Donald Trump showed few signs of conceding the presidential election to Joe Biden for a week after the race was called, while also hardly acting as if he was preparing for a second term.
On Sunday the president appeared, almost as an aside in his ninth Twitter post of the morning, to find a way out of his conundrum of how to recognize defeat and claim victory at the same time.
“He won because the Election was Rigged,” Trump tweeted, a post that was flagged by Twitter for containing disputed claims of election fraud.
An hour later, while in a motorcade heading to his golf course in Virginia, Trump recanted, saying “I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go.”
Jason Miller, senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said in a statement that the president’s initial tweet “was referring to the mindset of the media.”
Setting aside Sunday’s flurry of tweets, though, Trump has done little over the past two weeks on some of the administration’s top pre-election priorities. The stimulus deal he tried to ram through in the closing days of the campaign with ever-higher offers looks dead for now.
His coronavirus briefing on Friday ended a lengthy time out of the public eye. He’s stopped calling out governors who are pushing more aggressive lockdowns. And even his prized ban of the Chinese app TikTok has been pushed off, for now.
Trump Tweets That Biden Won Election, Says Vote Was ‘Rigged’
Trump didn’t speak in public from Nov. 7 -- the day news organizations declared Biden the winner -- through Friday afternoon. It was the longest stretch of time without addressing the public since taking office.
The vacuum has been filled by steady speculation about what advice Trump is getting from family members and others about how and when to acknowledge that he’s not getting a second term, and how best to protect his legacy and brand -- including for a possible comeback run in 2024.
Trump’s inaction, coupled with his blocking Biden’s ability to get access to federal agencies by refusing to concede, leaves the nation in a unusual state with its outgoing president not doing the job, and its incoming leader stymied from key functions.
At the same time, abrupt personnel moves at the Pentagon and at Homeland Security have created unease even among some of the president’s allies. The idea that Trump is putting national security at risk is gaining purchase daily.
Senate Republicans including James Lankford of Oklahoma have insisted that Biden start receiving intelligence briefings.
“If that’s not occurring by Friday, I will step in,” Lankford, who sits on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said on Wednesday. It’s unclear if Lankford intervened as promised.
When he broke his silence, Trump suggested for the first time since Election Day that he may have lost to Biden. He made the comment as he rejected more lockdowns in response to a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
“Whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration it will be, I guess time will tell, but I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown,” Trump said.
On Twitter, Trump continued his claims of victory amid what he says was a “Rigged Election” rife with fraudulently cast votes and botched tallies in Biden’s favor. But the campaign hasn’t provided evidence to back up those claims, and its legal challenges crumbled in several states on Friday.
The president suffered another setback when news networks called Georgia for Biden. That would give Biden 306 electoral votes, far above the 270 needed to win, leaving Trump with 232. All 50 states’ presidential races have been called by news organizations including Associated Press and major networks.
Biden’s leads across a number of crucial swing states are large enough that they should withstand any recount, barring a massive and unprecedented error in tabulation.
Trump has encouraged his supporters to protest the election. On Saturday, thousands of them gathered in Washington, unfurling Trump flags and chanting “four more years!” Trump made a cameo appearance, waving and smiling from his armored limousine on the way to his golf course, but didn’t address the group.
The president’s Friday event was focused largely on the administration’s coronavirus vaccine development efforts. But Trump did little to acknowledge rising infections and hospitalizations ahead of this month’s Thanksgiving holiday, leaving that task to Vice President Mike Pence.
It’s not the only unpleasant duty the president has delegated. The administration signaled this week that it’s passing responsibility for stimulus negotiations with Democrats to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, despite Trump’s promise of a sweeping package shortly after Election Day.
That’s a marked contrast from the president’s proclamation in late October that the country would “have a tremendous stimulus package immediately after the election,” helped by his ability to sway GOP lawmakers. On Saturday, Trump tweeted that Congress must do a “big and focused” relief bill, without suggesting he would get involved.
Trump has also backed off another pre-election focus: his call for the Chinese owner of the TikTok video-sharing app to quickly sell its U.S. operations in response to national security concerns. The administration instead has given the company longer to resolve the issues.
White House spokesman Judd Deere rejected as “false” the idea that Trump has given up on governing.
“President Trump is fighting hard for a free and fair election while at the same time carrying out all of his duties to put America First,” Deere said.
At the White House, some aides are working on transition binders for the new administration, refreshing their resumes, and reaching out to friends and former colleagues about potential employment.
Biden, meanwhile, is proceeding as the victor. The president-elect has formed a panel of coronavirus experts, named White House staff, and spoken with congressional leaders and heads of state. Biden -- who Trump mocked throughout the campaign for “hiding in his basement” -- has taken questions from reporters, and his transition team held its first press briefing on Friday.
But while Trump has retreated from the public eye, he’s been busy, consulting with aides and lawyers about his options and political future. The president has begun stretching his days in the Oval Office longer than usual -- not decamping for the residence until after 8 p.m. most nights last week -- and surveying allies about how they think he should approach the coming weeks.
In a conversation with Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera, Trump said he would “do the right thing” but wanted to see “what states do” in certifying their election results over the next few weeks.
He told Washington Examiner columnist Byron York that he thought that “maybe” he had lost, before ultimately rejecting the idea. Trump said it was important to file legal challenges to examine allegations of fraud.
“Never bet against me,” Trump said.
But Trump isn’t acting like a man wagering he’ll prevail.
There’s little sense among the president’s allies that the campaign’s numerous lawsuits -- which have struggled to gain traction in courts across the country -- will succeed, much less reverse the outcome of the election.
On Friday, the law firm handling the president’s litigation in Pennsylvania withdrew, while the legal team in Arizona dropped a suit over 191 disputed ballots in a state where Biden’s lead is over 10,000 votes. In total, the president’s campaign has lost over a dozen legal challenges.
Trump has used social media to tout various debunked claims, including a disproved assertion that election software glitches changed vote counts in Michigan and Georgia. The company in question, Dominion Voting Systems, pushed back forcibly in a statement on Saturday. In total, Twitter has flagged nearly a quarter of the president’s post-election tweets for misinformation.
Meanwhile, a new wave of coronavirus infections hit Trump loyalists. Leading figures in the president’s recount effort, including political advisers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, have tested positive, as has White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Trump has been active since the election in at least one realm of governing: personnel. On Monday, he fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the first in a series of housecleaning moves at the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security.
While the dismissals appeared partly as recrimination against Pentagon brass with whom he’d had disagreements, the changes might also pave the way for an accelerated troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the White House announced a ban of U.S. investments in Chinese firms owned or controlled by the military, in his first post-election bid to punish Beijing, which he has blamed for the spread of the coronavirus.
But the president has steered clear of the ongoing saga of TikTok. The administration granted the app’s owner, ByteDance Ltd., a 15-day extension on Thursday to resolve national security concerns after the company submitted a filing saying the government had stopped responding to efforts to strike a compromise deal. The White House has declined to comment.
Other actions can be seen as a tacit acknowledgment that the president’s days are likely numbered. The administration is rushing plans to auction drilling rights in the U.S. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in what appeared to be a bid to issue leases before Biden -- who’s pledged to protect the region --- takes office. And Trump announced a fresh slate of judicial nominations Friday, as he and McConnell rush to fill vacancies before the transfer of power.
The White House provided a list of Trump’s actions since the election, which included the approval of disaster declarations for Puerto Rico and Florida, and issuance of a strategic plan on intellectual property.
Deere, the White House spokesman, added: “He’s also working to advance meaningful economic stimulus, engaging members of Congress on a government funding proposal, and ensuring state and local governments have what they need to respond to the ongoing pandemic.”
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