The longest-serving Republican in the Senate has joined the call for Joe Biden to receive daily intelligence briefings, with those briefings currently withheld from the president-elect because the Trump administration refuses to acknowledge Biden’s victory in the election.
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa was asked by CNN whether Biden should have access to classified briefings. “I would think – especially on classified briefings – the answer is yes,” Grassley said.
The comment came after the Republican governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine, said that Biden’s victory should be recognized. “We need to consider the former vice-president as president-elect. Joe Biden is the president-elect,”DeWine told CNN on Thursday morning.
Even senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch Trump ally who has publicly told the president “do not concede”, agreed with the idea that Biden should get presidential-level security briefings.
“I think so,” Graham told reporters at the Capitol.
As basic acknowledgements of reality, the comments from DeWine, Graham and Grassley were not notable – but as practical concessions of victory to Biden they were exceptional.
Most Republicans have refused to state the fact of Biden’s win plainly, instead treating Donald Trump’s effort to erode faith in the election result, with baseless accusations of voter fraud as a legitimate legal inquiry.
The Biden camp has not waited for Trump’s blessing to put the presidential transition into gear. The Democrat has appointed a coronavirus taskforce and named longtime aide Ron Klain as his incoming White House chief of staff.
Biden has also reached out to foreign allies and signaled that the US withdrawal from multilateral alliances to fight everything from the climate crisis to the coronavirus – a retraction Trump made under the banner of “America first” – would be reversed.
Trump, meanwhile, remained bunkered in the White House. He has not made a public statement, apart from on Twitter, since he inaccurately declared victory in the election one week ago. Trump has celebrated victories in states that were recently called –North Carolina and Alaska – while insisting that earlier calls of states he lost were invalid.
In addition to floating dozens of fruitless lawsuits, Trump’s team is applying pressure behind the scenes to get Republican state legislatures to take action to slow the certification of results in key states. The move is a long-shot plot to sabotage the electoral college system that scholars have called a coup attempt while judging it to have an extremely small, but not zero, chance of payoff.
Democrats decried the Republicans’ failure to defend the election and condemned what they called Republican inaction on a coronavirus relief bill as the US set a ghastly record of 143,231 new daily confirmed infections.
“Stop the circus and get to work on what really matters to the American people,” the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said on Thursday. “It’s like the house is burning down, and they refuse to throw water on it.”
Republicans in Congress are under visible pressure not to break the wall of silence about Biden’s election win. A second Republican senator backpedaled on Twitter Wednesday night after telling a local Oklahoma radio station he would “step in” if Biden did not begin receiving the intelligence briefings by the end of the week.
In an interview with local KRMG, first picked up by the Hill, the Oklahoma senator James Lankford was asked what he thought of the refusal by the office of the director of national intelligence to brief the president-elect until another arm of the bureaucracy certified Biden’s victory.
“There is no loss from him getting the briefings, and to be able to do that,” said Lankford. “And if that’s not occurring by Friday, I will step in as well, and to be able to push and to say this needs to occur, so that regardless of the outcome of the election ... people can be ready for that actual task.”
In his suggestion that the “outcome of the election” was still in doubt, Lankford made himself an ally to Donald Trump’s cause of overturning the election or, failing that, spoiling public faith in it, as a means of weakening Biden.
Republicans have been unable to produce any evidence of voter fraud in any state, despite the lieutenant governor of Texas offering $1m out of campaign coffers to anyone who can provide such evidence.
A postal worker who signed an affidavit alleging voter fraud retracted the accusation after it was revealed that he was the beneficiary of a GoFundMe account established by Republican donors and filled with more than $130,000.
The presidential transition process is stalled, meanwhile, with Biden aides shut out of office space, vetting of Biden appointees unable to begin and Biden himself excluded from the presidential daily briefing.
It has been the custom of the White House to share the presidential daily briefing with the president-elect during the transition period ever since the advent of the briefing in the 1960s, David Priess, the author of a book on presidential briefings, told NPR. The briefing contain intelligence findings and analysis of potential threats and opportunities.
Trump himself began to receive daily intelligence briefings soon after the 2016 election, but then revealed he usually skipped them, believing he did not need them, explaining on Fox News: “You know, I’m, like, a smart person.”
An open letter signed by four former homeland security secretaries from both parties warned on Wednesday that delaying the presidential transition endangered the country.
“At this period of heightened risk for our nation, we do not have a single day to spare to begin the transition,” the letter said. “For the good of the nation, we must start now.”
Former House intelligence committee chair Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan, echoed the warning.
“Our adversaries aren’t waiting for the transition to take place,” Rogers tweeted. “Joe Biden should receive the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) starting today. He needs to know what the latest threats are & begin to plan accordingly. This isn’t about politics; this is about national security.”