Democrats gear up for last oversight showdown with Trump

House Democrats are gearing up for what could be their final high-profile investigation of the Trump administration: getting the president to admit he lost the election.

Democrats have followed President-elect Joe Biden’s lead in dismissing President Trump’s long-shot lawsuits contesting the election results, but their patience is wearing thin.

Nearly three weeks after the election, and two weeks after the race was called, congressional Democrats are starting to dig into their oversight toolbox and warn that Trump’s post-election actions are a fundamental threat to democracy.

The chairs of the House Oversight and Appropriations committees — Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) — demanded in a letter Thursday that the head of the General Services Administration (GSA) brief lawmakers by Monday on why the agency has yet to allow the presidential transition begin through a process known as ascertainment. They also threatened to haul in the GSA administrator, along with her deputy, chief of staff and general counsel, for a public hearing.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democrats were trying to maintain a “unifying” post-election environment but that the transition delay prodded them to take action.

She emphasized that the committees were demanding only a briefing at this point rather than immediately requesting GSA officials to testify in a public hearing.

“It was really trying to be unifying. Let’s take our time. Let’s give them a chance. And that’s why we don’t have a hearing. We’re just having a briefing,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol on Friday.

She also said she sees an expanded role for the House in the presidential transition if Trump digs in on his refusal to concede.

“I’m not one to show my hand, but, nonetheless, we’re ready. We’re ready,” Pelosi said.

Biden has been gradually upping the pressure on Trump to acknowledge defeat. A few days after the race was called by The Associated Press and all the major broadcast and cable news networks, Biden told reporters that “we’re going to do exactly what we’d be doing if he had conceded and said we’d won, which we have, so there’s nothing really changing.”

But as more days have passed, Biden has warned that obstructing the transition process could result in more deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic and undermine democracy.

“It’s hard to fathom how this man thinks,” Biden said this week. “I’m confident he knows he hasn’t won and can’t win, and we’ll be sworn in on Jan. 20. It’s just outrageous what he’s doing.”

While House Democrats are starting small for now, they aren’t ruling out subpoenas or even a lawsuit — the same kinds of steps they’ve taken with previous Trump oversight probes since winning back the chamber in the 2018 midterms.

House Democrats’ first oversight actions on the presidential transition come as a handful of GOP lawmakers are starting to publicly urge Trump to concede and stop alleging voter fraud unless he has evidence.

The Trump campaign’s legal efforts to overturn results in closely contested states have fallen short, but in recent days, the president has also appeared to pressure state and local GOP election officials in Georgia and Michigan as he seeks to block or delay the certification process.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said that “it is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president,” while Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said that “obviously Rudy [Giuliani] and his buddies should not pressure electors to ignore their certification obligations under the statute.”

And on Friday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) called for Biden to start receiving resources for the transition.

States are expected to finish certifying their results in the coming weeks ahead of the Electoral College meeting on Dec. 14. A few weeks later, on Jan. 6, Congress formally counts and certifies the votes cast by the Electoral College.

In Thursday’s letter, leaders of the House Oversight and Appropriations committees asked that GSA Administrator Emily Murphy provide an explanation of why she hadn’t signed off on a document that would officially recognize Biden as president-elect and unlock funding for activities involved in the transition.

“Your actions in blocking transition activities required under the law are having grave effects, including undermining the orderly transfer of power, impairing the incoming Administration’s ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, hampering its ability to address our nation’s dire economic crisis, and endangering our national security,” they wrote. “We have been extremely patient, but we can wait no longer.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who chairs an Oversight subcommittee and signed on to the letter, called the Trump administration’s refusal to start the transition “extraordinarily reckless” and “playing with fire.”

“It’s not OK. And what if it’s more than his just being peevish? We need to be focused on that. And we can’t let that go. And we have to protect the will of the people. And if they’re not going to do it, then we have to do it,” Connolly said.

“In a democracy, ultimately, at the end of the day, we respect — we don’t have to like — the results of a certified election that is not in doubt,” he added.

The Biden transition team is starting to take matters into its own hands without the customary resources such as government funding or intelligence briefings.

Biden’s team is soliciting funds from small-dollar donors, as well as major contributors, to offset the absence of government funding.

“We want to be clear: the Biden-Harris transition team will continue to steadily move forward. But, without ascertainment, we need to fund the transition ourselves, and that’s why we’re reaching out to you today,” the transition team wrote in a fundraising email to supporters on Friday.

Tags 2020 election Ben Sasse Carolyn Maloney Donald Trump Gerry Connolly Joe Biden Lamar Alexander Mitt Romney Nancy Pelosi Nita Lowey oversight Transition

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