Fortunately, the American transition tradition — much of it enshrined in laws such as the Presidential Transitions Improvements Act of 2015 — includes important formalities governing the transfer of power.
Unfortunately, the United States has never had a departing president like Donald J. Trump.
With at least 74 million votes cast for Biden (the most in U.S. history), Trump acts as if he isn’t going anywhere. Unlike his modern-day presidential predecessors, Trump is calling into question the democratic process by claiming an election night victory for himself.
That is a sad and startling contrast with American transition history as meticulously compiled by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition.
Case in point: A meeting between the outgoing president and the incoming president is an essential early step in the transition of power. It signals the peaceful nature of America’s democratic tradition, as the Center for Presidential Transition observed. It also is an opportunity for the president-elect to hear directly from the outgoing president about the issues that will be on the table after the presidential oath is administered.
Six days after the Nov. 4, 2008, election, President George W. Bush met with President-elect Barack Obama to brief him on several major international issues.
President Obama met with President-elect Trump right after the 2016 election. Obama brought Trump up to speed on several pressing foreign policy concerns, including the threat from North Korea. But the Obama-Trump conversation didn’t stop there. Several phone calls followed.
In addition, Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, met with Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and he went a step further.
McDonough, according to the Center for Presidential Transition, “arranged a luncheon for Priebus and 10 former chiefs of staff from every administration dating back to President Jimmy Carter.”
Because of Trump’s intransigence, no such meeting appears in the works, as of this hour.
Trump needs to face the truth that governance was not given but only entrusted to him. And he blew it, big time.
Biden has already done his part by forming an early White House transition team staffed with seasoned Obama administration officials and Capitol Hill veterans under the leadership of longtime Biden adviser and former Delaware Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman. Their aim is to ensure continuity in government.
Trump’s aim is his own continuation in government.
Whether Trump likes it or not, there are transition-related legal requirements that he must observe.
Some are in place, such as an official White House Transition Coordinating Council and agency transition directors to work with the incoming team.
But more is required.
Trump’s staff must ensure that career federal executives are positioned to serve in acting capacities with succession plans during the handover phase after Trump appointees clean out their desks. The Trump team also has to provide Biden’s teams with a list of all of the politically appointed officials in the federal government, a brief description of their responsibilities, including those of senior Trump White House advisers Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller and Peter Navarro and the like. Between now and 11:59 a.m. on Jan. 20, they will have to turn in their building passes and vacate the White House premises.
Trump, despite his bitterness, has an obligation to prepare for a smooth national security handover by ensuring that Biden’s incoming national security team is completely informed about all pending intelligence and national security issues. America’s security cannot be left in limbo.
With years of White House and congressional service under his belt, Biden won’t be starting from scratch. For the sake of the nation, however, Biden deserves a chance to move through his presidential transition without having to clear hurdles and stumbling blocks placed in his way by a departing, disgruntled and defeated Donald Trump.
Taking over the presidency of the United States cannot be left to whim, capriciousness or vengeance. Our nation’s interests deserve more than that.