- President Donald Trump has refused to concede the election.
- A shortened window for a proper transition has happened before.
- The most notable recent example was in 2000, when the incoming George W. Bush administration was left with far less time to prepare after a lengthy legal battle over the voting results in Florida.
- The 9/11 Commission Report detailed how the truncated transition played a role in the planning for the attacks going unnoticed.
- A Michael Lewis book called “The Fifth Risk” predicted how the Trump administration would be caught flat footed if a major event occurred after their 2016 transition was mired by a feud between Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
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While President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede defeat in the 2020 election is unprecedented in American history, the disjointed transition he’s presiding over is not.
The Trump administration is still blocking President-elect Joe Biden’s team from accessing some basic components of a transition, such as classified material and the COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.
The most notable example of a bungled transition was in 2000, when a prolonged legal battle over vote counts in Florida delayed the results of the presidential election for over a month.
George W. Bush’s incoming administration was forced to shoehorn its transition efforts into a much shorter window than anticipated, and subsequent research showed the results were deadly.
In the 2004 9/11 Commission Report, the truncated transition was cited as one of the key faults that led to the terrorist plot that killed almost 3,000 people.
The coronavirus pandemic has already killed more than 247,000 people, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally as of Tuesday morning.
In a recent interview with CNBC, Andy Card, Bush’s former chief of staff, cited 9/11 as an example of the perils that come with a squeezed transition.
“The 9/11 Commission had said if there had been a longer transition and there had been cooperation, there might have been a better response, or maybe not even any attack,” Card said. “This is very serious, so we’re calling on the president to open up the transition office, give the money out, let people start transitioning, and get ready to take the baton at January 20th at noontime, even if we don’t know the full results.”
The Trump administration had a transition team in place with help from the Obama administration, and by all accounts, it did not go well.
Michael Lewis dedicated an entire book to that period in late 2016 and early 2017, titled “The Fifth Risk.”
Back in December, Lewis predicted that a pandemic could be uniquely devastating in the US given the Trump administration’s cavalier approach to the transition.
Lewis reported on several agencies that prepared detailed briefings for the Trump team, only to have them disregarded, and in many cases, not read at all.
Much of this came down to the initial head of the transition, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, getting ousted by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Christie later wrote that despite preparing copious materials and vetting candidates for key positions, he was axed by Kushner for prosecuting his father, Charles, for among other things, hiring a prostitute to blackmail his brother-in-law to prevent him from testifying.
While the Trump administration has been criticised for decisions like getting rid of a pandemic early warning program last September, Lewis’ account shows that the overall disregard for the expertise at their disposal left the White House and the nation uniquely vulnerable to any number of threats.
The Biden team is still forging ahead with their own transition efforts, with the president-elect already forming his own COVID-19 task force.
Yet beyond the pandemic and the vaccine rollout, the 2000 transition shows that it’s the unforeseen threats that can wreak havoc down the line.
Whenever the coronavirus recedes from dominating daily life, there will be myriad other risks that the federal government is uniquely equipped to address â€” but only if the new administration can get the baton passed to them.