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Politics Explained

Is Biden facing the hardest presidential transition in history?

With the animosity between the two parties and the overwhelming pressure of the pandemic, the 46th president is being set up for a very difficult start, writes Sean O'Grady

Tuesday 10 November 2020 09:30 GMT
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Trump’s failure to concede indicates the transition of power may not be smooth
Trump’s failure to concede indicates the transition of power may not be smooth (AFP/Getty)

Until now, there has been remarkably little argy-bargy in the handover of power between presidents, at least in modern times. There is usually a certain froideur left over from a highly partisan campaign – nothing new there – because the winner will inevitably have spent months trashing the record of the incumbent, whether they’re retiring or, even worse, trying to get another term. 

Apart from that natural tension, the only serious disruption was in 2000-01, when Bill Clinton gave way to George W Bush, after a famously narrow victory. And when the “Dubya”, the new president, and his team arrived in their offices after inauguration day on 20 January, they discovered that many of the keyboards had had the letter W removed, as well as other such pranks; the kind of thing Tim used to do to Gareth in The Office. The damage ran to about $14,000 and presidents since have frowned on such misbehaviour.

Until now, that is, when the obstruction is complete. Arrangements for a peaceful and smooth transition of power are set out in the 20th amendment to the US constitution and the 1963 Presidential Transition Act. They are also governed by the convention that one of the candidates makes a formal concession, marking the cue for the Washington bureaucracy to start work. This is facilitated by the General Services Administration, GSA, which provides offices, kit and funds. However, the head of the GSA, Emily Murphy, either cannot or will not authorise that disbursement of resources until Donald Trump concedes. That, it seems, will take some time.  

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