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Why Trump decision to block Biden transition matters

The Trump White House’s decision to block routine actions that would facilitate a transition to a Biden administration has added a new layer of turmoil to an already turbulent time.

But this is the Trump era, when many norms of governance have already fallen by the wayside.

President Donald Trump has yet to concede the Nov. 3 election to former Vice President Joe Biden, whom major media have projected as the winner. In addition, President Trump is encouraging legal challenges to the vote counts in key battleground states, which Republicans are pursuing.

The rub comes in the Trump administration’s decision to refrain, via the administrator of an obscure government agency, from “ascertaining” that Mr. Biden is the “apparent successful candidate.” By law, “ascertainment” is not a formal concession of the election; it’s a declaration that helps smooth the transition to a potential new administration.

By failing to take this legal step, the Trump administration has blocked the Biden team from accessing federal funds, placing transition personnel in government agencies, and beginning to process incoming personnel, including security clearances. Mr. Biden also has yet to receive a presidential daily briefing, a document containing classified intelligence analysis. The implications for national security can be especially profound.

“This is shaping up to be the most fraught transition in modern history,” says Rebecca Lissner, a scholar at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies and co-author of the book “An Open World.”

The pandemic, economic recession, and national racial reckoning make the threat of an extended, contested election outcome – and rocky transition – all the more consequential.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks show the potential consequences of a curtailed presidential transition. The 9/11 Commission report cites the fact that President George W. Bush’s team was still not fully in place when the attack came, less than eight months after he took office. He became president after the famously close election of 2000, and was declared the winner only in mid-December, after a Supreme Court ruling.

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