Letters From an American

Biden Moves Ahead

While the Trump administration spins.

Biden Moves Ahead

WILMINGTON, DE November10, 2020: President- elect Joe Biden answer questions from the press at the Queen in Wilmington, DE on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

November 17, 2020

It was notable today that the media was dominated not by the actions of the incoming president-elect, as one would expect after a presidential election, but by the actions of the lame-duck president, Donald Trump.

Biden is quietly and calmly building his administration, meeting with experts, filling posts, even as Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Biden’s victory in the election means that the Biden team cannot have access to federal staff or information. Biden named nine senior White House officials for his incoming administration, all of whom are long-time political operatives who know the ropes in Washington. Biden is an institutionalist who is signaling that his administration will rebuild the governmental systems dismantled in the past four years.

He is also signaling that he will focus on the job of the presidency, rather than on dominating the media. His Twitter feed is sparse and sterile. In today’s just two tweets, he expressed sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Eta and concerns about climate change, and said he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris had met with national security experts.

In contrast, Trump is trying to retain relevance by creating chaos, as usual.

He continues to insist he won the election, against all evidence. Christopher Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, earlier pushed back against his insistence the vote was tainted, calling the election “the most secure in American history.” Today, Trump fired him. Krebs tweeted “Honored to serve. We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow.”

National political reporter Robert Costa says he keeps hearing from people around Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani that they are challenging the results of the election not because they think there is any chance for Trump to catch up to Biden in actual votes, but in order to try to prevent key states from certifying their votes. This would throw the election into the House of Representatives, where each state gets one vote. This, they believe, would give Trump a win.

It’s a terribly long shot, and it doesn’t appear to be working. So far, Trump’s lawyers have already lost 25 of the campaign’s lawsuits. They won one, on procedure, not on evidence.

Still, in Wayne County, Michigan, tonight, two Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers briefly refused to certify the ballots for the county, suggesting that the votes in Detroit— where most voters are Black and which gave 94% of its votes to Biden—were fraudulent. This would have thrown the certification to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, overseen by the state secretary of state, a Democrat, who would certainly have certified the votes.

But after a public outcry in which attendees pointed out that the stance of the Republican canvassers was a clear insult to the poll workers who worked so hard to ensure our democratic process during the pandemic, and who had already endured the attacks of Republicans at the polls, the two Republicans reversed their decision and certified the ballots.

Meanwhile, the story that broke last night about Senator Lindsey Graham’s interference in the recount of ballots in Georgia got more detailed. Yesterday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said that Graham (R-SC) had asked him if it were possible to throw out all mail-in ballots from counties with large numbers of mismatched signatures, a request Raffensperger found shocking. Graham admitted the call but denied Raffensperger’s characterization of it. Now it turns out there was someone else on the call, who confirmed the conversation.

Graham told reporters that he had also spoken with the secretaries of state in Nevada and Arizona, only to have Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs contradict the story on Twitter, saying she had not spoken with him, and Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske also deny that he had contacted her. Then he said he had spoken with the Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey, but couldn’t recall to whom he had spoken in Nevada. This whole story begs the question: why was Graham, who is a senator from South Carolina, grilling the Georgia secretary of state about an election recount in Georgia?

Starting today, the administration allowed oil and gas companies to pick out land for drilling rights on about 1.6 million acres of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The American Petroleum Institute welcomed the move, although it is unclear how many companies will want to drill in an area so remote it will be expensive. Auctions of the leases will take place just before Biden takes office. Biden has said he would protect the refuge from drilling.

Finally, the troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq is raising the ire of lawmakers and military leaders, both. Today, the new Acting Defense Secretary, Chris Miller, who replaced the Defense Secretary Trump fired last week, formally announced the drawdown but refused to answer questions about it. Retired Admiral James Stavridis, who served as the commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “It’s astoundingly foolish from a military, strategic, diplomatic, and political perspective…. We’re kind of on the 5-yard-line here in terms of getting a peace deal.”

The Trump camp is hampering Biden’s ability to govern, weakening popular faith in our democratic systems, and illustrating to foreign nations that our country is an unreliable partner. Today, conservative commentator Bill Kristol noted that “Trump is doing his best to weaken America, our friends, and allies on his way out the door.”


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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.