What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Trump’s transition obstruction ‘putting American lives at risk,’ Coons says

Despite denial of the election results by President Trump, the transition to a Biden administration is moving forward. One of Biden’s closest allies in the Capitol is Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, who reportedly is under consideration to become secretary of state. Coons joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his concerns about U.S. military moves in Afghanistan and Trump’s refusal to concede.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Despite denial by the president, the transition to a Biden administration is moving forward.

    One of his closet allies in the Capitol is Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. And he joins me now.

    Senator Coons, thank you so much for being with us again.

    Before I ask you about the transition, though, I want to — I have a question about the Georgia recount.

    As you know, it has been reported — and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina himself has said he phoned Georgia's Republican secretary of state. And I'm quoting the secretary of state.

  • Mr. Raffensperger says:

    "Mr. Graham asked about possible ways that ballots could be disqualified, including whether the secretary of state could reject all absentee ballots in counties that had a high number of signature mismatches."

    What's your reaction to this? Senator Graham is denying it. But what is your view?

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    Judy, this election is over.

    The election was two weeks ago tonight. And by the Saturday following the election, every major news outlet was beginning to call the election for president-elect Joe Biden. It is long past time for the president to accept this transition and to begin moving forward.

    These actions by Senator Graham of South Carolina are gravely concerning. And, certainly, the account by the Republican secretary of state of Georgia of that conversation suggests that he's mucking around in Georgia internal electoral politics, and trying to suggest or move the secretary of state in a direction that wouldn't be supported by the law, in my understanding of these facts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is this unethical?

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    That's a question I can't speak to. I am the vice chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee. And so I shouldn't give you an opinion that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, well, let me move on.

    Do you at this point know of any Republican senators who are at the point where they are prepared to acknowledge that Joe Biden is the president-elect, any more of them?

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    It's been a striking week on that front, Judy.

    There's quite a few Republican senators who have been conveying their congratulations indirectly to the vice president-elect when she appeared on the floor of the Senate this afternoon, to the president-elect. And I have encouraged each of them who've reached out to me to do so publicly, to step forward and to say, the election is over, it's time for a responsible transition.

    You just had General McMaster on. And he made clear that it's in the best interests of our country, of our national security, of our troops who continue to serve overseas that this transition begin promptly and be smooth and appropriate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me ask you about something that General McMaster just said to Nick Schifrin.

    And that is this move by the Trump administration to draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 by January. We heard General McMaster say he thinks this is a huge mistake. What's your view?

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    Well, when I last spoke with Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan, and when I was last briefed on circumstances on the ground in Afghanistan, which has been a number of months, my impression was that it was American policy that we would make a conditions-based decision about when to draw down our troops further, that it wouldn't be driven by a political timeline.

    This strikes me as an effort by the outgoing Trump administration, by President Trump himself to make a significant change in our security profile in three critical countries, without consulting with our allies, without the changes on the ground that would justify it, and in a way that, frankly, would put president-elect Biden and his incoming administration on their back foot in dealing with our security in this critical area of the world.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you believe that president-elect Biden, upon taking office, would reverse these moves to pull troops out?

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    Well, I can't speak to whether he would or wouldn't do that.

    But it is certainly unsafe and unsound for an outgoing administration in just their last two months, with an acting secretary of defense who's been in that role just one week, to make abrupt decisions or changes.

    There was also today, Judy, some alarming reporting in The New York Times that there was a meeting in the White House to seriously discuss a possible strike against Iran last week.

    These are the sorts of things that should not be done in the midst of a transition, where there's no intelligence-sharing with the incoming administration, and where any one of these sudden moves, either a drawdown in these three countries, or some aggressive action against another country, could put us in an insecure and unstable position right in the middle of a presidential transition.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Separate question.

    A lot of conversation, Senator Coons, about your being in the running to be secretary of state under President Biden. You have said you would be honored to accept if you were invited.

    Do you think you're under serious consideration?

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    I think the president-elect is seriously considering quite a few people to fill his Cabinet from a wide range of backgrounds.

    He's blessed to have a team that includes a number of folks who have very senior experience in foreign policy, who've served with him when he was here in the Senate, when he was vice president. So, he's got some great selections right in front of him.

    And I look forward to doing everything I can to work with the Biden administration here in the Senate or in some other role, if that becomes a possibility in the future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just very quickly, Senator, what is your sense of how the transition is going, given the fact that the Biden — the Trump administration is not cooperating, not agreeing to move ahead with it?

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    Well, this is putting American lives at risk, both because we are not seeing a smooth and professional transition around the vaccine and the response to COVID-19 or a smooth and professional transition around intelligence-sharing and national security matters.

    President-elect Biden, vice president-elect Harris are continuing to work diligently and thoughtfully. They're consulting experts on security, on public health, and moving ahead with their plans.

    That sort of responsible leadership should be responded to in kind by the outgoing administration and by leaders here in the Republican Caucus in the Senate. But, so far, Judy, we're just not seeing that kind of responsible behavior out of President Trump or out of the Republican Caucus here in the Senate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, we thank you very much.

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment