Editorial: What Happens When the President Refuses to Concede?

By Ian Conte, Copy Editor

The 2020 US Presidential Election is finally over… Or is it?

After a grueling four-day wait, the Associated Press called Pennsylvania’s electoral votes for former Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday, Nov. 7, and declared that Biden will be the 46th President. President Donald Trump is refusing to concede the election, however, citing unsupported claims of widespread mail-in voting fraud.

The Trump administration and its allies have filed lawsuits in several key states challenging the legitimacy of a number of mail-in ballots, but none have come anywhere close to proving the “rigged election” claimed by Trump. Some of these lawsuits have even been laughed out of courts, according to The Young Turks.

Despite this, Trump has yet to accept the results of the election, and likely never will. But concession of a lost election isn’t a constitutional requirement of the outgoing President – it’s a tradition. If Trump’s legal attacks continue to fail, and he still refuses a concession, what happens next is clear.

The US Constitution lays out a concise path to the transfer of Presidential power. The electoral college will convene on Dec. 14 and cast their votes. By Dec. 23, it gets passed to the Congress, where the votes are certified by the House of Representatives and the Senate on Jan. 6. Then, the President-Elect is sworn in as the new President, and on Jan. 20 at 12:00pm EST, they become the President of the United States.

After Congress accepts that Biden will become the 46th President, there is little that Trump can do to legally hold onto his power. On inauguration day, Biden goes to the White House, and a contingent of the Secret Service escorts Trump out. At noon, every employee of the US government reports to Biden.

Even so, the transfer of power outlined by the constitution assumes that all of these institutions who ratify the election will abide by the law. According to Robert Shapiro, former acting director of Columbia University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, this is very unlikely.

That doesn’t mean that Trump can’t make the transition of power difficult. Since the Trump Administration has yet to recognize Biden as the President-elect, Biden’s transition team has been denied federal office spaces, millions of dollars of funding, and access to the years of information and intelligence necessary to conduct a full and efficient transition of power.

Traditionally, the purpose of the transition is to make sure that the new administration is ready to lead the Federal Government on day one. The President-elect and Vice President-elect spend their transition time reviewing Federal agencies, planning policy, interviewing and hiring new staff, and establishing diplomatic relations with other world leaders.

In an interview with Live Science, Shapiro pointed out the thousands of Trump appointees across the Federal government that will need to be replaced by the incoming Biden administration. There are also new national security concerns regarding COVID-19 that Biden is being denied access to.

Since Trump is refusing to collaborate with Biden’s transition team, the transition will have to be conducted without any Presidential guidance and from afar.

Be that as it may, this transition is still a transition. Shapiro noted that even if Biden’s transition team doesn’t finish by inauguration, the transition will still be legitimate, and Biden will still become the 46th President of the United States. And, as he has said, his team has no problem “escorting trespassers out of the White House.”