Although Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump’s campaign is pursuing lawsuits in a few states in an effort to contest the results. This comes as Trump has made public remarks questioning the legitimacy of those results, suggesting without evidence that the election was “rigged” and illegally cast ballots were counted.
PBS NewsHour’s Amna Nawaz and Yamiche Alcindor discussed those issues and took viewer questions about where the presidential transition process stands now, and the actions both sides are taking during this standoff.
Watch their conversation in the player above.
So far, none of the dozen or so legal battles that the Trump campaign has launched in states like Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada have made any real progress in court. Trump’s lawyers, Alcindor explained, are using different approaches to convince judges that there is, in their view, a concerted effort to illegally block Trump from winning a second term, though there is no concrete evidence to support their arguments.
The Trump team has been actively seeking donations from Republican voters in order to financially support the campaign’s lawsuits. But Alcindor noted that those funds won’t solely be used for that purpose — a portion will be put toward a political action committee called “Save America,” where it could be used to fund personal expenses, while some will go to the Republican National Committee, where it can be allocated to other Republican candidates.
Trump’s refusal to concede the election won’t have any real impact on an eventual peaceful transfer of power between his administration and that of President-elect Biden. No current evidence suggests that his lawsuits will delay or disrupt key procedures like formal vote casting by members of the Electoral College, which is scheduled for December 14, 2020.
But, the president’s rhetoric is delaying the crucial bureaucratic processes that normally kick off within a day after the winner of a presidential election is called, such as freeing up funds for the president-elect’s transition team and allowing Biden to receive intelligence briefings. Regardless of when, or if, Trump decides to allow Emily Murphy, the administrator of the Government Services Administration, to sign off on the formal transition process, Inauguration Day will take place on January 20, 2021.
“We are all still waiting, essentially, for President Trump to process his loss, and then to finally come to the conclusion that this [transition process] has to go on,” Alcindor said.
What is Trump’s goal in refusing to concede?
In light of the 2020 race being called for Biden and Trump refusing to concede, the balance of power in Washington, D.C. is also in the spotlight. Both of Georgia’s Senate races were too close to call, prompting dual runoff elections scheduled for January 5. The winners of those runoffs will determine which party has majority control of the Senate.
Alcindor explained that the president’s rhetoric — and that of Republican leaders who support his efforts to cast doubt on the integrity of the election — aims to keep his base energized and eager to turn out in January in order to secure Republican control of the Senate.
But she added that Trump is also likely considering his own legacy as he confronts the reality of leaving the White House, and how to craft a narrative that will benefit his aspirations once he’s no longer in office. Those aspirations could include running for president again in 2024 or, potentially, establishing a media presence that will allow him to continue messaging to his supporters.
“Most people I talk to say that President Trump is going to be around for a long time, whether he’s in the White House or outside screaming at Joe Biden,” Alcindor said.
What if Trump refuses to leave office?
Presidential tradition dictates that every Inauguration Day, the former president’s belongings are swiftly removed from the Oval Office and replaced with those of the incoming president. That process will occur regardless of any protest on Trump’s part and Alcindor noted that people she’s spoken to who are close to the president say it’s highly unlikely that military intervention will be necessary to force his departure.
But how long Trump will refuse to green light a formal transition remains an open question. The transfer of power between two presidents is a time, money and resource-intensive process, and history has demonstrated the potential consequences that can result when that transition is held up.
After the 2000 presidential election, Americans waited for 37 days before George W. Bush was declared the victor and began the transition process. A commission that examined the 9/11 terror attacks, which occurred less than a year later, found that the delay “imperiled” the nation’s response to that crisis.
“While this might seem bureaucratic, there are real consequences to transitions being slowed down,” Alcindor explained.
Who is paying for the Trump campaign’s lawsuits?
States are moving forward with the process of certifying their election results on time, including those that are confronting ongoing litigation from the president’s lawyers. That includes Georgia, where Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state, announced that there would be a recount.
Alcindor added that the Trump campaign is funding the lawsuits they have filed in various states and that American taxpayer dollars are not being used for those suits. But the campaign is refusing to disclose how much money they are raising from supporters during this moment, so it’s still not clear where their fundraising efforts stand.
“Are they raising millions of dollars or thousands of dollars? Are they running out of money? Those are all questions that I think will really help us understand better how long this [litigation] can go on,” Alcindor said.