At the White House, President Trump spent the day as he has most others this week — sequestered from public view, tweeting grievances, falsehoods and misinformation about the election results and about Fox News’s coverage of him.
Neither he nor his aides briefed reporters on the news of the day or reacted to Democratic leaders who accused Republicans of imperiling the pandemic response by “refusing to accept reality” over the election results.
The contrast between the nation grappling with an ongoing global crisis and a president consumed with his own political problems highlighted a fundamental contradiction at the heart of Trump’s assault on the integrity of the U.S. election system: He is leveraging the power of his office in a long-shot bid to stay in the job while ignoring many of the public duties that come with it.
“It seems clear Trump has checked out,” said Norman Ornstein, a political scientist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who has criticized Trump. “It’s not like this guy has shown a great interest in governing for four years, so to expect he will now accelerate the pace is a little fanciful. It’s pretty clear he feels wounded. Under those circumstances, the idea he’s going to pay more attention to the details of governance is ridiculous.”
White House aides disputed the notion that Trump was reneging on his responsibilities as president, releasing a list of executive actions he has taken since the election. The list included an order Thursday banning U.S. investment in Chinese military companies, an emergency declaration for Florida over the storm damage and several presidential proclamations, including celebrating the 245th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.
“Any suggestion that the President has given up on governing is false,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. “Just as he promised, President Trump is fighting hard for a free and fair election while at the same time carrying out all of his duties to put America First.”
Deere added that Trump is continuing to work on a “meaningful economic stimulus” to deal with the pandemic, but such legislation appears all but dead on Capitol Hill. The president met privately with Vice President Pence for lunch and with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the afternoon, according to his public schedule.
At a news conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Trump and his GOP allies of engaging “in an absurd circus right now” over the election results.
Republicans are “shamefully pretending” that Trump can overturn the outcome, “making it even harder to address the massive health and economic crisis that we’re facing,” Pelosi said.
Since the Nov. 3 election, Trump has addressed reporters twice — both times baselessly alleging widespread fraud in the ballot counting and promising to pursue legal challenges in swing states. His sole public event this week was to spend seven minutes at a wreath-laying event at a Veterans Day ceremony on Wednesday.
Over the weekend, he spent two days at his private golf club in Sterling, Va. But his public schedule has not included the daily presidential security briefing since early October, even as his administration has refused to launch the formal transition, depriving President-elect Joe Biden’s team of access to national security information.
National Security Council aides have grown agitated and uncertain about the stalled transfer of power, according to a former Trump administration official who remains in touch with colleagues. The staffers recognize that Biden will be the next president, but they are “not allowed to act like that will happen,” said the former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because his current job did not permit him to speak publicly.
Meantime, national security actions and requests for briefings from the president are drying up, the person said, and the team preparing updates for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris is “very frustrated.”
It was Biden who offered the first public condolences to the families of the service members who died in Egypt. “I join all Americans in honoring their sacrifice, as I keep their loved ones in my prayers,” he wrote on Twitter in the early afternoon Thursday.
By that time, Trump had issued nearly four dozen critical tweets and retweets about the election results and Fox News, including a baseless conspiracy theory from a far-right television network that alleged votes had been improperly tallied in Pennsylvania. He also found time to thank actor Scott Baio for posting a photo of a craft store’s candle display, which had been arranged to spell out, “Trump is still your president.”
“Thank you Scott, and stay tuned. You are terrific!” Trump wrote.
His tweets impugning Fox News drew sarcastic responses from Democrats.
“Thanks for working so hard for us!” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) wrote. Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia in the Obama administration, tweeted: “Sir, COVID19 cases in the US are exploding. Please refocus your attention. After January 20th, you will have all the time in the world to rant about Fox ratings.”
Trump associates have said privately that the president has no grand strategy to overturn his loss to Biden and that he has begun to talk about running again in 2024. His focus on his administration since Election Day has centered on ousting top aides at the Pentagon — including Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, who was fired on Monday — and other agencies who were viewed as insufficiently loyal to the president.
On Thursday, the White House forced the removal of three high-ranking officials at the Department of Homeland Security.
Critics have speculated that Trump is laying the groundwork for major policy actions in his final days, such as bringing home more U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Others interpreted his housecleaning as an effort to install loyalists who could hamper a smooth transition for Biden, making it more difficult for him to govern.
Answers were not forthcoming from the White House, however. In an interview with the Trump-friendly “Fox & Friends” show, host Brian Kilmeade asked White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany whether Trump was receptive to granting Biden access to national security briefings.
“I haven’t spoken to the president about that. That would be a question more for the White House,” replied McEnany, who was appearing as a campaign surrogate, a role that has sparked criticism that she is violating Hatch Act regulations that bar federal officials from campaign activities.
By late afternoon, the White House announced that Trump had signed the executive order that banned U.S. investment in Chinese military companies that the administration has accused of perpetrating cyberespionage against American companies. But there was no public signing ceremony, and it was White House national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien, not Trump, who issued a statement on the order.
A former Obama administration official recalled that in 2016, after Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton, then-President Barack Obama traveled to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Peru, where he met with several foreign leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“It was all business. They talked about what they needed to manage for the remainder of his term,” said the former Obama aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting. “At the end of it, Obama closed his notebook and said, basically, ‘I’m sure you are aware of the news of our election outcome. I hope you treat Trump fairly and continue to work with him to develop the relationship.’ ”
On Thursday, Trump aides did not respond to a question about whether the president would participate in the virtual APEC summit next week.