Though procedural in nature, Trump's acceptance of the General Services Administration starting the transition amounted to a dramatic capitulation and capped an extraordinary 16-day standoff since Biden was declared the winner on Nov. 7.
By continuing to subvert the vote and delay the transition, Trump risked becoming isolated within his own party as a growing chorus of Republican officials recognized Biden as president-elect following a succession of defeats in courts by the Trump campaign.
On Monday, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers certified Biden's win there, while earlier in the day dozens of business leaders and Republican national security experts had urged Trump to accept the result because refusing to begin the transition was endangering the country's security, economy and pandemic response.
And so Trump yielded, writing Monday night on Twitter that he had agreed to support the Biden transition "in the best interest of our country."
Yet the president also vowed to continue his push to overturn the results, adding, "Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good … fight, and I believe we will prevail!"
A senior Trump campaign adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid, said Monday night: "He basically just conceded. That's as close to a concession as you will probably get."
To bring closure, some of Trump's advisers said they were encouraging him to deliver a speech in which he does not concede but talks about his accomplishments in office and commits to a transfer of power.
Trump only reluctantly agreed to let the transition begin as criticism intensified in recent days of his chaotic legal strategy, his failure to produce evidence of widespread voter fraud and his reliance on misinformation and debunked conspiracy theories.
A turning point was Thursday's news conference by Trump lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell alleging without any evidence that there was a coordinated plot with roots in Venezuela to rig the election in Biden's favor.
Jay Sekulow, one of the president's longtime personal attorneys, and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone were among those who helped persuade Trump to commit to the transition, officials and advisers said.
Trump was described as angry about the situation, particularly over comments Blackstone Chairman Stephen Schwarzman, one of the president's closest allies in the business community, made to Axios acknowledging that the election outcome was "very certain" and that Biden had won and the country should move on.
Trump called political advisers Monday to say he had doubts about the GSA initiating the transition, to inquire about whether he could block certification of the Michigan result, and to express reluctance to travel to Georgia to campaign for the two Republican senators facing runoff elections, according to officials and advisers.
Despite Trump's resistance, officials throughout his administration were planning to coordinate directly with counterparts on the Biden team starting Tuesday, as part of the standard transition process that takes place between administrations.
Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told other officials Monday evening it was time to begin the transition, two administration officials said.
This comes after a pileup of political and legal losses in recent days appeared to have triggered a shift among national GOP officials, who had largely been silent as Trump has waged an attack on the November vote and made baseless accusations of fraud.
National security luminaries, including former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge, directed particularly sharp language at the president, calling on "Republican leaders — especially those in Congress — to publicly demand that President Trump cease his anti-democratic assault on the integrity of the presidential election."
On Monday, four more Republican senators, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, added their voices to those who have acknowledged that Biden appeared to have won and said he should immediately begin receiving briefings related to national security and the coronavirus pandemic.
"When you are in public life, people remember the last thing you do," Alexander said.
In Michigan, a Republican member of the canvassing board broke from his party to certify the vote in that state, stressing that he was following the law.
The Trump campaign suffered yet another legal defeat on Monday as well, with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refusing to toss thousands of ballots in Philadelphia and the Pittsburgh area that had technical errors on their outer envelopes but showed no evidence of fraud.
The opinion encapsulated the state of Trump's efforts in court to overturn the election result, as his legal team has sought to block certification of Biden's victories in Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania — yet has offered no evidence of widespread fraud to justify such drastic action.
The campaign's senior legal adviser, Jenna Ellis, brushed off the setbacks Monday in a statement declaring certification to be "simply a procedural step."
"We are going to continue combating election fraud around the country as we fight to count all the legal votes. Americans must be assured that the final results are fair and legitimate," she said.
On Monday, Trump's campaign filed an emergency motion in federal appeals court in yet another case in Pennsylvania to temporarily block certification there. The move came after a lower-court judge had rejected the campaign's arguments on Saturday in a withering opinion, expressing disbelief that the Trump campaign would seek to disenfranchise millions of Pennsylvanians with no hard evidence of fraud or irregularities.
Meanwhile, in Arizona on Monday, Mohave County became the last county to canvass its vote, putting the state on an apparent glide path to certification on Nov. 30 — though Trump allies have said more challenges could be coming. Biden won the state by about 10,400 votes, according to unofficial results.
In Nevada, the state Supreme Court was scheduled to canvass the statewide vote Tuesday, with Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) expected to quickly announce the winner thereafter. The Trump campaign has filed what’s known as an election “contest” asking a state judge to overturn Biden’s victory or annul the election, which would mean no electoral college votes would be awarded. Biden’s unofficial margin currently stands at about 34,000 votes. The campaign has lost all previous efforts to delay the count.
In Wisconsin and Georgia, the president’s efforts to reverse results focused on recounts, even though officials in both states said there was virtually no chance the outcomes would change. The recount in Wisconsin, which Trump requested in only its two largest counties, began Friday, while Georgia was set to start its recount on Tuesday — the second in the state since Election Day.
In Michigan, the vote of the Board of State Canvassers effectively awarded the state's 16 electoral votes to Biden, who defeated Trump with a margin of more than 154,000 votes.
Three out of the four board members — including one Republican — voted for certification, capping a dramatic political dispute that had roiled the state.
The canvassing board had never before refused to certify a statewide vote, but pressure on the once-obscure panel had built over the past week.
In the run-up to Monday’s meeting, Trump made an extraordinary personal intervention into Michigan, reaching out personally to state and local officials. His supporters called on the GOP-controlled legislature to appoint its own set of electors before the electoral college meets on Dec. 14.
And both the president and top GOP officials sought to discredit the vote process in Michigan’s Wayne County, home of Detroit, making sweeping and unsubstantiated claims about widespread fraud and citing errors in the vote tallies. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and state GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox called for a “full audit and investigation” before the vote was certified.
Last week, Trump called a Republican member of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, who subsequently sought to withdraw her vote to certify results in Detroit.
The president then invited leading GOP lawmakers in Lansing, Mich., to the White House for a meeting Friday. Afterward, they said they had learned nothing to warrant reversing the outcome in their state.
“We will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election,” Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) said in a joint statement issued late Friday.
The YouTube webcast of Michigan’s canvassing board meeting drew more than 30,000 people — a remarkable viewership for the little-known panel. The quiet scene they tuned into offered a striking contrast to the day’s high stakes: four board members sitting at tables draped in black cloth inside an antiseptic meeting room.
As the meeting progressed, members of the public offered a running commentary online, from “Certify!” to “Stop the steal!”
In the end, one of the Republican board members, Aaron Van Langevelde, joined the two Democratic board members in voting to certify the vote.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about this board’s role and the power that we have and the authority that we have,” Van Langevelde said during the meeting.
“The law regarding certification gives us a clear duty,” he added later. “There’s nothing in the law that gives me the authority to request an audit as part of the certification process.”
“Our duty is very simple, and it is a duty,” he said.
The lone holdout was GOP board member Norman Shinkle, who in an interview with The Washington Post last week cited a debunked conspiracy theory aired by Trump that voting machines made by a company called Dominion Voting Systems had deleted thousands of Trump votes. On Monday, Shinkle called Michigan’s elections “a national embarrassment.”
Before the vote, a procession of current and former election officials pleaded with the board via Zoom to move the process forward.
Jonathan Brater, director of Michigan’s Bureau of Elections, pushed back against GOP claims of voting irregularities in the state, saying the bureau had not identified any problems other than “occasional human errors.”
Chris Thomas, who served as Michigan’s elections director from 1981 to 2017, told the board that it did not have the authority to conduct an audit before certifying the vote.
“You are mandated to certify when you have the complete results,” Thomas said.
He urged the board to contemplate its role in this year’s fraught election season.
“You are the pinnacle of Michigan democracy. You are the endgame,” Thomas said, adding: “Your civility, which is so needed today, shows our citizens that a system they may take for granted works.”
Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum told the board that not certifying the results would signal that “democracy is dying in Michigan.”
Voters also chimed in, saying they were dismayed by the prospect of the election results being held up. “It almost seems like officials are trying to tear up my ballot in front of me,” said Wendy Gronbeck, one voter who testified.
In Wisconsin, the slow-moving recount process requested by the Trump campaign in two Democratic counties was beginning to draw criticism from some Republicans in the state.
The Trump campaign has sought to have tens of thousands of ballots in the two counties declared illegal and thrown out, including all votes cast in person during a two-week span before Election Day. The county canvassing boards have rejected the campaign’s efforts, which would have affected 180,000 voters.
Rohn Bishop, the chairman of the Republican Party of Fond du Lac County and a Trump supporter, said in an interview Monday that he believed the campaign was going too far.
“I always pushed back at the Democrats when they said we were trying to suppress the vote and disenfranchise people,” he said, noting that 64 percent of voters in his county backed Trump.
“Doing this technical thing — I don’t think it will fly, but it sure stinks,” he said. “It leaves an aroma that that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”
Trump trails in the state by about 20,000 votes, a margin experts agreed is highly unlikely to be closed during a recount. He requested the recount in only two counties, as allowed under state law since he is losing by less than one percentage point.
The machine recount of hand-recounted presidential votes in Georgia is scheduled to begin Tuesday and conclude next week, with some county officials probably working through the weekend, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office.
The Trump campaign on Saturday requested the formal recount of the 5 million presidential votes in Georgia, which backed Biden by 12,670 votes. Election officials must now rescan the ballots they had reviewed by hand last week.
The Trump campaign also requested a review of voter signatures on ballot envelopes, which they insisted was necessary to conduct an “honest recount,” citing without evidence the possibility that some counties accepted signatures that did not match those on file.
Elections officials are not able to conduct such a recount, as the ballots have been separated from their envelopes to ensure privacy of the vote. Some Trump allies, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), have suggested that the signature review should happen anyway — and that all mail ballots from counties with high rates of signature-matching error should be discarded.
Hamburger reported from Detroit. Kayla Ruble in Lansing, Mich., and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Emma Brown, David A. Fahrenthold, Hannah Denham, Rosalind S. Helderman, Ellen Nakashima, Keith Newell, Lisa Rein, Beth Reinhard, Aaron Schaffer, Maya Smith, Felicia Sonmez, Elise Viebeck and John Wagner in Washington contributed to this report.