Donald Trump tells government to co-operate with Biden transition

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Donald Trump on Monday said his administration would begin co-operating with Joe Biden’s transition team, bowing to Republican pressure to start the transfer of power even as the president vowed to continue contesting his election loss.

His statement, which stopped short of a formal concession, came after a Michigan board certified the state’s election results and Republican senators, along with business leaders, pressed Mr Trump to start the transition.

Mr Trump said on Twitter he had recommended that the General Services Administration, the agency that provides transition resources, “do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols”.

The president added that he had “told my team to do the same”, saying it was “in the best interest of our Country”.

The move, 20 days after the election, followed a string of resounding courtroom defeats for Mr Trump and the certification of Mr Biden’s win in key states such as Georgia and Michigan.

Mr Trump has mounted an unprecedented effort to overturn the results of the election through litigation and overtly pressuring state election officials, tactics that have failed so far.

The administrator of the GSA, Emily Murphy, an appointee of Mr Trump, said in a letter on Monday to Mr Biden that she was releasing funds for his transition.

The Biden campaign said the decision was “a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track”.

Republican senators had begun in recent days to call on Mr Trump to begin the transition, including Rob Portman of Ohio, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia on Monday.

Mr Portman said “there is no evidence as of now of any widespread fraud or irregularities that would change the result in any state” and called on the transition process to begin. Ms Capito issued a similar call, saying there was “no indication” of fraud sufficient to alter the outcome.

Mr Alexander, who is retiring after this year, called on Mr Trump to “put the country first”, adding: “When you are in public life, people remember the last thing you do.”

Mr Trump has also faced increasing pushback from US business leaders, including in a letter on Monday signed by Larry Fink of BlackRock, David Solomon of Goldman Sachs and more than 160 other executives. The letter, organised by the non-profit Partnership for New York City, warned that delays to the transition threatened the US response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Business Roundtable, a lobby group for many of the US’s largest companies, later welcomed the GSA announcement, saying it would give Mr Biden’s team “access to critical resources that are necessary to confront the pandemic, rebuild the US economy and address other pressing issues from day one.” 

In Michigan, a four-person bipartisan board dealt a blow to Mr Trump as it certified the more than 150,000 vote margin by which Mr Biden won the battleground state.

The board, which must approve the election results, had been one of the president’s best hopes of derailing the electoral process. A deadlock would have led to litigation or, in extreme circumstances, the intervention of the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.

However, the Republican vice-chairman of the Michigan board of canvassers, Aaron Van Langevelde, voted on Monday with two Democrats to approve the state’s results. A second Republican, Norman Shinkle, abstained.

“As John Adams once said, we are a government of laws, not men, and this board needs to adhere that principle here today,” said Mr Van Langevelde, explaining that Michigan law gave him no discretion to vote otherwise.

The meeting of the board of state canvassers was unlike any in Michigan’s history. The state board of canvassers has always certified presidential results unanimously and with little fanfare.

But the stakes had been raised by the brief deadlock of a similar county-level board last week and the overt pressure Mr Trump has placed on state officials in Michigan and elsewhere.

About 30,000 people tuned in to the livestream and hundreds of Michigan citizens spoke at the meeting, many of them urging the board to certify its results.

The Trump campaign on Monday dismissed certifications as “simply a procedural step” and said it would continue to challenge the results. In the days after the November 3 polls, campaign officials had held up the fact that the vote had not been certified to argue the election was not over.

In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court handed Mr Trump another defeat, rejecting his challenge to 8,329 ballots in Philadelphia while dismissing a related challenge to ballots in Allegheny County brought by a Pennsylvania Republican.

“[F]ailures to include a handwritten name, address or date in the voter declaration on the back of the outer envelope, while constituting technical violations of the Election Code, do not warrant the wholesale disenfranchisement of thousands of Pennsylvania voters,” the court ruled.

Counties in Pennsylvania faced a Monday deadline to certify their results to state officials, though a small number appeared set to miss that deadline. Mr Trump on Saturday lost a case that sought to block the certification process, but the president’s campaign has appealed.

Georgia, where Republican officials certified Mr Biden’s win last week, is set to begin on Tuesday a recount requested by the Trump campaign. The recount, which will be conducted by machine, is not expected to change the result. An already-completed hand recount did not significantly alter Mr Biden’s margin of victory in the state.

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