National security adviser Robert O’Brien said Monday morning that it “obviously” looks as if former Vice President Joe Biden has won the presidential election and promised “a very professional transition” with the incoming team at the National Security Council.
O’Brien’s remarks are the first on-the-record acknowledgment by a senior White House official that Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, appear to have won the election, a victory that foreign governments have already recognized but that President Trump has spent more than a week disputing. Although Trump appeared to acknowledge Biden’s victory Sunday by tweeting, “He won,” he quickly backtracked with a tweet saying, “I concede NOTHING!”
The president’s refusal to concede defeat in the election has alarmed observers in the national security community who are concerned that delaying the transition — or not having a proper transition at all — will damage national security. But O’Brien sought to allay those fears during his remarks in the virtual DefenseOne 2020 Global Security Forum.
“If the Biden-Harris ticket is determined to be the winner, and obviously things look that way now, we’ll have a very professional transition from the National Security Council, there’s no question about it,” O’Brien said, before going out of his way to credit the incoming team. “They’re going to have very professional folks who are coming in to take these positions, many of whom have been here before and spent a lot of time in the White House in prior administrations.”
The General Services Administration, a low-profile federal agency in charge of building leases and contracting, has to date refused to sign off on an order recognizing Biden as the next president. As a result, his team has been blocked from receiving millions of dollars in funding, access to offices and other government services that are designed to help ease the transition to a new administration.
Critics have pointed out that delaying the transition could harm government operations, particularly amid a pandemic, by blocking the Biden team from access to critical information and delaying security clearances for incoming officials.
O’Brien dismissed concerns that delaying the transition might endanger national security. “I’m old enough to remember Bush v. Gore, and the transition there didn’t start until mid-December and yet it got done,” he said. “And if we’re in a situation where we’re not going to a Trump second term, which I think people here where I’m sitting in the White House would like to see, if it’s another outcome, it’ll be a professional transition, no question about it.”
However, the 9/11 Commission highlighted the 36-day delay in starting the transition between the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations as a factor in the six-month delay in filling important national security positions, which rendered the United States more vulnerable to attack.
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