US President-elect Joe Biden pressed ahead with his transition on Wednesday despite Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat, naming a seasoned Democratic operative as Chief of Staff in his first public White House personnel choice.
Biden tapped longtime aide Ron Klain, who previously served as his first chief of staff while vice president, acknowledging the two had a long road ahead in fighting the coronavirus pandemic as well as healing a deeply divided nation.
“His deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum are precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again,” Biden said.
He made the announcement after visiting the Korean War Memorial in Philadelphia earlier in the day for a solemn wreath-laying ceremony to mark Veterans Day in the US.
Trump attended a separate, simultaneous ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, in what should have been a moment of national unity but instead highlighted the Republican’s refusal to acknowledge election defeat.
The president made no public remarks during the sombre wreath-laying ceremony, his first official appearance since the 3 November vote.
Since media called the race four days ago Trump has not addressed the nation other than via Twitter and a written statement released to mark Veterans Day and has not conceded to Biden, as is traditional once a winner is projected in a US vote.
With Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases shattering records across the country and states imposing new restrictions in a push to contain the virus before winter arrives, Trump seems to have all but shelved normal presidential duties.
Instead, he has remained shut up inside the presidential mansion, claiming that he is about to win and filing lawsuits alleging voter fraud that so far has been backed up by only the flimsiest evidence.
Early Wednesday he was tweeting fresh evidence-free claims of election wins and ballot tampering, despite the consensus from international observers, world leaders, local election officials, and US media that the vote was free and fair.
Some Republicans were adding their voices to growing calls for the president to concede, with experts warning his refusal to do so was undermining the democratic process and holding up the transition to Biden, who takes office in January.
Among them was the Republican secretary of state for Montana, Corey Stapleton, who heralded the “incredible things” Trump accomplished in office.
“But that time is now over. Tip your hat, bite your lip, and congratulate @JoeBiden,” he tweeted.
‘Within his rights’
Some of the most powerful figures in the Republican party, among them Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Senate leader Mitch McConnell have backed Trump in his bid to undermine Biden’s victory, however.
“There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” Pompeo said in a sometimes testy news conference Tuesday, while McConnell has said the president was “100 per cent within his rights” to challenge the election in court.
None of the lawsuits appears to have the potential to change the result and even a manual recount announced Wednesday in Georgia where Biden has a paper-thin lead is unlikely to alter the fundamental math.
Trump’s victory in Alaska, which US media called for him on Wednesday, putting another three electoral votes in his column, was not enough either.
‘Honor of a lifetime’
Biden’s Klain pick drew wide praise from Democrats.
Senate Democrat Elizabeth Warren called Klain a “superb choice” for chief of staff because he “understands the magnitude of the health and economic crisis and he has the experience to lead this next administration through it.”
In the same statement released by the Biden transition team, Klain, 59-year-old, said it was “the honour of a lifetime” to be named to the post.
Since his projected win was announced on Saturday, Biden has addressed the nation, set up a coronavirus task force, spoken with world leaders including Trump allies, begun vetting potential cabinet members, and delivered policy speeches.
On Wednesday he took congratulatory phone calls from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Meanwhile, Trump’s only known activities outside the White House before Wednesday had been to play golf twice over the weekend.
Normally routine secret presidential intelligence briefings have been off the daily schedule. He has made no mention of the dramatic rebound in the COVID-19 pandemic across the country.
Trump’s only significant presidential action has been the abrupt firing of defence secretary Mark Esper on Monday, which he announced on Twitter.
His failure to concede has no legal force in itself, but the General Services Administration, the usually low-key agency that manages the Washington bureaucracy, has refused to sign off on the transition, holding up funding and security briefings.