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Democratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition

Democrats and public health officials are furious at President Trump for obstructing President-elect Joe Biden’s transition to the White House, warning that the Trump administration is endangering lives and threatening national security by refusing to cooperate with the incoming administration. 

The president-elect has warned that “more people may die” because he’s been blocked from coordinating the coronavirus vaccine rollout and other public health measures with Trump’s team, which is moving ahead on its own.

Biden aides routinely point to the 9/11 Commission report to warn that national security is at risk as the president-elect continues to be shut out of government intelligence briefings. The 9/11 report determined that the drawn out legal battle between former President George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election left a temporary power vacuum that al Qaeda was able to exploit in planning its terror attack against the U.S.

And Democrats are increasingly incensed over what they view as Trump’s vanity putting the nation at risk in the middle of a health crisis.

“This obstruction is threatening work that needs to be happening right now by planning to quickly and equitably distribute the vaccine nationwide,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “President Trump’s stalled transition isn’t just costing time, it could cost lives and undermine our national security.”

There are limited legal avenues Biden or Congress could take to force the Trump administration’s hand.

Biden was projected president-elect 10 days ago. Trump has dug his heels in on unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud and attempted to challenge the results in court, though the lawsuits show no signs of potentially changing the election result. 

Amid the challenges, Emily Murphy, the Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration (GSA), has not ascertained Biden as the winner of the presidential race, a formal action that opens up federal resources to his transition team and allows them access to federal government agencies. 

“She took the oath of office not to support Donald Trump but to protect the American people, and she, and she alone, has the authority to make this decision, but she refuses to do the right thing  and she must,” said Leslie Dach, a former official at the Department of Health and Human Services. “The sorrow, the deaths America knows is on its way ultimately will rest on her shoulders if she continues to fail to act.”

A senior administration official told The Hill last week that Murphy is waiting until it is certain that the results will not change before making the ascertainment, which cannot be reversed. The senior administration official also said that Murphy is not receiving pressure from anyone in the administration and is just doing her job. 

Trump tweeted praise for Murphy over the weekend without mentioning the circumstances regarding the transition. 

Members of the health community are also pressing the Trump administration to begin sharing critical information with Biden’s transition team in order to ensure the incoming administration is best positioned to tackle the ongoing pandemic. 

Cases are currently surging across the country as colder weather approaches, leading some state and local officials to implement new restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. Public health experts have warned Americans not to gather in large groups as is normal practice during the holiday season. The U.S. surpassed 11 million COVID-19 cases on Sunday and has recorded nearly a quarter-million deaths due to the virus. 

Public health officials are optimistic about the positive clinical data around two potential vaccines, but they’re warning the distribution of the vaccine will be a massive, once-in-a-lifetime undertaking that will require the full cooperation of all branches of government.

Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert and member of the White House coronavirus task force, has been careful about wading into the political conversation but emphasized the importance of a smooth transition from one administration to the next. 

“It’s kind of like a relay race in which you are passing the baton and you don’t want to slow down what you are doing, but you want the person to whom you are giving the baton to be running with it as opposed to stopping and starting all over again,” Fauci, who has served through five transitions, said on CNN.

Anand Parekh, chief medical adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that getting access to information from the administration would be crucial for the Biden transition team not only for planning for vaccine distribution but also for preparing to quickly address shortfalls in medical supplies and personnel.

“Those first three months of this presidency, he is going to be overseeing a response essentially to a crisis,” said Parekh, who served as an HHS deputy assistant secretary from 2008 to 2015. “I think what we’re hearing is they want to be as prepared as possible knowing that on Day One they are going to be entering a pretty dire situation.” 

On Tuesday, the top associations representing hospitals, doctors and nurses sent a letter to Trump calling on his administration to share critical information about its coronavirus response with Biden’s transition team “so that there is no lapse in our ability to care for patients.”

“Real-time data and information on the supply of therapeutics, testing supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilators, hospital bed capacity and workforce availability to plan for further deployment of the nation’s assets needs to be shared to save countless lives,” the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and American Nurses Association wrote.

They also called on the administration to share information about the capacity of the Strategic National Stockpile and Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s program to accelerate the development and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine.

Parekh said access to the task force’s information would better position Biden to encourage Congress to pass bipartisan stimulus legislation during the lame-duck period, though hopes for a relief deal have faded substantially in recent weeks around the election. 

Legal experts say there are not many options for Biden that could force the Trump administration to participate in the transition.

“Until he takes the oath of office, Joe Biden has little in the way of substantive legal claims he can credibly bring to force the Trump administration to begin the process of coordination with the Biden transition team,” said Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer. “The relevant statutory rules do not contemplate a situation where GSA declines to render the legal determination of a president-elect being ascertained, something that caused problems back in 2000 as well.”

Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, said Biden could sue the GSA under the Administrative Procedures Act by claiming Murphy’s refusal to recognize the election results are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise contrary to the law.”

A member of Congress may also have standing to bring the lawsuit, as Congress has appropriated money to the GSA for transition efforts that the agency is refusing to administer.

But Ryan acknowledged that there is no precedent for a case like this.

“In my experience, Administrative Procedures Act litigation is tough to win,” Ryan said. “The courts usually give a lot of deference to the agencies over how they do their jobs.”

Tags Al Gore Anthony Fauci Biden transition Donald Trump Joe Biden Patty Murray Paul Ryan

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