Joe Biden ran for president insisting that President Donald Trump was an “aberration” who did not reflect the character or views of the American people.
And in his first week as president-elect, Biden’s remarks and activities suggest an effort to dismiss Trump further: this time, as a nuisance.
As he refuses to concede, Trump has stoked fear and anxiety among many Americans, and he has plainly slowed critical transition processes, to the concern of the Biden team. Yet publicly, Biden and his aides are seeking to project steadiness. They have ignored Trump’s tweets, they are building out a White House staff and they are working to model how a shift away from four years of presidential tumult can be done – and how Biden is likely to behave once he is in the White House.
“He is not going to get his knickers in a twist around Donald Trump’s bad manners,” said former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., who served in the Senate with Biden.
He knows that he’s going to be president on the 20th of January.”
Still, she acknowledged: “I know he wants to get started on the transition. He would like some support from the administration to do that. But he’s going forward based on his own resources.”
Biden, who spent much of the week working from the Wilmington, Delaware, area, held calls with Pope Francis and the leaders of many of the nation’s closest allies, taking initial steps toward his goal of repairing the country’s standing on the world stage following a campaign in which he emphasised his relationships with world leaders.
After spending months stressing the need to follow science, he named a group of experts to advise him on the coronavirus pandemic, and on Friday he issued a statement calling for “urgent action” as virus cases continue to surge.
And he named Ron Klain, a veteran Washington figure who served as the Ebola czar in the Obama White House, as his chief of staff, a pick that was well received across the ideological spectrum within the Democratic Party.
Those steps, to prepare to govern and to combat the pandemic that has upended American society, followed convention and unfolded without drama. Biden has decades of experience in Washington to draw on, and his initial moves after winning the presidency demonstrated a familiarity with how one administration typically passes the torch to the next.
“It’s a reflection of the president-elect’s desire to project stability at a time of great instability,” said former Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa, an early Biden supporter.
What was not typical – far from it – was the reaction of Trump, who continued to refuse to concede, and to make false claims about election fraud. But Biden pressed on and passed up the chance for aggressive confrontation, treating the president of the United States as if he were a heckler shouting from the bleachers who would eventually tire and go home.
This week, Bob Bauer, a Biden campaign adviser and former White House counsel, described Trump’s election-related legal challenges as “noise,” while Biden’s sister and close political adviser, Valerie Biden Owens, downplayed the significance of any postelection commentary offered by the president.
“It doesn’t matter what Donald Trump says,” she said on ‘Axios on HBO’. “It doesn’t matter. Joe is president-elect. He will be sworn in on Jan. 20.”
Biden himself suggested Trump’s refusal to concede was more of a stain on the president’s name for the history books than an imminent obstacle for the Biden transition, telling reporters on Tuesday: “How can I say this tactfully? I think it will not help the president’s legacy.”
Asked how he expected to work with Republicans if they would not even acknowledge him as president-elect, Biden responded with a smile: “They will. They will.”
Not everyone is so confident that Republicans will engage – or that Biden should even prioritize trying to work with them.
“Biden’s path to victory in his administration is going to be by putting forward bold plans to address COVID, the economy, climate change and racial injustice,” said Garrett Blad, a spokesman for the Sunrise Movement, a youth-driven progressive organization that is focused on climate and has sought to shape Biden’s appointments.
Working with the GOP elite who right now are trying to undermine our democracy we do not believe is a strong way forward.”
Biden’s advisers and allies have also acknowledged that they are in fact troubled by the possible ramifications from the Trump administration’s refusal to give Biden and his transition team access to federal agencies as well as intelligence briefings.
The head of the General Services Administration has not formally recognized Biden as the winner of the election, a step that allows the transfer of power between administrations to proceed.
As more time passes, that refusal becomes more problematic, Biden aides say. But even so, they are showing little eagerness to raise the temperature or to wage a legal battle.
“We’re not interested in having a food fight with the GSA administrator or anyone, really,” Jen Psaki, a Biden transition adviser, said Friday. “We just want to get access to intelligence information, to threat assessments, to the ongoing work on COVID, so that we can prepare to govern.”
In the meantime, Biden was taking a break – or something resembling a break. He traveled on Thursday to his vacation house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. “He’s earned, certainly, a couple days off,” Psaki said.