Vowing “to get right to work,” President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday shrugged off President Donald Trump's fierce refusal to accept the election outcome as “inconsequential,” even as Democrats elsewhere warned that the Republican president's actions were dangerous.
Raising unsupported claims of voter fraud, Trump has blocked the incoming president from receiving intelligence briefings and withheld federal funding intended to help facilitate the transfer of power. Trump's resistance, backed by senior Republicans in Washington and across the country, could also prevent background investigations and security clearances for prospective staff and access to federal agencies to discuss transition planning.
As some Democrats and former Republican officials warned of serious consequences, Biden sought to lower the national temperature as he addressed reporters from a makeshift transition headquarters near his home in downtown Wilmington.
He described Trump's position as little more than an “embarrassing” mark on the outgoing president's legacy, while predicting that Republicans on Capitol Hill would eventually accept the reality of Biden's victory. The Republican resistance, Biden said, “does not change the dynamic at all in what we’re able to do.”
Additional intelligence briefings “would be useful,” Biden added, but "we don’t see anything slowing us down.”
The measured comments come as Biden prepares to confront dueling national crises that actively threaten the health, safety and economic security of millions of Americans irrespective of the political debate. Coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths are surging, the economy faces the prospect of long-term damage, and the nation's political and cultural divides may be worsening.
Biden is betting that his low-key approach and bipartisan outreach — a sharp reversal from the current president's style — will help him govern effectively on Day One. But just 71 days before he will be inaugurated, Trump and his allies seemed determined to make Biden's transition as difficult as possible.
From his Twitter account on Tuesday, Trump again raised unsupported claims of “massive ballot counting abuse” and predicted he would ultimately win the race he has already lost. His allies on Capitol Hill, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have encouraged the president's baseless accusations. Trump's tweets were swiftly flagged by the social media network as disputed claims about election fraud.
America's allies began to acknowledge what Trump would not.
French President Emmanuel Macron met with Biden via videoconference. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, among six world leaders overall, congratulated Biden on his election.
“I look forward to strengthening the partnership between our countries and to working with him on our shared priorities — from tackling climate change, to promoting democracy and building back better from the pandemic,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. “Build back better” is a slogan that Biden and the British government have in common.
Meanwhile, Biden tried to stay focused on health care in the midst of the worst health crisis in more than a century. One of Biden's chief coronavirus advisers, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, briefed Senate Democrats on Tuesday by phone at their weekly virtual lunch.
The closed-door meeting marked the first time a Biden transition official has addressed the Democrats' Senate caucus since last week's election.
In an afternoon speech, Biden delivered a forceful defense of the Affordable Care Act, just hours after the Supreme Court heard arguments on its merits. The high court ruled eight years ago to leave intact the essential components of the law known as “Obamacare,” but Trump and his Republican allies are seeking to have it overturned.
If the 6-3 conservative court ultimately agrees with the GOP, millions of Americans could lose their health care coverage. While Tuesday’s arguments indicate the court is unlikely to strike down the entire law, the prospect added new weight to the already heavy burden Biden inherits from the outgoing administration.
“It’s a law that saved lives and spared countless families from financial ruin,” Biden charged. He vowed to work with Congress to strengthen the health care law “as soon as humanly possible.”
For now, however, Republicans on Capitol Hill, like those in the Trump administration, are showing no desire to cooperate with a Biden administration.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday predicted there would be a smooth transition — to another four years of Trump in power. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell largely endorsed Trump's approach: “Until the Electoral College votes, anyone who is running for office can exhaust concerns."
Biden spent much of Tuesday working alongside Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at a theater near his home in downtown Wilmington. He is expected to quickly name a chief of staff and start considering Cabinet appointments, though those likely won’t be finalized for weeks.
Republicans are increasingly eyeing a December deadline to publicly accept the election result, giving Trump time and space to exhaust his legal challenges. That’s when the states face a deadline to certify results and a Dec. 14 deadline for the Electoral College to cast its votes. It’s also roughly the same amount of time it took to resolve the 2000 election dispute between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.
Senior officials in the George W. Bush administration warned, however, that the delay after the 2000 contest caused problems.
Specifically, Biden's team is calling on the General Services Administration, led by a Trump-appointed administrator, Emily Murphy, to formally recognize Biden's victory. Until that happens, Biden will not receive comprehensive security briefings, transition funding or the ability to communicate with agencies to begin coordinating the transfer of power.
“Administrator Murphy’s refusal to ascertain President-elect Biden’s victory in the 2020 election puts American lives at risk," said Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat who led the Obama administration’s transition at the Commerce Department.
Former Republican officials agreed.
“Our adversaries aren’t waiting for the transition to take place,” said former Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., insisting that Biden begin receiving the president's daily briefing immediately. “This isn’t about politics; this is about national security.”
Biden, meanwhile, didn't seem worried.
He answered several questions during his first press briefing as the president-elect, almost all of them focused on the Republican Party's refusal to acknowledge his victory.
“I just think it’s an embarrassment, quite frankly," Biden said.
Peoples reported from New York. AP writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Lisa Mascaro, Alexandra Jaffe and Deb Reichmann in Washington contributed.