Democrats seek to avoid scorched-earth fight with White House over transition to Biden administration

Democrats are trying to avoid turning Trump’s refusal to accept the election results into a partisan fight, believing Trump will be in an untenable position if more Republicans join their calls to let the transition officially begin as the President’s legal case continues to collapse and states begin certifying the election results. Moreover, seeking to enforce subpoenas to administration officials who play a key role in the transition process could take weeks to play out if the White House fights them, potentially going beyond January 20, when Biden will be sworn into office, Democrats say.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been calling for unity within her party, has publicly reinforced the Biden team’s call for an orderly transition and has not gotten in front of the President-elect.

But some Democrats privately argue that they should do far more to spotlight what they believe is a dangerous precedent set by Trump and his refusal to accept the election results. If Trump continues to hamper the transition and ignore states’ certification of the results, then Democrats may intensify their tactics, sources said Monday.

As part of the pressure campaign, Democrats are arguing that if the Biden and Trump teams don’t start coordinating, the public health response to Covid-19 will suffer greatly — starting with the distribution of a vaccine.

“More people may die if we don’t coordinate,” Biden told reporters on Monday.

One person in the center of the controversy is Emily Murphy, the Trump-appointed administrator of the General Services Administration, who has yet to sign off on the requisite paperwork to ease the transition and release federal dollars to help the process before January 20.

Last week, House Democrats, such as Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, sent a letter slamming Murphy’s move and demanding she “promptly” answer a series of questions.

“By failing to ascertain Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ resounding victory, you are undermining the urgent need for a prompt and effective transition of power in the midst of a global pandemic that must be focused on the safety and well-being of our citizens,” Connolly, who chairs a key House Oversight subcommittee, wrote along with Democratic Reps. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey and Dina Titus of Nevada.

Connolly told CNN on Monday that Murphy has not yet responded to their letter.

“All of those tools remain in the kit box available to us,” Connolly said when asked if he would seek to haul Murphy to Capitol Hill for questioning and to issue a subpoena. “It’s irksome, but not an insurmountable problem because obviously the Biden transition is going forward with or without cooperation from the outgoing administration.”

Connolly added: “We’re going to continue to keep the pressure on and use the tools at our command. But we’re going to do that, obviously, with guidance from the Biden transition team.”

Speaking to reporters last week, Biden played down the refusal of the Trump administration to let the process proceed, saying they were moving ahead regardless of the White House’s posture.

“I’m confident that the fact that they’re not willing to acknowledge we won at this point is not of much consequence in our planning and what we’re able to do between now and January 20,” Biden said.

This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.