Trump set for precedent-breaking lame-duck period
President Trump’s final 50 days in the White House are shaping up to be as precedent-breaking as the rest of his tenure, which has deeply divided the nation and ended with him becoming the first president in nearly 30 years to be defeated after one term.
Trump is likely to sign a handful of executive orders in his last weeks in office in order to cement his agenda on immigration, China and other matters, and he may grant more pardons after giving clemency to Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser.
Trump must sign legislation to prevent a government shutdown in December and will continue to preside over a pandemic that is worsening over the holiday season. His administration will also oversee the beginning of the delivery of a coronavirus vaccine.
Perhaps most significantly, Trump is likely to continue to insist he won the election and that it was stolen from him despite evidence showing President-elect Joe Biden defeated him by more than 5 million votes and nearly 70 more electoral votes. This is likely to continue to feed conspiracy theories believed by millions of Americans that will make Biden’s efforts to govern more difficult.
“This election was lost by the Democrats. They cheated. It was a fraudulent election,” Trump insisted Wednesday as he called into a meeting in Gettysburg arranged by Pennsylvania Republicans and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to discuss alleged voting irregularities.
Allies do not expect Trump to ever formally concede his defeat, though he this week relented and allowed the transition process to move forward after weeks of delay. The president has taken an antagonistic approach to his successor, Biden, which raises questions over how smooth the transition will be even as the president-elect and his team send signals of encouragement about the process thus far.
Trump seems set to demand loyalty from Republicans, who are hoping the president will put his muscle into Georgia, where the party faces two Senate runoff elections in January that will determine control of the Senate. GOP lawmakers have been reluctant to break with Trump on his claims of fraud, though an increasing number did so this week.
Trump maintains a grip over the Republican Party and is expected to flirt with running again in 2024, though there is debate about whether he will ultimately do so.
“I think there will be a lot of people who will urge him to consider it, and I think he’ll think about it,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition.
In the remaining weeks of his first term, Trump is expected to try to make his mark on the federal government through executive action and a few final appointments.
“Since taking office, President Trump has never shied away from using his lawful executive authority to advance bold policies and fulfill the promises he made to the American people, but I won’t speculate or comment on potential executive action,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.
There has been talk of Trump granting pardons or commutations, as past presidents have done before their terms end. But Trump, who has typically used his pardon powers on political allies, is expected to act with an eye toward loyalty.
Trump on Thursday announced he had issued a full pardon for Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of a cooperation deal with former special counsel Robert Mueller, a move that was rejected by Democrats as an abuse of power and celebrated among Trump’s GOP allies.
There is speculation Trump could try to shield his own family from legal threats they may face upon leaving office, though it’s unclear if he will and doing so would break with their denials of any wrongdoing.
It’s unclear how publicly engaged Trump will be in his waning weeks. Trump has remained mostly out of public view since the election was called for Biden but his appearances have picked up slightly over the past week, as he has participated in an announcement on rules lowering prescription drug prices and delivered a short statement from the White House briefing room on the economy.
One source close to the Trump campaign said Trump has been urged to get involved in the Georgia races to ensure Republicans keep hold of the Senate so that Democrats cannot undo his work and his legacy can “outlive his tenure in office.” The Trump campaign did not respond to an inquiry about whether there were plans for the president to campaign in Georgia.
Vice President Pence campaigned in Georgia with GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue last week. Neither the campaign nor the White House has announced plans for Trump to travel to the state, but the president has sought to boost the two senators on Twitter while also attacking Georgia’s Republican secretary of state after he contradicted the president’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
Trump has continued his inflammatory rhetoric on the election after expressing approval of his administration cooperating with Biden on the transition late Monday, following the decision by the General Services Administration to recognize Biden as the apparent winner of the election about three weeks after Election Day.
Biden transition officials said that by Tuesday they had made contact with more than 150 federal agencies and commissions, including the White House, and that career officials have been welcoming and forthcoming with information.
“Our teams have been able to begin getting the information they need, and that process is moving efficiently. Obviously, it is critically important that that continues to happen,” Biden transition adviser Kate Bedingfield told reporters Wednesday.
Bedingfield said the transition team was in touch with the Department of Justice and FBI and would seek expedited background investigations for nominees and appointments that have been announced given the delay.
A source who worked on a previous transition expected that the Biden transition team would overcome the negative effects of the delay but expressed concerns that it could result in fewer number of people cleared to begin work in the administration on day one.
The person also said that Trump’s refusal to concede or send a signal to the political leadership on the need for full cooperation in the transition was a departure from past transitions in a negative way.
“This has not been ideal in how this has been started, but if there is anyone who can overcome this it is Joe Biden,” the person said.
Trump allies expect the president to continue to be a presence once he leaves the White House by weighing in on Biden’s moves from afar.
“It will be a shadow presidency,” said the person close to the Trump campaign.
Brett Samuels contributed.