just say it again. As we — Ashley Parker, our former colleague and I — warned the Washington Bureau when President Trump was president-elect Trump, that there’s lots of desire to read in, what’s the secret plan on what he’s doing? And there isn’t a secret plan. He is trying to play this out for as long as he can to see what happens. There is a part of him that just likes creating conflict and then watching the conflict burn and see how it plays out. There is a part of him that doesn’t want to cut off any avenues for himself. That includes the possibility that something happens and he’ll be allowed to stay president, although I don’t think he thinks that that’s likely. He doesn’t want to close off the possibility that he can retain this vice-like grip that he has on the Republican voter base. And so he wants to keep his base engaged and animated. And then he’s talking about, in all of his anger at Fox News, which he’s been bellowing about on Twitter for weeks, creating some kind of rival news company that could cut into Fox’s base of viewership and of readership online. It’s all of these various things, some of which are in conflict with one another. Oh, and I forgot one. He’s talking about announcing again in 2024. And that you may hear something about in the next couple of weeks.

michael barbaro

Running for president again?

maggie haberman

Again. Correct. Now, you clearly don’t run for president again if you think you’ve won already for this term. So he is leaving open basically every option that he can find, and that’s what’s motivating him.

michael barbaro

Maggie, what I’m not hearing you say here is that the president relishes this job and will do anything to keep it.

maggie haberman

To be clear, President Trump ran for election in 2016 to see if he could win, not with some grand thought about what the presidency was going to be like. There is a lot about this job he doesn’t like. He has basically stopped governing since the election, and frankly, somewhat before that. He has not a ton of interest in remaining in charge and overseeing the messes that this country faces right now with the pandemic and an economic crisis. He also doesn’t want to be known as a loser. And so those things are in conflict.

michael barbaro

Hmm. So if you put this all together, you have a president who doesn’t want to acknowledge loss, who may not want to stay president, but doesn’t want to acknowledge having to give up that power. So we are left with a situation in which, in everything you just described, there’s just not a lot of incentive for him to follow the rituals and traditions of presidential transitions of power.

maggie haberman

Well, you would hope that the incentive, Michael, would be for the good of the country. But this is a president for whom the first question is generally what’s in it for him. And for him, he does not see personal incentives to stop this right now.

michael barbaro

So let’s move to what, as I said before, actually feels like the most surprising element of this, which is Republicans around the president supporting this, playing into this, refusing to reject it. And I’m curious to hear from you what the various explanations would be here, because we’re talking about both elected and non-elected Republican officials. So let’s start with the elected officials, Republican members of the House, the Senate, and specifically let’s start with majority leader Mitch McConnell.

maggie haberman

So Michael, while the president is not engaging in behavior that is particularly calculated, he is forcing a lot of Republicans to have to make calculations of their own around what he does. And I would put Mitch McConnell at the top of that list. He has a number of concerns. But right now, the most immediate is keeping hold of two Senate seats in Georgia, both of which are headed for runoffs in January.

michael barbaro

Right. We talked to our colleague Julie Davis about this earlier this week.

maggie haberman

Right. He needs the Republican base to be activated. He needs everyone to be on the same page. And having a fight with the President of the United States in the middle of a runoff election — runoffs typically attract fewer voters than regular elections — just would not be advantageous for him right now. It would also potentially have negative effects for other Republican senators in his caucus. There are senators who are going to be facing challenges of their own in 2022. Crossing the president could open people up to Republican primary challengers. And I think that McConnell would like to help his members avoid that at all costs.

michael barbaro

So from what you just said, the Senate Majority leader looks out across the country and sees a lot of voters who would not forgive the failure to stand with and for President Trump in this moment, even if it’s two years from now, two years after, theoretically, Donald Trump leaves office.

maggie haberman

He’s certainly seeing that as a possibility that he wants to avoid. That’s right.

michael barbaro

That’s kind of fascinating.

maggie haberman

It’s very complicated, these calculations that the president is forcing other people to have to take up as he leaves all his options open. And part of it, Michael, is just a reflection of how partisan everything is right now across the country. There is very little benefit in reaching across the aisle in the eyes of these Republicans. And right now, they want to give the president as much running room to work this out himself.

michael barbaro

Even if that means undermining faith in democracy, which this inevitably does?

maggie haberman

Yes. At the moment, their concern is about power and keeping their majorities. And they are not looking right now at the effects that this could have, both on how people feel about the incoming president or about the security and validity of elections. I should be clear, it’s not every Senator. There are some Republicans who have publicly congratulated Joe Biden as the President-elect. But it’s the senators who historically have broken with President Trump on other issues — Senator Sasse, Senator Murkowski, Senator Collins. It’s not the bulk of Republicans.

michael barbaro

Right. So these are senators who seem to have already proven back in their districts that they can withstand challenging the president electorally.

maggie haberman

That’s exactly right.

michael barbaro

What about non-elected officials, Maggie? So Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who a couple of days ago, when asked about the transition process to a Biden administration, said, I will be involved in the transition to President Trump’s second term. What’s happening with him? What’s motivating that?

maggie haberman

So Mike Pompeo wants to be president himself someday, Michael. Remember, Mike Pompeo was a former Congressman.

michael barbaro

Right.

maggie haberman

But his remark, which was to say, there will be a smooth transition to the Trump administration, before then continuing on and saying, we know how to do transitions, caused a lot of concern and a lot of disruption about how the rest of the Trump administration is treating this moment in time. Even if he was joking, which maybe he was, Mike Pompeo is the secretary of state and is responsible for pushing other governments, non-democratic governments, to try to engage in democracy. And for him to have said something allowing as if the election wasn’t over, when by every metric it is, was unnerving to people.

michael barbaro

But to get back to what you said about him potentially wanting to run for president, you’re saying for him to have any chance of being the Republican nominee anytime soon, he needs to be with the president until the end of this fight.

maggie haberman

That’s correct. It is a mark of the president’s incredible grip on his party that people are tailoring every statement they make around what it would look like if there was daylight.

michael barbaro

OK. So given what you are describing is not, in your view, a group of people lined up behind the president to reverse the results of this election, but rather to just stand beside Trump as he fights and to protect their own political interests, it doesn’t feel like what we are witnessing is the staging of what some people, particularly on the left — I’m sure you’ve heard this — are starting to describe as a kind of coup. So what do you think when you hear people use that particular word?

maggie haberman

I want to be clear, Michael, that I understand why people have significant anxieties about what’s going on right now, because what’s going on is not normal. And I don’t in any way want to sound like I’m dismissing why people are anxious about this, because we haven’t seen this kind of thing before. But I think that the belief that this is a coup both gives this president too much credit for a level of competence in executing that kind of thing and a level of ambition, candidly, that I don’t think he has. I think that he is making a bunch of moves at specific agencies, like Department of Defense, to install loyalists there for specific policy measures, like drawing down troops in Afghanistan. But I don’t think that it’s about trying to mobilize the military against Joe Biden in some way. I think that this is much more about the end stages of a very, very convulsive presidency, but not about trying to continue it.

michael barbaro

OK. So now that we have understood what has happened until today, Maggie, what is it that you are watching going forward? And are there any particular dates on the horizon that are important to you as you watch this unfold?

maggie haberman

So Michael, what we’re seeing right now as the president tries to wage these various legal battles is states are beginning to certify the results of their elections. And that was always going to happen. One by one, states were going to start saying that the votes they had were valid and went in one direction or the other. This is going to keep happening until mid-December, when the overall result of the election is set to be certified. There’s two dates that I’m looking for. And one is around November 20, when some Republicans think that the recount effort in Georgia will be done. And then there’s mid-December, when the election is to be certified. Because once it is certified for Joe Biden, as everyone expects it will be, including the president’s own aides, then I think he loses the fig leaf he’s been using to keep arguing it was fake.

michael barbaro

Right, because there’s no longer any uncertainty. There’s no more ballots left to count.

maggie haberman

Correct. There is no other avenue left for him to argue he’s actually the winner.

michael barbaro

Maggie, finally, when we think about how much this president has resisted the transition and the process of handing a government from one president to another, I suppose it is worth noting, as I think you did earlier, that the president-elect is a former vice president. He knows the ins and outs of the federal bureaucracy. He knows the White House. He knows what it means to be president, which is an argument that perhaps he could endure a truncated, weird transition. But being locked out of the normal transition, I have to imagine that there might be real consequences to that.

maggie haberman

Michael, there are definitely real concerns, particularly in the national security space, that the lag in this transition could have an impact. There has long been a belief that the lag in transition caused by the Bush v. Gore court fight in 2000 helped create blind spots that led to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. And that’s the kind of lag that people are concerned is happening here. These moments in transitions from one administration to a next are sort of porous moments in the history of the country where foreign aggressors look for ways to harm the country. National security officials have often said this. That’s one of the concerns right now. Now, to your point, Joe Biden is not a typical president-elect. He will require less on-the-job training than, say, a Donald Trump did. But there are going to be significant gaps in what his incoming administration officials are seeing the longer they wait. And it’s just going to delay their ability to be caught up once they actually start in January.

michael barbaro

Right. They may never know which document they didn’t read because they ran out of time and didn’t get to the end of the briefing book, to your point about 2000.

maggie haberman

And I want to be clear that what I just laid out is the worst-case scenario, not a prediction. And Joe Biden himself has tried to tamp down concerns. But it is true that it is impossible to know what gets missed and what the potential price for the country is. [MUSIC]

michael barbaro

Maggie, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

maggie haberman

Michael, thank you.

michael barbaro

On Thursday afternoon, in a rebuke to President Trump, top government security and election officials released a joint statement declaring that last week’s presidential election was, quote, “the most secure in American history,” and saying that there is no evidence that any voting system was compromised in any way. A few hours later, The Times called the state of Arizona for President-elect Joe Biden, increasing his margin of victory in the electoral college to 290. We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to today:

archived recording

Dr. Fauci, you do you believe that we’re headed for a national lockdown?

archived recording (anthony fauci)

You know, I don’t know. We would like to stay away from that, because there is no appetite for locking down on the American public. But I believe that we can do it without a lockdown. I really do.

michael barbaro

Amid a deadly second wave of the coronavirus, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, called on Americans to double down on basic precautions. But in an interview with ABC News, Fauci acknowledged that the country was unlikely to accept a new lockdown of the kind now in place across Europe.

archived recording (anthony fauci)

The best opposite strategy to locking down is to intensify the public health measures short of locking down. So if you can do that well, you don’t have to take that step that people are trying to avoid, which has so many implications, both psychologically and economically.

michael barbaro

Infection rates are surging to record levels across the U.S. On Wednesday alone, the U.S. reported more than 140,000 cases and 65,000 hospitalizations from the virus. Since the start of the pandemic, the United States has identified more than 10 million cases and more than 240,000 deaths from the coronavirus. The Daily is made by Theo Balcomb, Andy Mills, Lisa Tobin, Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Annie Brown, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Larissa Anderson, Wendy Dorr, Chris Wood, Jessica Cheung, Stella Tan, Alexandra Leigh Young, Lisa Chow, Eric Krupke, Marc Georges, Luke Vander Ploeg, Kelly Prime, Sindhu Gnanasambandan, M.J. Davis Lin, Austin Mitchell, Neena Pathak, Dan Powell, Dave Shaw, Sydney Harper, Daniel Guillemette, Hans Buetow, Robert Jimison, Mike Benoist, Bianca Giaever, Liz O. Baylen, Asthaa Chaturvedi, Rachelle Bonja, Alix Spiegel, Diana Nguyen, Marion Lozano, and Soraya Shockley. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Mikayla Bouchard, Lauren Jackson, Julia Simon, Mahima Chablani, Nora Keller, Sophia Milan, and Desiree Ibekwe. That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you on Monday.

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