Finally, the Biden transition can begin
It's over. Finally. Joe Biden really will be the next president of the United States.
Almost three weeks after the 2020 presidential campaign concluded, President Trump on Monday offered the closest thing to a concession speech that he probably will ever give, tweeting he still believed he would win the race against Biden — but that "in the best interest of our Country," he had instructed the General Services Administration to begin providing transition services to Biden's team.
That wasn't even a grudging concession, really. Later in the evening, Trump vowed to "never concede." Under the circumstances, though, it will have to do.
Trump probably didn't have much choice. Earlier in the afternoon, Michigan officials certified that Biden had won that state's electoral votes, pretty much eliminating Trump's path to retaining the White House. And of course he may not have been entirely truthful: Emily Murphy, the GSA official in charge of transition services, wrote she decided "independently" — without any pressure, one way or the other, from the Oval Office — to begin providing those services to the president-elect. That contradicts Trump's claim he directed her to proceed. But it probably doesn't matter; either way, the transition to Biden's presidency has officially started.
Even now, it is scary to get comfortable with Biden's victory. Trump has proven so demonically tenacious to keep office, so willing to destroy the democracy that had raised him to the presidency, that Americans would be wise to sustain their scrutiny and opposition to him during the next two months until Inauguration Day. More legal challenges to the voting results can be expected — but at this point, they feel like minor "mop up" skirmishes after the real battle has ended.
Murphy's decision means Biden and his crew can finally start the work of building the presidency. That is a cue for the rest of us to start to look forward, and contemplate what comes next.
The biggest challenge facing Biden, of course, is the COVID-19 pandemic. The bad news is that we are well into what may be the worst phase of the crisis — the number of new confirmed cases and deaths continues to rise, and holiday gatherings seem certain to make things worse. Our national disaster is actually getting more disastrous. The good news is that vaccinations may well be underway by the time Biden takes office.
If that is the case, the other huge issue facing Biden is the economy — how to begin to recover from the pandemic-induced recession, and how to provide aid to workers and businesses now suffering. The new president's options will be influenced greatly by the results of the two runoff races for U.S. Senate in Georgia — if Democrats win both, they can take control of the legislative branch's upper chamber. Lose, and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his fellow Republicans are likely to dig in with an austerity agenda, suddenly remembering (as they do during Democratic administrations) that they are deficit hawks. That would probably slow the pace of the economic recovery over the next few years, and possibly enable Republican gains during the next midterm elections in 2022. We've seen this movie before. It is not an exaggeration to say the well-being of many Americans depends on what happens in Georgia.
Trump's loss may actually aid Biden. The GOP in Georgia has fractured in recent days, divided between responsible officials who refused to put their thumbs on the scale for Trump, and those who believe the election was stolen. The fallout could depress Republican turnout for the Senate elections. "We've crossed a tipping point where ... there may be some Republicans who don't trust the outcomes of the system at all, and say, 'Why bother to vote?'" one official told Yahoo News.
Nationally, those voters may prove a challenge to Biden over the next few years. GOP leaders will have to serve a base that wrongly believes Trump actually won the election. Even if Democrats win the runoff races, the intensity of that opposition will prove challenging as Biden tries to govern on issues such as climate, health care, foreign policy, and so much more. And, as always, unexpected event will pop up over the next four years to shape Biden's presidency in unexpected ways.
But there no longer seems to be a significant reason to doubt that Biden will become the president. If you're like me and worn out by the roller coaster ride that America has been on for the last four years, that is good news. It is time to move on.