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Transition Update: “Ascertainment”

It’s official!!   At this writing, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy has now notified President-Elect Biden that she is making available to him the resources available under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, including funding, office space, access to agency officials, and so on, so that the transition to a new administration can proceed in earnest.  In her letter dated November 22, 2020,  Murphy avoided the word “ascertainment” – the legal standard for triggering transition resources under the statute —  but pointed to “recent developments involving legal challenges and certification of election results” as triggering her decision. 


Earlier that day, the Michigan State Board of Canvassers had voted to certify its state’s sixteen electoral votes for Biden, and Pennsylvania has now also certified its twenty electoral votes for Biden.  Recounts remain active in Georgia and Wisconsin, as do a number of court cases challenging vote counts and certifications in certain states.  So far, however, the Trump campaign’s legal challenges have been unsuccessful.  As noted, the final electoral college vote is set to occur on December 14.


President Trump, in Tweets following the GSA announcement, acknowledged that he was “recommending” both GSA and “my team” begin “initial protocols” or “preliminary work with the Dems,” but insisted he was not conceding the “Election Hoax” and would continue his legal challenges.


Trump’s stance, however, especially as his allegations of “massive fraud” in the election have failed in repeated court cases for lack of evidence, has drawn increasing criticism, even from some within his own Republican Party.


GSA’s action, along with the winding down of the lawsuits, appears now to remove what were seen as becoming serious obstacles to an orderly hand-off, and sets the stage for a smoother transition to a new Biden-Harris administration in January 2021 – regardless of whether President Trump ultimately decides to concede the election as Presidents before him have done.



Cabinet Choices

Meanwhile, the President-Elect Biden has announced an initial set of nominees to top cabinet-level positions, including:

  • For Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellin, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board (2014-2018) and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors (1997-1999);
  • For Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, a former Deputy Secretary of State (2015-2017), Deputy National Security Advisor (2013-2015), and staff director to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs (2002-2008);
  • For Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, a former Deputy Secretary of DHS (2013-2016), Director of DHS’s Citizenship and Immigration Services (2009-2013), and US Attorney for the Central District of California (1998-2001);
  • For National Intelligence Director, Avril Haines, a former Deputy National Security Advisor (2015-2017) and Deputy Director of the CIA (2013-2015);
  • For National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, who held a number of senior national security posts under Obama administration, a former National Security Advisor to Biden when he was vice president, and one-time clerk for US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; and
  • For US Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who has held several senior positions at the Department State including Assistant Secretary for African Affairs (2013-2017), Director General of the Foreign Service (2012-2013), and Ambassador to Liberia (2008-2012).

More cabinet-level selections are expected to be announced in coming days.


With these steps, we expect the pace of the Biden Transition to accelerate markedly.  Over coming days and weeks, the previously-announced Agency Review Teams will start making direct contact with career officials at each of the agencies and departments, and selections of working-level appointees will start being filled in.


Watch this space for more details.



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