The business of transferring power between President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden seemed on hold Monday as the incumbent plotted a messaging blitz to amplify his baseless claims of fraud even as his inner circle split over his ongoing refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election.
Most around Trump seemed to believe his slipshod legal efforts to challenge results in several states would eventually peter out and the President – if not actually acknowledging his defeat – would begin to move on. None seemed to believe he would refuse to leave office in January.
But in the interim, the essential process of handing over power to Biden appears to be stalled. Inside the White House, there is no expectation that steps toward a transition will move ahead until Trump concedes or the government formally declares Biden the winner.
“It ain’t over til it’s over … and this AIN’T over!” Vice President Mike Pence told his staff during a morning all-hands meeting, according to a tweet he sent later in the day.
Trump had no events on his schedule Monday and continues to encourage his legal and campaign teams to forge ahead with their attempts to challenge the election results. He spent long stretches this weekend at his namesake golf course outside Washington as jubilant celebrations broke out around the White House.
Top campaign officials summoned all staffers for a mid-morning meeting at the Trump campaign headquarters in suburban Virginia, a source familiar with the matter said. Campaign manager Bill Stepien and his deputy Justin Clark have been telling aides that Trump is “still in this fight” while claiming the election isn’t over yet, even as Biden’s team is moving ahead with his transition.
At the White House, the President’s personnel chief John McEntee is spreading word throughout the administration that if he hears of anyone looking for another job they will be fired, according to a senior official. The news dismayed many officials, who worry especially about young staffers who will soon need new sources of income.
The White House declined to discuss personnel matters when CNN reached out for comment.
Trump’s campaign is planning a messaging blitz to fuel its argument, including by presenting obituaries of people the campaign will claim voted in the election and considering convening campaign-style rallies to amplify the message.
Some people close to the effort described more of an attempt to lend Trump validation, even in loss, than to reverse the election results. Many of the President’s allies have been eagerly pointing out during media appearances the 71 million votes he secured, pointing out it is a record for a sitting president (though still 4 million fewer than Biden’s total).
Rallies or other steps to place Trump in front of his still-fervent supporters could boost what has been a mostly despondent mood over the past several days.
The President is being urged by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, attorney Rudy Giuliani and campaign adviser Jason Miller to hold rallies throughout the US pushing for recounts of votes, sources close to Trump told CNN on Sunday. Many aides around the President want him to continue fighting, if not to secure a virtually-impossible change in outcome than for the Trump supporters who remain hungry for a fight against results they don’t believe.
Some of those around Trump, however – including Kushner and first lady Melania Trump – have discussed whether he should acknowledge his defeat, sources told CNN this weekend. Others, however, have been urging Trump not to give up, including his two adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.
One person familiar with the plans said the team wants to continue the battle for closer scrutiny of the ballot tallies even though Trump himself has not always seemed privately to believe he will be successful.
“Of anything, our worry is getting Trump more fired-up, not tempering him,” the official said.
Yet as those efforts were unfolding, the process of actually handing over power to Biden were stalled. An administration official involved in the effort says while there haven’t been explicit instructions from the President or senior aides on how to proceed, it is the understanding among the team that no steps to accommodate the Biden team should be taken until Trump signals he will concede.
That includes both White House efforts and efforts at federal departments and agencies, where transition teams have been in place for weeks but are now in something of a holding pattern.
The Trump administration has yet to sign off on a key document needed to formally begin the transition process. Pressure has mounted on General Services Administration administrator Emily W. Murphy, a Trump appointee, to formally recognize Biden as the President-elect and release funds to the Biden transition team through a process called ascertainment. The step would unlock access to national security tools to streamline background checks and additional funds to pay for training and incoming staff.
But nearly 48 hours after the race was called by numerous news organizations, Murphy has not yet signed off. A GSA spokesperson declined to provide a specific timeline for when ascertainment would take place, a clear signal the agency won’t get ahead of the President.
“An ascertainment has not yet been made,” GSA spokesperson Pamela Pennington told CNN.
While a team inside the West Wing had begun taking the legally-required steps for a transition ahead of the election, officials said that work is now on hold as Trump continues to contest the results.
Trump had been only vaguely aware of the work his administration was doing toward a transition over the past several months, though did have to formally sign off, officials said. While he did not put up any roadblocks in the planning stages, he was not involved and provided little or no direction.
The team inside the White House has been led by deputy chief of staff for policy coordination Chris Liddell, who is a close ally of Kushner’s. Chief of staff Mark Meadows is technically responsible for the transition planning team, but has left much of the work to Liddell.
Even should he acknowledge his loss, officials question whether Trump would participate in any transition efforts, even symbolic ones like meeting with Biden in the Oval Office. No invitation has yet been extended for such a meeting.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Pamela Brown, Sarah Westwood, Betsy Klein and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.