When will the Trump transition end?

When will the Trump transition end?
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Figuring out the end of the transition period for a new adminsitration has always been a puzzle to political scientists. Since 1937 and the ratification of the 20th amendment to the Constitution, the time between Election Day and Inauguration Day has usually been around 70 days. Though George W. Bush’s was shortened by the Florida Recount, much of the public attention to the presidential transition happens during these often chaotic 11 weeks.

Yet many agree, while the inauguration may be the official start of the president’s term in office, most of the transition activities are still in flux at the end of January. The end of the transition, then, is whenever the work of transitioning into office is complete, especially after all key appointments have been made and the core of the campaign’s policy agenda has been enacted or, at least, introduced in Congress. 


Based on these measures, Trump’s never-ending transition persists. On personnel, the Trump administration continues to be defined by incomplete appointments and rapid turnover of White House staff. As of the end of the calendar year, CNN showed that Trump had made 502 nominations compared to 658 for Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMillennial momentum means trouble for the GOP Biden's Cuba problem: Obama made a bet and lost Democrats need a coherent response to attacks on critical race theory MORE and 741 for George W. Bush, and Trump remains 150 confirmations behind both former presidents.


Additionally, Katherine Dunn Tenpas of Brookings showed that the turnover rate of Trump’s inner-circle is higher than the past five presidents, double Reagan’s record and triple Obama’s. 

On policy, the famed first 100-day marker has long come and gone, but much of the President’s agenda remains stalled. Many of Trump’s changes to immigration policy are still caught up in the courts. The infamous planned construction of a border wall continues to be an inflammatory talking point, but not much more. The beautiful infrastructure bill is nowhere to be seen.

Falling short on personnel and policy leaves only a vague notion of when the president begins to act presidential. On a regular basis over the last year, pundits have proclaimed that Trump had awoken and became presidential — so often that this itself has become a running joke on social media.

There are numerous consequences for governance of this situation. Failing to fully staff the highest levels of government, especially in the State Department, harms the daily execution of numerous existing policies. A stalled policy agenda, though surely welcome to the President’s opponents, weakens Trump’s claim to be an effective leader.

Failing to meet these transition benchmarks, when will the Trump transition finally come to an end?

It may be that, given the governance difficulties faced by the Trump administration, and ongoing federal investigations, the Trump transition will not end until the 2018 mid-term Congressional election. In November, the remaining two years of the President’s term will either be checked by a new Democratic majority in one or both houses of Congress or continued Republican control with a newly chosen Speaker. If nothing else, the trajectory of the Trump presidency will be greatly changed by the fall election.

The official end of the transition may not matter that much. Unlike the constitutional importance of Election and Inauguration Day, the duration of the transition may only be of concern to political scientists and scholars of the presidency. An effective transition may be conducive to good government, yet this administration shows the chaos of the transition period need not end.

Nevertheless, we can be sure that at least one transition has already started. Even though the Democrats are a long way from choosing a candidate, the mundane, yet critical, planning for a Democratic victory is surely underway, and a future presidency already something for which to prepare. 

Heath Brown is an associate professor of public policy at City University of New York, John Jay College and CUNY Grad Center. He is also the author of “Lobbying the New President: Interests in Transition” (2012).