The Presidential Transition

The election has been called, and virtually every major news outlet has projected that the winner is former Vice President Joe Biden (now, President-elect Biden). But as Biden-Harris supporters danced in the streets, President Trump has vowed to fight the election results in the courts and has yet to concede. 

And while there may be divisiveness over the election, there is one phenomenon which continues in the meantime; the presidential transition. 

Let’s take a look at how it has worked in the past, what is said about the transition of power in the constitution, and how the current situation could affect a Trump-Biden transition.

What does the Constitution say about a presidential transition?

In the 20th amendment, Inauguration day was moved from March 4 to January 20th, shortening the period of transition. However, the actual mechanisms that lay out the process of a presidential transition lie within the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, passed by Congress with bi-partisan support. 

What is the Presidential Transition Act of 1963?

This legislation laid out the groundwork to ensure a smooth transition of power between an incumbent president and the new president-elect. Because the country doesn’t just shut down, or even pause, during the time between election day and inauguration day, the President-elect and their new administration need to be able to take over on day 1. As a result, they receive security briefings, office space, and funding to hire thousands of political staff.

How does a President-elect’s transition get started?

It’s a relatively easy start, and the legislation grants the power to the General Services Administration. The GSA assists in funding, office space, communications, and serves as a liaison between the federal government and the newly elected administration. The GSA is required by the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 to make this as smooth of a transition as possible, in the interest of National Security. 

How’s it going in 2020?

The head of the GSA has the responsibility to sign off the paperwork and release funds, as well as allow the President-elect, Vice-president-elect and their official to receive briefings. Currently, with 4 days since every media outlet has called the election for Joe Biden, the current Administrator at the GSA has not signed off on the transition. GSA Chief Emily Murphy has cited the contested election as the reason for the delay, and she hasn’t made it clear on when she intends to sign the transition paperwork.

How long could it be stalled for?

If Chief Murphy is waiting for the election to be certified in key states, then perhaps we can expect the transition to be enabled after Pennsylvania is certified on November 23rd. If she is waiting until after electors vote, that day is December 14th. At the same time, the GSA could be waiting on resolutions to the number of law suits filed on behalf of the Trump administration, claiming voter fraud (although to date, these allegations are unsubstantiated). There has been no clear communication from the GSA office on when the standoff will be lifted, but they do cite a precedent. 

So, it this action unprecedented?

Depends who you ask. 

While it is true that each previous presidential transition had been smooth – with the GSA chief signing off the papers to initiate a presidential transition on the day following the election when President Trump won in 2016. During the 2000 election, the Bush-Gore race which was extremely close, and largely contested – the Clinton Administration’s GSA did not allow for then President-elect Bush’ transition to begin until December 14th, a day after Vice-President Gore conceded. 

The 2000 election, which resulted in a Supreme Court case, and the election we just had are largely different, and President-elect Biden leads by a larger number than President Bush did in 2000. Nevertheless, this situation is the one cited as precedent for the current hold up with the GSA. 

The show must go on…

While the situation is causing condemnation from officials across the board, President-elect Biden has signaled that he isn’t as concerned about the hold up, and believes Republicans will soon acknowledge the election outcome. With the help of private funding, the transition is underway. 

What do you think? Is it right on the GSA to hold off since the election is being contested by President Trump? Or should the GSA act to allow the transition to start, honoring the election results? 


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