That was odd. Everything was over. Trump gave up, or he gave in, or something. He’s not characterizing whatever this was. Others will do that for him. That’s what the Washington Post’s team led by Philip Rucker does here:
President Trump effectively surrendered his three-week protest of the election results Monday by submitting to the government’s official transition to the incoming Biden administration, bowing to a growing wave of public pressure yet still stopping short of conceding to President-elect Joe Biden.
Trump authorized the federal government to initiate the Biden transition late Monday, setting in motion a peaceful transfer of power by paving the way for the president-elect and his administration-in-waiting to tap public funds, receive security briefings and gain access to federal agencies.
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.
He surrendered. He bowed to pressure. He conceded nothing but this was a dramatic capitulation anyway. This was a standoff and he was the one who blinked. He was the one who made this minor procedural matter a point of his pride in his obvious awesomeness and he suddenly shrugged as if this was no big deal. He looked like a loser.
Is that what happened? Three things did go wrong all at once:
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.
Three groups had turned on him, so he gave in and said he would never give in:
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!”
No one knows how he will do that, and maybe he doesn’t know either:
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.
That would be a curious speech. He had been awesome and he did NOT lose the election, but he’ll step aside anyway, for the good of the nation, but damn it, he won, really, and he’ll be back, and then everyone will be sorry and someone’s going to pay for this!
Perhaps that hypothetical speech should remain hypothetical. It seems this has been hard for him:
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.
In short, this legal stuff wasn’t working and now key people knew it:
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.
What about that? The polite silence on the other end of the line told him the answer to that question, as did the rest:
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.”
These particular Republicans were urging all other Republicans to gang up on him, and that had already started:
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.
That’s a show-biz line. You’re only as good as your last performance. Trump would understand, and as the day closed, things got even worse:
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.
This was over. This Post item goes on to explain how things ended, state by state, in detail, but that hardly matters now. Trump is out. Biden is in. It’s his show now, and the New York Times introduces the cast of that new show:
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. plans to name Janet L. Yellen as Treasury secretary, a nomination that would put a woman in charge of the Treasury for the first time in its 231-year history.
The expected appointment came as Mr. Biden moved to fill other top cabinet roles, selecting Alejandro Mayorkas as the first Latino to lead the Department of Homeland Security and Avril Haines as the first woman to be the director of national intelligence.
Mr. Biden is also expected to create a new post of international climate envoy and tap John Kerry, a former secretary of state who was a chief negotiator for the United States on the Paris climate change accord.
These are good people. These are boring people, and that may be the point. Boring people get the job done:
In choosing Ms. Yellen, who was also the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve, Mr. Biden is turning to a renowned labor economist at a moment of high unemployment, when millions of Americans remain out of work and the economy continues to struggle from the coronavirus.
Ms. Yellen, 74, is likely to bring a long-held preference for government help for households that are struggling economically. But she will be thrust into negotiating for more aid with what is expected to be a divided Congress, pushing her into a far more political role than the one she played at the independent central bank.
Still, there’s a big problem. She’ll address the problem. That’s all she will do, like the others:
The emerging diplomatic, intelligence and economic teams, as outlined by transition officials, reunite a group of former senior officials from the Obama administration. Most worked closely together at the State Department and the White House and in several cases have close ties to Mr. Biden dating back years. Mr. Biden will officially announce some of them at an event in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday.
They share a belief in the core principles of the Democratic foreign policy establishment: international cooperation, strong U.S. alliances and leadership, but a wariness of foreign interventions after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s back to the boring stuff that kept us all safe, and three others will do the same:
The transition office confirmed reports on Sunday night that Mr. Biden will nominate Antony J. Blinken to be secretary of state and Jake Sullivan as national security adviser.
Mr. Biden will also nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be ambassador to the United Nations and restore the job to cabinet-level status, giving Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, who is African-American, a seat on his National Security Council.
It is time to fix a few things;
If confirmed, Mr. Mayorkas, who served as deputy homeland security secretary from 2013 to 2016, would be the first Latino to run the department charged with putting in place and managing the nation’s immigration policies.
A Cuban-born immigrant whose family fled the Castro revolution, he is a former U.S. attorney in California and began President Barack Obama’s first term as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He will have to restore trust in the department after many key Democratic constituencies came to see it as the vessel for some of Mr. Trump’s most contentious policies, such as separating migrant children from their families and building a wall along the southern border.
Hey, we might be the good guys again! And we might have a foreign service again:
Ms. Thomas-Greenfield is a 35-year Foreign Service veteran who has served in diplomatic posts around the world. She served from 2013 to 2017 as assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Just as important in the view of Biden officials is her time as a former director general and human resources director of the Foreign Service. They see it as positioning her to help restore morale at a State Department where many career officials felt ignored and even undermined during the Trump years.
Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, who recently recounted joining a “still very male and very pale” Foreign Service decades ago, has also served as the U.S. ambassador to Liberia and has been posted in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, Gambia, Nigeria and Jamaica.
Antony Blinken as secretary of state helps too:
In Mr. Blinken, 58, Mr. Biden chose a confidant of more than 20 years who served as his top aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before joining his vice-presidential staff, where he served as Mr. Biden’s national security adviser before becoming principal deputy national security adviser to Mr. Obama and then deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017.
Mr. Blinken is widely viewed as a pragmatic centrist on foreign policy who, like Mr. Biden, has supported past American interventions and believes the United States must play a central leadership role in the world. Mr. Biden most likely calculated that the soft-spoken Mr. Blinken, who is well regarded by many Republicans, will face a less difficult Senate confirmation fight than another top contender, the former national security adviser Susan E. Rice.
He’s good and he’s careful and he’s sensible, and he’s boring, and Kevin Drum sees this:
Blinken is a fairly ordinary human being. He’s experienced and knowledgeable. He doesn’t have any desire to destroy the State Department. Foreign leaders will get along with him just fine. Based on this, hooray! Good choice.
On the other hand, Blinken is fairly hawkish, having supported both the Libya incursion and some kind of military intervention in Syria. Barack Obama, who had finally started to understand the national security blob a little better by then, vetoed any action in Syria, so we dodged that bullet. Unfortunately, it’s not clear if Blinken has learned any of the same lessons. Based on this, meh. We could do better.
But we could do worse:
Joe Biden is not a hard lefty, so it’s hardly surprising to see him choosing pretty mainstream aides so far. That’s what we collectively voted for, and that’s what we’re going to get, especially in the highest profile appointments. What’s more, I’m willing to cut him substantial slack with national security appointments. There is, literally, no progressive wing of the national security establishment with any real influence. Behind all the yelling and screaming, Democrats and Republicans are pretty much the same on NatSec issues, with smallish differences on the margin and not much else. This means that even if Biden did appoint someone more progressive, they’d just run into a brick wall of opposition: in the White House, in Congress, in the intelligence agencies, in the military, and in think tanks. It’s all but impossible to buck this, and Biden probably doesn’t really want to in the first place. He’s got bigger fish to fry…
In other areas, there are big differences between Democrats and Republicans and there are plenty of progressives with real clout. We should expect to see some riskier appointments at Labor, HHS, Energy, EPA, and so forth.
But for now, this will do. The Washington Post’s Annie Linskey explains that this way:
Unlike Trump, who favored outsiders, or President Barack Obama, who often turned to up-and-coming political stars, Biden’s nominations so far are heavy on technocrats known more for competence than sparkle. Many had been rumored for weeks to be taking on big roles in the new administration.
“It’s kind of a bread-and-butter approach to governing,” said Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary and CIA director. “You’re not going for the headline; you’re going for people who you know can do the job and people you can work with.”
That’s what’s different:
Other high-profile choices announced Monday were Jake Sullivan, a Biden adviser who will become national security adviser, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a longtime diplomat tapped to represent the United States at the United Nations.
In contrast to such figures, Trump’s first secretary of state was Rex Tillerson, a corporate executive with no government experience, and his first national security adviser was Michael Flynn, a fiery retired general who led “Lock her up” chants against Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Convention.
“It’s the difference between a president who basically rolled the dice on appointees because he had no experience in government, had few friends, and kind of operated by gut instinct and a president who knows the people he’s appointing and has had experience with them,” Panetta said.
Experience is good. Friends are good:
“The most striking thing about this group of national security advisers is how well they know each other,” said retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander at NATO. “They are smart, collegial, seek no drama, and are deeply loyal to each other and their boss. It is a stark contrast with the previous administration, to say the least.”
This might work. But this might not work that well. The New York Times’ Michael Shear reports this:
Voters have decided that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. should guide the country through the next four years. But on issues of war, the environment, criminal justice, trade, the economy and more, President Trump and top administration officials are doing what they can to make changing direction more difficult.
Mr. Trump has spent the last two weeks hunkered down in the White House, raging about a “stolen” election and refusing to accept the reality of his loss. But in other ways he is acting as if he knows he will be departing soon, and showing none of the deference that presidents traditionally give their successors in their final days in office.
During the past four years Mr. Trump has not spent much time thinking about policy, but he has shown a penchant for striking back at his adversaries. And with his encouragement, top officials are racing against the clock to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, secure oil drilling leases in Alaska, punish China, carry out executions and thwart any plans Mr. Biden might have to reestablish the Iran nuclear deal.
In short, Trump has found ways to screw Biden anyway:
Mr. Trump’s political appointees are going to extraordinary lengths to try to prevent Mr. Biden from rolling back the president’s legacy. They are filling vacancies on scientific panels, pushing to complete rules that weaken environmental standards, nominating judges and rushing their confirmations through the Senate, and trying to eliminate healthcare regulations that have been in place for years.
In the latest instance, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined to extend key emergency lending programs that the Federal Reserve had been using to help keep credit flowing to businesses, state and local governments and other parts of the financial system. He also moved to claw back much of the money that supports them, hindering Mr. Biden’s ability to use the central bank’s vast powers to cushion the economic fallout from the virus…
Mr. Mnuchin defended his decision on Friday, insisting that he was following the intent of Congress in calling for the Fed to return unused money to the Treasury. But it will be Mr. Biden who will be left to deal with the consequences. And restoring the programs would require new negotiations with a Congress that is already deadlocked over Covid relief.
That’s what this is about – if Biden wants to save the economy he will have to start over, from scratch. The misery will be widespread. People may starve. And Trump will have his revenge. Biden will find things in ruin:
Terry Sullivan, a professor of political science and the executive director of the White House Transition Project, a nonpartisan group which has studied presidential transitions for decades, said Mr. Trump was not behaving like past presidents who cared about how their final days in office shaped their legacy.
“They are upping tension in Iran, which could lead to a confrontation. The economy is tanking and they are not doing anything about unemployment benefits,” he said.
It wasn’t always this way:
Former president George W. Bush consciously left it to his successor, Barack Obama, to decide how to rescue the auto industry and whether to approve Afghan troop increases. And when Congress demanded negotiations over the bank bailouts, Mr. Bush stepped aside and let Mr. Obama cut a deal with lawmakers even before he was inaugurated.
Aides to Mr. Bush said the outgoing president wanted to leave Mr. Obama with a range of policy options as he began his presidency, a mind-set clearly reflected in a 2008 email about negotiations over the status of American forces in Iraq from Joshua Bolten, Mr. Bush’s chief of staff at the time, to John D. Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition, just a week after the election.
“We believe we have negotiated an agreement that provides President-Elect Obama the authorities and protections he needs to exercise the full prerogatives as commander in chief,” Mr. Bolten wrote to Mr. Podesta on November 11, 2008, in an email later made public by WikiLeaks. “We would like to offer, at your earliest convenience, a full briefing to you and your staff.”
That has not been Mr. Trump’s approach.
That’s a bit of an understatement:
Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers make no attempt to hide the fact that their actions are aimed at deliberately hamstringing Mr. Biden’s policy options even before he begins.
One administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of not being authorized to talk publicly, said that in the coming days there would be more announcements made related in particular to China, with whom Trump advisers believe that Mr. Biden would try to improve relations.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, defended the administration’s actions, saying the president was elected because voters were “tired of the same old business-as-usual politicians who always pledged to change Washington but never did.”
No, they were tired of Trump. That’s what the election was about. The same old business-as-usual politicians sounded pretty good now. More rage and chaos didn’t. Trump had to surrender. He’s working on that at the moment.