A Surging Virus and a Muddled Transition


The 2024 G.O.P. contenders still won’t say anything critical about Trump. But how will that play out if he runs again in four years? It’s Friday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

  • Joe Biden is ready to settle into the driver’s seat and get rolling — but he needs to get his hands on the keys first. And so far, President Trump has refused to give them to him. Biden still hasn’t received access to government offices, secure communications or classified briefings on national security, leaving lawmakers in both parties worried.

  • But especially vexing to his team is the fact that Trump’s denial of the election results has left him in the dark about crucial elements of the federal coronavirus response — at a time when the virus is exploding across the country. Unable to work with the White House on a transition, Biden’s advisers have been left to glean what they can from former Trump administration officials.

  • And Biden’s team is focusing on planning elements of its coronavirus strategy that don’t depend on information from the Trump administration. That includes a nationwide testing plan, which Trump never put in place and Biden is designing from scratch with help from experts at the Rockefeller Foundation.

  • Despite the White House’s refusal to cooperate, Biden has been talking to world leaders — though he had to make his first contacts without the secured phone lines that he could have used if he were officially recognized as president-elect. He has received congratulatory calls from national leaders in Asia, Europe and Australia.

  • Yesterday he also talked to Pope Francis, whom Biden thanked for “promoting peace, reconciliation and the common bonds of humanity around the world,” his transition office said.

  • Biden, who is only the second Catholic to be elected president, pledged to work with the pope to fight global warming and to care “for the marginalized and the poor.”

  • This week, James Lankford, a Republican senator from Oklahoma, told a radio interviewer that he would step in to make sure Biden had access to daily briefings if the president still wasn’t making them available by the end of the week.

  • And yesterday, Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican and member of the Senate leadership, said he agreed that Biden should have access to those files. “I don’t think they need to know everything,” Blunt said of Biden’s advisers. “I think they do need to know some things, and national security would be one of them.”

  • Like most of their G.O.P. colleagues, Lankford and Blunt have not yet acknowledged outright that Biden won the race, even if their comments make it fairly clear how they see things. Lankford, for his part, appeared to back off his earlier comments slightly, saying yesterday that while he supported briefings for Biden, “we still don’t know who the president’s going to be.”

  • But other Republicans have simply stopped playing along with Trump’s claim that the election’s results are in doubt. Mike DeWine, the Republican governor of Ohio, who just days earlier had said that he wanted to wait until legal disputes played out before accepting the winner of the election, changed his tune yesterday.

  • “We need to consider the former vice president as the president-elect,” DeWine said on CNN. “Joe Biden is the president-elect.”

  • Karl Rove, an influential top adviser to President George W. Bush, published an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday titled, “This Election Result Won’t Be Overturned.”

  • When asked for a date by which Trump should accept the reality of his loss, Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, set a firm deadline: Dec. 13, one day before the Electoral College delegations will cast their votes for president.

  • This all produces a complex calculus for Republicans looking to run for president in 2024. None of those widely seen as contenders have spoken out to say that Trump should accept the results and move on.

  • Trump himself is talking seriously about running for president again in 2024, according to his advisers, who say that he now privately acknowledges what he publicly disputes: that he has lost.

  • And no matter what path he chooses, it’s increasingly clear that removing the 45th president from the Oval Office will not mean keeping him out of the news cycle.

  • “When you look at the number of votes that he got, you look at the kind of enthusiasm that he engenders, I mean — he’s going to be a very, very significant figure whether he’s in the White House or not,” said Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri seen as a potential presidential candidate. “I don’t know who else would be considered the leader, if not for him.”

Credit…Oliver Contreras for The New York Times

The sunset behind the White House colored the sky pink yesterday.

The two-and-a-half-month period from Election Day to Inauguration Day usually goes by the book. Milestones must be met, and protocols guide things along.

But this year, Trump’s refusal to accept the results — and his party’s enabling of him — has blown up the usual timeline, complicating the process and making these matters of federal minutiae an issue of public concern, as Maggie Astor writes in a detailed explainer.

At every step of the way, from election to inauguration, where once there was a presumption that things would simply follow tradition, there is now an opportunity for Trump’s team to grind up the gears.

First, after completing a final vote count, the governor of each state must issue a “certificate of ascertainment,” announcing the winner of his or her state’s presidential election. The Trump campaign has sought to slow down or delay the ascertainment process, hoping that in states where Republicans control the legislature, if the governor missed the deadline to announce results, the legislature could then step in and name pro-Trump electors.

In Pennsylvania and Michigan, for instance, Republicans have filed lawsuits to block certification based on baseless allegations of voting or counting irregularities, but judges have so far rejected their arguments.

Each state’s electors will then cast their votes on Dec. 14, and most states have laws that force their electors to vote for the candidate who is certified as that state’s winner. On Jan. 6, Congress will count and certify the electoral votes, and the winner will be sworn in two weeks later.

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