Donald Trump has authorised the official transition from his administration to that of president-elect Joe Biden to begin – even while insisting against the odds that his fight to overturn the Democrats’ victory will continue.
Fours years after delivering a surprise victory over Hillary Clinton and almost three weeks after election day this year, the president announced he was ordering the government body charged with overseeing the transition process to start its work.
Typically enough, he did so on Twitter.
...fight, and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 23, 2020
“I want to thank Emily Murphy at [the General Services Administration] for her steadfast dedication and loyalty to our Country. She has been harassed, threatened, and abused and I do not want to see this happen to her, her family, or employees of GSA,” said Mr Trump.
“Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good ... fight, and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”
The president did not formally concede, or even acknowledge Mr Biden’s victory. But it may be that his words on Monday evening represented the closest the nation will ever see to either.
What they appeared to swiftly do was to put an end to the standoff and stalemate in which the country had been locked, as the president’s legal team sought ever more unlikely ways to overturn the result of the election, which Mr Biden won 306 - 232 in the electoral college, and by 79.8 million - 73.7 million in the popular vote. Many in the country will have sighed in relief, and markets finished up.
While it is inconceivable the decision to permit the transition lay with anyone other than Mr Trump, the announcement to formally recognise Mr Biden as president-elect was made in the name of Ms Murphy, head of the GSA.
In a letter, Ms Murphy said she was “never directly or indirectly pressured by any executive branch official — including those who work at the White House or the GSA”. She also defended her delay by saying she did not want to get ahead of events as they played out.
“I do not think that an agency charged with improving federal procurement and property management should place itself above the constitutionally-based election process,” she said in a letter to Mr Biden’s team.
Mr Biden’s team was quick to welcome the president’s decision, and said he and Ms Harris would soon be meeting with officials to discuss both the pandemic and issues of national security.
A statement issued by Mr Biden’s transition director Yohannes Abraham said the announcement from Mr Trump marked “a definitive administrative action to formally begin the transition process”.
“Today’s decision is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track,” it said.
“In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies.”
In some respects, many in the country had already moved on from the election. Earlier on Monday, Mr Biden unveiled a foreign policy and national security team consisting of old colleagues from his years in the Obama administration.
He will appoint the veteran diplomat Anthony Blinken to be secretary of state and John Kerry as climate envoy, while the economist Janet Yellen, 74, is tipped to be the first female US treasury secretary.
I want to thank Emily Murphy at GSA for her steadfast dedication and loyalty to our Country. She has been harassed, threatened, and abused – and I do not want to see this happen to her, her family, or employees of GSA. Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good...
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 23, 2020
The decision by Mr Trump came after his efforts to overturn the election he falsely claimed were rigged, had become ever more desperate, even as states such as Pennsylvania and Georgia confirmed Mr Biden had won.
Last week, Rudy Giuliani, one of the few individuals still willing to go to court on the president’s behalf, held a wild press conference during which he and a second lawyer, Sidney Powell, alleged the president was the victim of a vast international conspiracy to have voting machines tally additional votes for Mr Biden.
So extreme were Ms Powell’s views considered even on platforms such as Fox News, that she was fired over the weekend.
“Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the president in his personal capacity," said a statement from Mr Giuliani and Trump campaign senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis.
While Republicans had largely stood by the president as he launched his legal battles, there were increasing cracks. A number of senators and governors said it was time to move on and at the very least permit Mr Biden’s team to receive security briefings.
Perhaps significantly, reports suggested Mr Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, saw no way for the president to turn around the defeat, and were seeking a dignified exit strategy for him.
On Monday, another attempt to find a victory died when officials in Michigan certified results showing that Mr Biden had won their state as well. Last week, Mr Trump had called top Republican officials to the White House in an apparent bid to force them to say he had won - not the former vice president.
Also on Monday, first lady Melania Trump celebrated the arrival of the annual White House Christmas tree.
Notably, she did so alone, walking from the North Portico of the White House at lunchtime to accept the 20ft Fraser fir from a tree farm in West Virginia.
She ignored journalists’ questions, but reportedly said to them: “Merry Christmas.”