US election: Messages for Joe Biden stack up as transition blocked

Messages for President-elect Joe Biden are stacking up in the US State Department due to President Trump’s refusal to concede defeat in the recent Presidential election.

That’s according to state department officials who told CNN that “dozens” of incoming messages had not been received and Biden’s team would “prefer” to be using “State Department resources” rather than having to facilitate phone calls with leaders themselves.

The Democratic former vice-president has already spoken to Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, UK leader Boris Johnson, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Canada’s Justin Trudeau who have congratulated him on his win.

Biden has also reportedly been barred from receiving the daily intelligence briefings given to the President, leading to concerns he could be out of the loop once he takes office.

The State Department plays a key role in any US administration, responsible for presenting the face of the US to the world and managing relationships with other countries.

However, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been one of Trump’s most ardent supporters, saying earlier this week there would be a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration” in comments that sparked outrage.

Pompeo also hit back at claims the US could hardly comment on free and fair elections around the world when the President refused to accept a result.

He said that idea was “ridiculous” and “the world should have every confidence that the transition necessary to make sure that the State Department is functional today, successful today and successful with a president who’s in office on January 20 a minute after noon, will also be successful”.

His comments were described as “baseless and dangerous” by the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel.

“In fact, all Administration officials should drop their false claims about electoral fraud and [the General Services Administration] should release the funding and support necessary for a smooth transition that protects our national security,” he said.

“The State Department should now begin preparing for President-elect Biden’s transition.”

The gap between the US State Department and the electorate has not gone unnoticed around the world. On Thursday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the US voting system is “probably the most archaic” in the world given that Joe Biden won the popular vote by more than five million ballots.

He said it “significantly distorts the will of the population” and explained that Russia could not congratulate Biden due to the US position.

“The State Department has also not yet recognised the presidential election,” he said. That’s in contrast to the 2016 result when Putin congratulated Trump within an hour of his victory.

So far, little about the 2020 election has been running according to convention. The vote saw record turnout across the US including a huge number of mail-in votes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump has refused to concede defeat, instead mounting a series of legal challenges alleging voter fraud, despite official assurances to the contrary.

This has so far stymied the traditional transition period, in which an incumbent President normally invites his successor to the White House to meet them and show them the ropes.

First Lady Melania Trump has also refused to reach out to Dr Jill Biden, as Michelle Obama did to her in 2016.

Despite the roadblocks, the Biden-Harris transition team has been working swiftly to announce their priorities in office including naming a coronavirus task force and appointing seasoned political operator Ron Klain as chief of staff – a key role that includes managing the president’s diary.

Klain, 59, has been chief of staff to vice-president Al Gore and worked with Biden when he was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was also responsible for co-ordinating the White House response to the Ebola crisis in 2014 under President Obama.

“Ron has been invaluable to me over the many years that we have worked together,” Biden said, announcing the news.

“His deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again.”

Klain said the role was “the honour of a lifetime”.

“I look forward to helping him and the vice-president-elect assemble a talented and diverse team to work in the White House, as we tackle their ambitious agenda for change, and seek to heal the divides in our country.”

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