Explains why a “vacation break” led to a standoff between Biden’s Pentagon team

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |

Updated: December 20, 2020, 7:23:04 p.m.

Joe Biden, Donald Trump, US Transfer of Power, Yohannes Abraham, Biden Team, Biden Team Department of Defense, Biden Team Pentagon, Express Explained, Indian ExpressThe peaceful transfer of power between the outgoing and new residents of the White House is a cornerstone of democracy in the United States. (Photo: AP)

Even after the U.S. electoral college met and confirmed the 2020 general election results, the transition to power for President-elect Joe Biden does not seem to be going smoothly. President Donald Trump has yet to officially admit defeat, and Biden’s team has repeatedly claimed that the Trump administration is delaying the critical process of transferring power.

This week, Biden’s Executive Director for Transition, Yohannes Abraham, claimed that meetings between the President-elect’s transition team and the Department of Defense to exchange important government information prior to inauguration day had been “abruptly interrupted”.

The Pentagon has insisted that talks be suspended due to a “mutually agreed” vacation break – a claims team that Biden has categorically denied.

Why is Biden’s transition team dissatisfied with the Department of Defense?

Biden’s transition team on Friday expressed frustration after the Pentagon suddenly cut talks. The meetings were originally supposed to take place from Friday until after the New Year.

However, the team has claimed it didn’t learn of the delay until Thursday after the briefings were cut off without much explanation, CNN reported.

“There was no mutually agreed vacation break,” Abraham told reporters. “In fact, we think it is important that briefings and other engagements continue during this time, as there is no time left.”

He called for meetings and requests for information to be resumed immediately, with the inauguration day only a few weeks away and important data on national security and government continuity not yet exchanged.

Abraham claimed his team encountered opposition from some government agencies, including the Department of Defense (DoD). The cancellation of the meetings had escalated the problem “immediately and appropriately”.

How did the Pentagon respond to the Biden transition team’s allegations?

On Friday, US media reported that incumbent Defense Secretary Christopher Miller had ordered the Biden transition team to cancel meetings due to frustration within the Trump administration.

In response to the reports, the Pentagon admitted that about 20 meetings with 40 officials had been postponed until after the New Year but insisted that cooperation continue, The Hill reported. Miller said the Biden team would continue to receive documents during the break.

“After the mutually agreed vacation break that begins tomorrow, we will continue the transition and postpone the meetings starting today,” Miller said in a statement. “Again, I continue to advocate a full and transparent transition – this is what our nation expects and the Department of Defense will deliver as always.”

Defense officials claimed some of the meetings had been postponed to allow department staff to focus on issues related to a possible government shutdown scheduled on Friday if Congress failed to agree on an aid package for Covid-19.

However, when Friday came, it became Congress was only just able to prevent the closure, although it hasn’t yet secured the $ 900 billion pandemic relief deal.

Earlier this month, the Department of Defense denied reports that it created unnecessary hurdles for the president-elect’s team and made it difficult for them to coordinate meetings with the department.

What is the role of the transition team?

Over the past few weeks, President-elect Biden’s transition team has met with officials from various government agencies to prepare for the eventual transfer of power to take place on the day of the inauguration in January. During these meetings, senior government officials need to share important information on the programs and challenges that the future administration will ultimately inherit.

The peaceful transfer of power between an outgoing and a new president is considered a cornerstone of democracy and is enshrined in the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 and its amendments. The law should “promote the proper transfer of executive power in connection with the expiration of a president’s term and the inauguration of a new president”.

The most critical part of the transition period – a period of roughly 75 days – begins once the presidential race winner is determined by the General Services Administration (GSA), a U.S. government agency responsible for managing federal assets and supporting the basic functioning of the system of the federal authorities.

Once the winner is certified, the transition team will have access to government agencies and funds (valued at $ 9.9 million this year) to prepare for the new administration.

Why was the transition delayed this year?

The The transition phase was canceled Election results were announced later than usual for two important reasons this year – with an increase in postal votes due to the coronavirus pandemic. and even after the results were recorded, President Trump refused to admit defeat.

The transition period usually begins with the issuance of a letter from the GSA in which the election winner is announced. That year, the GSA delayed Biden’s recognition as a winner until November 23, almost three weeks after the election.

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The Biden team did not wait for the formal transition to prepare for the presidency. He announced some of his cabinet elections even before the GSA published its letter. However, prior to the GSA’s nod, Team Biden had no access to federal funds, infrastructure support, or government data, and no contact with federal agencies.

This is not the first time a presidential transition has been delayed. During the 2000 election, when the fate of the race depended on the Florida vote, the outgoing Bill Clinton administration did not recognize George W. Bush’s victory until December 14, when the US Supreme Court ruled the case Bush against Gore announced.

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