Team Biden sees Trump’s post-election fight as comedy of errorsNovember 11, 2020
Joe Biden’s campaign strategy just crashed into Washington’s alternate reality.
In his public appearances and statements since media outlets confirmed his victory on Saturday, the president-elect has kept the temperature low and offered reassurances that the transfer of power will proceed as dictated by law, even as President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans attempt to use the federal bureaucracy to stall his ascension to the White House.
It’s a familiar strategy Biden’s team has employed throughout the general election: follow the rules, model the behavior of a typical president and reject Trump’s attempts to draw the narrative into fantasyland.
On Tuesday, Biden showed that he wouldn’t be lured into debating Trump’s version of reality, working to settle the nerves of jittery supporters who are alarmed by what they are hearing out of Republicans.
Biden spoke to five world leaders in two days, laughed off Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks suggesting Trump is headed for a second term and called Trump’s rejection of the election results “an embarrassment.” Biden also said he’d begin nominating people to his Cabinet before Thanksgiving.
“We don’t see anything that’s slowing us down, quite frankly,” Biden said during an event in Delaware on Tuesday. “We’re going to do exactly what we’d be doing if he had conceded and said we’ve won, which we have. So there’s nothing really changing.”
Still, Bob Bauer, one of the campaign’s top lawyers, acknowledged in a call with POLITICO Tuesday that most of the day’s actions — from Biden’s news conference, to a media briefing with the legal team — revolved around reassuring Americans that Trump’s efforts to impede Biden’s transition would fail.
Trump, said Bauer, has turned into the “Boy who Cried Wolf,” and reiterated that there was no ambiguity about the election results.
In an earlier call with reporters, Bauer said recent remarks from Republicans casting doubts on the results of the election amount to “noise, not really law; theatrics, not really lawsuits.”
He also noted that since 2000, statewide recounts have generally netted only hundreds of additional votes. Biden’s lead is far wider in states like Georgia and Wisconsin, where Republicans have sought recounts.
“These margins cannot be overcome in recounts,” Bauer said.
Campaign aides also noted some of the attacks on the election were being propagated by news outlets that had been attacking Biden’s candidacy for months.
Biden advisers view Trump’s legal and PR efforts as a comedy of errors. They watched in bemusement as Rudy Giuliani held a news event in Philadelphia near a porn shop, in the parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping (after Trump had to tweet a correction that the event would not take place at the high-end hotel). The first person Giuliani called to the podium to lodge baseless vote fraud allegations was a convicted sex offender, POLITICO reported Monday. And David Bossie, the adviser Trump tapped to oversee the campaign’s legal challenges, just tested positive for the coronavirus.
In the meantime, the Biden transition is largely behaving as though it’s business as usual. Biden gave public remarks on the coronavirus pandemic on Monday and the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, both times standing behind a podium and in front of a background bearing logos that read “Office of the President Elect.” He’s held phone calls with a handful of foreign leaders. And his transition announced the names of hundreds of officials who will be working on “agency review teams,” aiming to get the transition process started across the federal government, even though the team cannot access departments and agencies until the head of the General Services Administration affirms Biden’s victory.
Other transition steps are also proceeding apace. Louisa Terrell, a Biden transition aide focused on legislative affairs, reached out to Democratic chiefs of staff on Capitol Hill this week to share details on everything from communication to inauguration without mentioning the ongoing delays in the formal launch of the transition process.
“With your help, President-elect Biden is entering office with a strong mandate to lead as well as strong leadership and partners in Congress,” Terrell wrote, according to a copy of the email seen by POLITICO. “The President-elect knows that, together, we have critical work ahead of us to rebuild and he is eager to seize this transition period to get started.”
Biden’s newly created coronavirus task force has also begun reaching out to Democrats on Capitol Hill to strategize how to tackle the pandemic when the new administration is sworn in. Co-chair Vivek Murthy, the Obama administration’s surgeon general, called into the Senate Democrats’ weekly caucus lunch to brief members on Tuesday.
But even as Biden plows ahead, some of his allies are encouraging him and his team to do more to draw attention to the holdup. Biden has downplayed the damage that a delay to the start of a transition can do, but others have been emphasizing a need to get his transition team officials into federal agencies in order to get a handle on the pandemic and minimize any lapses in national security.
The delay in the formal start to the transition also means Biden does not yet have access to the presidential daily briefing, nor can he receive State Department help in setting up calls with foreign leaders.
“We want this to be a very public issue,” said David Shulkin, who was undersecretary of Veterans Affairs in the final years of the Obama administration before serving just over a year as Trump’s Veterans Affairs secretary. Speaking at an event on Tuesday, Shulkin said, “We want, obviously, President-elect Biden to talk about why this transition process is so important and to make sure that this does not go off track with the pandemic facing all of us.”
Public pressure may be the Biden team’s most powerful tool to try to get GSA Administrator Emily Murphy to confirm Biden’s victory and allow the transition to move forward. Transition officials have floated the possibility of pursuing legal action — an idea Biden himself brushed off on Tuesday — but some legal experts have cast doubt on the possibility that such a move would be effective.
“I think it’s a difficult claim, and I think it’s a nearly impossible claim to make successfully in time to matter,” Kate Shaw, a law professor at the Cardozo School of Law, said at an event on Monday. “So I don’t see the courts as a real possibility for the Biden team, but I do think that pressure from other avenues could well be significant.”
Alice Miranda Ollstein contributed to this report.