Why it matters a little-known Trump appointee won't certify Biden's apparent victory

(Image credit: Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images)

The Associated Press and other major news organizations announced Saturday morning that Joe Biden has won enough electoral votes to become president-elect, and world leaders — even some close to President Trump — started tweeting their congratulations soon afterward. Some high-profile Republicans have also congratulated Biden, but Trump has not conceded the race, many of his supporters are baselessly alleging vote fraud, and a lot of GOP figures are waiting for Trump's long-shot legal challenges to play out before commenting.

Much of the refusal to concede is political, borne of normal disappointment and abnormal disinformation, but there are also practical consequences, starting with the General Services Administration declining to formally "ascertain" that Biden is the "apparent winner." Emily Murphy, the Trump-appointed administrator of the little-known GSA, needs to sign such a letter in order for the incoming Biden administration to get access to federal transition funds, government officials, and other resources needed for a seamless transfer of power. She hasn't.

"Every day counts in a transition, this year more than any transition since 1932," David Marchick, presidential transition expert at the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, tells The Wall Street Journal. "The delay has already gummed up discussions on critical issues, including plans to distribute a possible coronavirus vaccine," The Washington Post reports. Former GOP White House officials and veterans of past presidential transitions urged the GSA in a letter Sunday "to immediately begin the post-election transition process," Politico reports.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Except in 2000, "the GSA has sent a letter identifying the winner within days of the AP and networks calling the election, long before the results are made official by the Electoral College," the Journal explains. It's not clear if Murphy will issue the letter after Trump "has exhausted his legal avenues to fight the results, or the formal vote of the electoral college on Dec. 14," The Washington Post reports. "There are 74 days, as of Sunday, until the Biden inauguration on Jan. 20."

"An ascertainment has not yet been made," GSA spokeswoman Pamela Pennington told the Post, "and its administrator will continue to abide by, and fulfill, all requirements under the law." One senior administration official told the Post that detailed transition plans have been drafted, and they'll be released to the Biden team after a winner is formally declared, though Trump himself "is unlikely to concede he has lost or participate in traditional activities."

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us