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What’s involved in a presidential power transition?

Despite President Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election, he does have a team cooperating on a plan with a team from the Biden campaign. What is involved in the process? The Center for Presidential Transition is a nonpartisan group that helps candidates prepare for the next administration. Its director, David Marchick, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In many ways, Americans are now wading in unchartered waters, from the pandemic, to a president who is refusing to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he were to lose the election.

    But despite his rhetoric, the president has a team that is cooperating on a potential transition, alongside a team from the Biden campaign.

    To tell us a little about the process, joining us is David Marchick. He's the director of the Center for Presidential Transition. It's a nonpartisan group that helps candidates prepare for the next administration.

    David Marchick, thank you so much for talking with us.

    Of course, we don't know what's going to happen in November, who is going to win this election, but give us a sense of how massive the transition process is.

  • David Marchick:

    It's a huge undertaking, Judy.

    Thanks for having me.

    Basically, there's 78 days between Election Day and January 20, when a reelected president Donald Trump or a new President Joe Biden has to put a government together, either for a first or second term.

    You have outlined the huge problems our country faces, COVID, 26 million people that applied for unemployment insurance last week. There's a huge racial crisis — racial justice crisis.

    And preparation for a transition today is critical for what happens on January 20.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, give us a sense of what's going on.

    We know that the Biden — there's now office space provided in Washington in federal government offices for the Biden team to occupy. What are some examples of things that are happening right now?

  • David Marchick:

    Well, there are three key players.

    There's the Trump White House, which is preparing for a second term, but also, under the law, the Presidential Transition Act, needs to prepare for a potential loss.

    There are federal agencies all across the government, hundreds and hundreds of people, which are preparing for either eventuality, again, under the law. These are career officials preparing for whatever happens.

    And then the Biden team has a very good team, a strong team that's working in the background to be ready for day one. They're working on personnel, on policy, on working with the agencies. They're getting ready to stand up a government on day one, should they win.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what's the sense of cooperation between the Trump administration and the Biden folks? How much real interaction is there?

  • David Marchick:

    Well, there's a lot of very, very tough rhetoric, but, behind the scenes, there are hundreds of career officials working on transition planning.

    They're meeting all the milestones. The Presidential Transition Act lays out a number of milestones from six months before the election all the way up through Election Day. And, so far, every single one of those milestones has been hit.

    Now, we have a long way to go between now and January 20, and there's a lot of uncertainty. The rhetoric is, frankly, unappealing, but, hopefully, the rule of law will continue to prevail. And people are working hard to be ready for whatever happens.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned — you said the rhetoric is unappealing. Some people would say it's been remarkable.

    The president has now, on repeated occasions, refused to commit to a peaceful transition. And there's a group called the Transition Integrity Project. We notice that they have said recently that it would take virtually a landslide, based on the information they're gathering, for Joe Biden, if he were to win, in order for there not to be some sort of activities they call street-level violence and a political crisis.

    How much does that scenario worry you and the others who are looking at this?

  • David Marchick:

    Well, the rhetoric is very, very unfortunate.

    The peaceful transition of power is one of the bedrocks of American democracy. For 223 years, since Washington handed the keys to John Adams, we have had a peaceful transition of power. No troops have been called, no arms raised. That's part of our country.

    We're a country based on rule of law. And there are institutions that have been bent, but I don't believe they have been broken. And I'm confident, on January 20, the will of the American people, whatever happens, will be followed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, David Marchick, I know a lot of people are going to be reassured to know that the process is under way, even though very much behind the scenes.

    David Marchick, with the Center for Presidential Transition, we thank you.

  • David Marchick:

    Thanks for having me.

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