The incoming Biden administration is facing several overlapping problems caused by the one currently occupying the White House. As a result of President Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the election, the office designed to facilitate presidential transitions, the General Services Administration, has refused to release millions of dollars in federal funding to aid in the transition. Citing the GSA’s decision to deny Biden’s win, both the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the U.S. Agency for International Development stated Tuesday they will not cooperate with the president-elect.
The Biden camp must now wait for these bureaucratic dominoes to fall, an event precipitated either by Trump’s concession of the race, or by the formal Electoral College vote on December 14 — a potential wait of over a month that would throw off the critical work of the transition. And as this wait drags on, Trump continues to gum up the gears of the federal government. Biden has already stated that his first 100 days will be devoted in part to undoing Trump’s most dangerous policies from the last four years. Though fears of the havoc Trump might wreak in a second term have subsided, the president-elect will now have to contend with the damage done over his predecessor’s last 70 days.
It began on Friday at the U.S. Global Change Research Program, when Michael Kuperberg, the official responsible for producing the National Climate Assessment — which informs the regulations for climate policy — was removed from his position. His role is now expected to be filled by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official who wrote this summer that “carbon dioxide is plant food and is not a pollutant.” On the same day as Kuperberg’s ouster, the New York Times notes that “Neil Chatterjee, head of the agency that regulates the nation’s utility markets, was demoted by the White House, after he publicly supported the use of renewable power.”
On Monday, after the president fired Mark Esper by tweet — a departure that reportedly stems from the ex-Defense secretary’s pushback on Trump’s desire to put active-duty troops on American streets in June — the Pentagon has seen several top jobs filled with alarming Trump appointees. After the active policy chief at the Pentagon, James Anderson, resigned, retired Brigadier General Anthony Tata took his place. Tata, a Fox News contributor as of last year, had previously been nominated to this role, but was denied it after CNN reported on tweets calling Barack Obama a “terrorist leader” and describing Islam as the “most oppressive, violent religion I know.” The shakeup at the DOD also appears to be an opportunity to give a résumé boost to loyalists, including former aides to Devin Nunes and Michael Flynn. The department’s top intelligence official is now the ex-Flynn aide Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a 34-year-old who reportedly helped Nunes develop the bogus “unmasking” scandal in the early days of the Trump administration.
“It is hard to overstate just how dangerous high-level turnover at the Department of Defense is during a period of presidential transition,” House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith told Politico. “If this is the beginning of a trend — the president either firing or forcing out national security professionals in order to replace them with people perceived as more loyal to him — then the next 70 days will be precarious at best and downright dangerous at worst.”
Questionable promotions aren’t the only concern. Biden will inherit a pandemic that is sure to worsen as two more months of a negligent federal response does nothing to slow a virus that has infected 1 million American over the last ten days. And after spending much of his administration villainizing migrants and waging a trade war that caused farm bankruptcies to surge by 24 percent last year, the Trump administration is instituting a rule that would freeze the pay for farm workers on H-2A visas — effectively cutting their pay while classifying these workers as essential personnel during the pandemic. While Biden’s Department of Agriculture would be able to rescind such a change, Bruce Goldstein, the president of Farmworker Justice, told HuffPost that the reversal process would be long enough to make the wage freeze effective for all of 2021.
Considering this rate of change over the past week and his refusal to accept the encroaching reality of life after the presidency, these actions may only be the beginning of the most chaotic transition since Trump’s own — when campaign leaders unprepared to win spent the adjustment period grappling for power and the president-elect used his awesome new responsibilities to get celebrities to come meet him in his own apartment. If Trump does finally accept the change at hand, he may shift his focus from undermining the election to sapping the White House before its new occupant moves in.