“Weeks” ain’t gonna cut it, chief. Not in a year when the country’s being swallowed up by COVID quicksand and the incoming administration needs to be ready on hour one of day one to make the vaccine machine hum.
At the absolute maximum, I suspect Team Joe will give her until Thanksgiving to pull the trigger. Georgia is certifying its results today, Michigan and Pennsylvania are certifying on Monday. At that point, even if we assume Team Trump figures out a way to flip Wisconsin and Arizona — which it won’t — Biden will have more than 270 electoral votes. GSA chief Emily Murphy has already proved she’s a partisan hack willing to hamstring the new government because she’s afraid of Trump, but for the moment she still has the fig leaf that the outcome in key states is unofficial. That changes on Monday.
And let’s be honest. The only reason it’s unofficial is because the president and his cronies are trying to get state legislatures to pull off a coup on his behalf. There’s no lawsuit pending anywhere that would jeopardize Biden’s lead in either Michigan or Pennsylvania. This isn’t a court fight anymore, it’s a coup attempt. And Murphy is knowingly endorsing that coup attempt by letting it affect her “ascertainment” of whether Biden is the rightful winner or not.
This is a nice PR stunt by Team Joe to call attention to her obstructionism:
Here's the deal: Because President Trump refuses to concede and is delaying the transition, we have to fund it ourselves and need your help.
If you're able, chip in to help fund the Biden-Harris transition. https://t.co/apJMrdpoSS
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 20, 2020
WaPo has a story today about Murphy allegedly agonizing over what to do even though the choice before her is child’s play. Trump’s win was certified the day after the election in 2016 despite the fact this margins were tighter in key states and he lost the popular vote. Murphy’s given him two weeks to make something happen in court, and all she’s gotten for her trouble was a press conference at which Rudy Giuliani’s hair dye ran down his cheeks while he ranted about a centralized conspiracy that no one’s actually put in front of a judge. Moreover, Murphy “ascertaining” Biden’s win and releasing transition funds to his team wouldn’t do a thing procedurally to hinder Trump’s effort to the election overturned, whether in court or via a coup. He still gets to sue, he still gets to threaten state legislators. All the “ascertainment” would do is facilitate Team Biden’s readiness for January. But it would piss Trump off, and evidently she’s a weak person, so she won’t do it. She doesn’t serve the public, she serves Trump.
A senior Trump administration official said Murphy is confiding to others that she feels extreme pressure, knowing that whatever decision she makes will bring her scrutiny, including the possibility that Trump could fire her if she crosses him. She has instructed others in the government to be ready for an “ascertainment” but has suggested it could be weeks away, this person said.
“She wants to see what happens with all of the states, and she is looking for cues from the White House,” said the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “She doesn’t want to be disloyal to the administration that hired her.”
She is upset, this person said, at becoming a figure of intense scorn despite her reputation as a behind-the-scenes bureaucrat who has mostly avoided politics. “She is not a bona fide Trump person,” the official said. “She is not a Seb Gorka or Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller type” — a reference to three hard-liners who have served in the White House…
Murphy’s staff says she cannot give timetables because she is considering each factor, the unstated one being the moment Republicans on Capitol Hill give her enough cover by publicly accepting Biden’s victory.
She deserves every bit of the scorn she’s getting for treating this like a 2000 “one state decided by a few hundred votes” situation, which it isn’t. In the end, she’ll get much more scorn from MAGA types when she does finally release the funds then she’s getting from anti-Trumpers for not releasing them, as any act of recognition by a Trump deputy at any point that Biden won will be considered treason. Only the president himself can give her political cover by acknowledging Biden’s victory, and he won’t do that. So unless she’s prepared to hold out until January 20, she’s destined to be a hate object to both sides. The longer she holds out, the more Trump’s critics will vilify her — and she’ll get no credit for holding out from his supporters once she caves.
If she’s waiting for cover from Republicans in Congress, she’s already got it. Some of it, at least. Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Susan Collins have already acknowledged Biden as president-elect. Last night Lamar Alexander issued this pitiful, mealy-mouthed statement, which could have gone much further given that his Senate career will be over in a few weeks and thus he’ll face no repercussions from Trump for anything he says. But even Alexander thinks it’s time to start the transition:
Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of Senate HELP Committee, calls on Trump to allow transition process to begin, especially on vaccine distribution pic.twitter.com/NqAESs1mkZ
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 20, 2020
House Republicans like Kay Granger and Fred Upton have also started nudging Trump that it’s time to “move on.” The problem in this pathetic little crisis is that no one wants to go first. Murphy’s waiting for more congressional Republicans to recognize Biden, congressional Republicans are waiting for Murphy to recognize him, everyone’s looking to see if Trump gives some signal of throwing in the towel, and on and on. No one wants to feel the bully’s wrath, so the country — not Biden, but the people he has to serve on January 20 — has to suffer. None of this is ultimately about Biden, it’s about Republicans putting Trump’s ego above Americans’ need for the next government to perform effectively as soon as it takes power. Case in point: The WSJ has a story today about Biden’s team needing to use private tech platforms, which may not be as secure as the government’s, because Murphy won’t pull the trigger on “ascertainment” and give him access to federal servers. If she did so, at worst she’d end up being fired soon from a job she’ll lose in two months anyway. Evidently she sees herself as working for Trump, though, not the people who pay her salary.
Democrats have mostly sat back during Trump’s tantrum and not engaged him, rightly believing that answering his provocations will only make things worse and give him a pretext to behave more recklessly. But they’re running out of patience with Murphy. Yesterday a House committee sent her a letter demanding that she brief them by Monday on her reasoning for delaying the “ascertainment” of Biden’s victory. If Murphy declines, they said, they’ll haul her in for a public hearing. If she and Trump try to obstruct that with some sort of dubious executive privilege claim, I assume the next step will be to go to court. If WaPo is right that Murphy’s already “upset” at being a figure of scorn, the prospect of having to dig in for a legal battle *after* the key states have already certified Biden as the winner must be extremely unpalatable to her. My guess is that she’ll “ascertain” his win early next week. Stay tuned.