Trump to Biden – the importance of a peaceful presidential transition, explained

Trump to Biden – the importance of a peaceful presidential transition, explained
Source: Kevin Lamarque, Reuters
A number of serious issues have many believing that a smooth and peaceful transition is essential for ensuring stability in the weeks before Biden is inaugurated.

Despite President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that he won the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden received 306 electoral votes, well over the 270 needed to win the presidency. Trump’s claims have made the transition of presidential power, usually a peaceful process, intensely politicized.

What have presidential transitions in the past looked like and why is the period of transition so important, especially in the midst of a pandemic and other serious international issues?


The mainly unknown declaration of “ascertainment” is key to starting the transition of power within the federal government. The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 details the exact transition procedure and puts the general services administration (GSA) in charge of initiating it. As a result, it is up to Emily W. Murphy, the GSA administrator appointed by President Trump, to begin the transition process.

After Election Day, the GSA is required “to provide office space and support services to the president-elect and Vice President-elect, with support continuing up to 60 days after inauguration.” Part of this “support” includes providing the president-elect with a classified summary of national security briefings “as soon as possible after the election.”

Despite the law, Murphy has so far refused to provide President-elect Biden with any of the support traditionally required. A GSA spokesperson explained to Government Executive that “In accordance with the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, as amended, the GSA administrator ascertains the apparent successful candidate once a winner is clear based on the process laid out in the Constitution.”

The law does not state exactly when the GSA administrator needs to sign the ascertainment and because the presidential election has been called by the media but not yet ratified by the electoral college, the delay in starting the transition process can continue.

Responses to delay

When asked by a reporter if the State Department would work with the Biden team to ensure a smooth transition, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded that “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” This comment shocked the reporters in the room, spurring several follow-up questions. “The world should have every confidence that the transition necessary to make sure that the State Department is functional today, successful today, and successful with the president who’s in office on January 20th, a minute after noon, will also be successful,” Pompeo added.

Despite the mounting pressure from House Democrats, Jody Hice, a ranking Republican member of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, sent a letter to Murphy asking that she continue to delay the transition. The letter states that there are many states where the election results are being contested and encourages Murphy to “follow the Constitution … not the media.”

The Biden campaign has largely avoided displaying any annoyance over the delay, instead focusing on what they can do without the GSA’s help. However, during a recent news conference, Biden expressed concern over the handling of the pandemic response, stating, “More people may die if we don’t coordinate.” In regards to the national security briefings, Biden stated they “would be useful, but it’s not necessary."

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious disease, stated that “of course it would be better if we could start working with” the Biden team. Fauci compared the transition, especially with coronavirus vaccine coordination and alarming spikes in cases, to passing a baton in a race. “You want to just essentially keep going … that is what transition is."

David Adelman, the former United States ambassador to Singapore, told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” that he believes the “damage would be substantial” if Biden does not receive the necessary options for his transition. “The sort of stubborn unwillingness to engage in the transition is unprecedented, it’s harmful to the United States and … raises risks for the whole world.”

Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford has stated that he will give Biden access to national security briefings if the Trump administration continues to refuse cooperation. “This needs to occur so that regardless of the outcome of the election, whichever way that it goes, people can be ready for that actual task."

A number of serious issues – including coronavirus case numbers rising to their highest levels yet in the US and increased tensions between China and Taiwan – have many believing that a smooth and peaceful transition is essential for ensuring stability in the weeks before Biden is inaugurated.

Have a tip or story? Get in touch with our reporters at