Trump Relents, Paving Way For Biden Transition To Formally Begin : The NPR Politics Podcast President Trump is still not conceding that he lost the election, but he's getting closer. On Monday the president tweeted that he had directed the General Services Administration to begin the process of transferring the government to President-elect Joe Biden.

Plus, we take a look at the coalition Biden formed to win the election and discuss the odds of it sticking together under the new administration.

This episode: congressional correspondent Susan Davis, political correspondent Asma Khalid, White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, and political reporter Juana Summers.

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Trump Relents, Paving Way For Biden Transition To Formally Begin

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Trump Relents, Paving Way For Biden Transition To Formally Begin

Trump Relents, Paving Way For Biden Transition To Formally Begin

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KATIE: This is Katie (ph) from Portland, Ore. I just finished riding my off-the-track thoroughbred horse named after the 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who's now eating right beside me. This podcast was recorded at...

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

2:06 p.m. on Tuesday, November 24.

KATIE: Things may have changed by the time you hear this. But Franklin will probably still be enjoying his favorite pastime - food.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: (Laughter).

DAVIS: That's a good name for a horse - Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: I wonder if he goes by FDR for short, you know?

DAVIS: He should.

KHALID: Yeah.

DAVIS: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

KHALID: I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the Biden transition.

RASCOE: And I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And it wasn't quite a concession, but last night, President Trump edged a little bit closer to accepting what is obvious - that he lost the election to Joe Biden. And as always, it came in the form of a tweet. Ayesha, can you walk us through the events that started last night?

RASCOE: Yeah. So what happened was everyone's been waiting for the General Services Administration to make this ascertainment - but basically to make this determination that Biden was the apparent winner of the election. And that's because that would kick-start this formal process - transition process where Biden folks could get into the federal government, start, you know, officially preparing for governing.

So the General Services Administration sent a letter to the Biden transition team basically saying this was happening; it's a go now; they've made this ascertainment. But President Trump seemed to want to get out ahead of that or to make sure he was putting his stamp of approval on it. And he basically said that he has told the General Services Administration to do what needs to be done to start initial protocols. But then he said, I'm going to keep fighting, and I'm going to prevail. So it was kind of halfway in, halfway out, if that makes sense (laughter).

KHALID: But it does feel like it's very much disconnected from the reality once we saw that official letter from the GSA administrator. I mean, and what you're hearing from the Biden folks is that this is officially kicking off the transition process. I mean, it allows them to now be in touch with folks within different federal agencies. You know, they had been saying for the past couple of weeks that they had concerns about, you know, vaccine deployment and just getting a better sense of where the pandemic was because they weren't able to talk to current Trump administration officials.

But also, in addition to that, I mean, you had the incoming president, President-elect Joe Biden, who at this point wasn't getting, you know, the presidential daily intelligence briefings. They were sort of handicapped in that regard. And this - you know, it sounds like a small detail, this ascertainment, but it really does allow for the transition process to kind of officially kick off and begin. I mean, up until this point, I will say, Biden was trying to sound fairly upbeat about a transition progressing. But, you know, I will say people around him did sound increasingly frustrated by the fact that things were not going in the way that they should have been. And in some ways, they were handicapped by that.

DAVIS: You know, it's been clear for some time that Joe Biden won this election, but I think it was even further cemented this week. Michigan has certified their election results. Pennsylvania and Nevada have just certified their election results. None of the court challenges brought forward by the Trump campaign team so far have really gotten any - you know, any handle in a courtroom. Most of them have been thrown out or laughed out of court. So it seems like the White House maybe sees the writing on the wall here, Ayesha, even if they just don't want to admit it.

RASCOE: Well, you know, our colleague Tamara Keith - there was an administration official who told her that at least President Trump was being advised that, for the good of the country, it would be good to just start the transition process. But I don't think there's ever been a time when the process has started to transition, and it hasn't been completed. That's never happened. And there's no path for it to not happen. But President Trump is still not saying it, and he may never say it. But at some point, he'll have to at least, like, get some moving vans or something.

KHALID: But Ayesha, isn't there, like, a risk that regardless of whether or not he publicly acknowledges this, that this is not healthy for, like, a democratic transition - what he's doing at this point? I mean, you know, as Sue was saying, all these states have certified their results. More states are going to continue to do that. And yet, you have him just refusing to accept the reality of the situation.

RASCOE: Oh, absolutely. It's not good for democracy. And I think part of what you saw - the pressure that President Trump was facing and what had him go ahead and send those tweets - is that you have Republican lawmakers like Lamar Alexander, a senator from Tennessee - he's retiring - saying, look; public figures are known for what they did last - basically saying, protect your legacy. But even - you had Senator Rob Portman of Ohio also saying, look; I voted for you, but it looks like it's likely that Biden is going to be president. We need a smooth transition.

DAVIS: I'm so curious to see what happens on Inauguration Day because part of this sort of customs of the transition of power is that all past presidents - or most living past presidents - or the one that was just defeated all come to the inauguration and sit behind the sitting president. And I'm so curious to see how Donald Trump handles that moment and if he decides to come or not.

RASCOE: Well, and I was curious whether he was going to pardon the turkey today before Thanksgiving. And he is going to do that.

KHALID: He is going to...

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: So some traditions he is holding on to.

DAVIS: Some customs and norms cannot be broken. All right, Ayesha. We're going to let you go, but thanks so much for joining us.

RASCOE: Thanks for having me. I'll - everybody have a happy Thanksgiving.

DAVIS: Oh, you, too.

KHALID: Oh, yeah. Have a happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

DAVIS: And we're going to take a quick break. And when we get back, we're going to look at the Biden coalition and how he won the White House.

And we're back. And we have Juana Summers with us now.

Hey, Juana.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Hey there.

DAVIS: So Joe Biden has now received 79.8 million votes. It's the highest amount ever for a presidential candidate. And I know both you and Asma have been looking at the people who make up that number. So I'd start with you. What about this number stands out to you?

SUMMERS: Yeah. I think the biggest thing that stands out to me is the fact that the coalition that President-elect Biden put together to win the White House was very large and very diverse. We know that there was mammoth turnout in this cycle that far exceeded 2016. And there are a lot of groups that he had to stitch together - we're talking about across ages. He improved his standing with seniors. He turned out young voters. He narrowly built on Hillary Clinton's advantage among women. He had the support of lots of nonwhite voters who supported Democrats overwhelmingly typically but also this candidate as well. So it's a really diverse group of people.

KHALID: To echo what Juana was saying, it is a really diverse coalition that Biden stitched together, but it also speaks to just the massive levels of turnout that we saw in this election cycle, which, frankly, was tied to the fact that many people saw this election as a referendum on President Trump. And so when you would talk to voters about why they were voting for Biden, you know, candidly, I didn't hear loads of sort of, like, affirmation and excitement for Joe Biden the candidacy. You definitely had some of that there. But for a lot of people, this was a vote against President Trump. And that is what stitched together, you know, former Republicans down to Bernie Sanders backers who definitely would have preferred a more progressive candidate. They came together largely because they wanted to see President Trump defeated.

DAVIS: If I think of the Biden coalition, the sort of core Biden voter in my mind is a Black voter and, specifically, a Black female voter. You know, they were critical to Biden winning the nomination in the primary fight. He made a really memorable point of thanking Black voters in his acceptance speech when he won. How much impact did Black voters ultimately have on his victory?

SUMMERS: He overwhelmingly won Black voters. President Trump had made a big deal of talking about how he had done more for Black people than any president since Abraham Lincoln - a claim that, we should note, has been made without evidence. But Black voters, and particularly Black women, are a loyal Democratic constituency. That is not something we saw change this year. And it's worth thinking, too, Sue, that this is also happening in the middle of a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted both Black Americans and Latino Americans. So I think that it's really notable the rates at which these voters turned out for Joe Biden if you keep that in perspective as well.

DAVIS: I'm also curious about where white voters fit into this picture because I look at states that Biden won, like my home state of Pennsylvania, where it's clear that his ability to run up the margins in the suburbs - where the Pennsylvania suburbs have a lot more white voters - how much that contributed to his victory, too.

KHALID: You know, Sue, I think that's a really interesting question. And it's something I discussed recently with Lanae Erickson. She's at Third Way, which is this, you know, fairly, I guess, left-center, centrist Democratic think tank. And she talked about the fact that, when the margins were as close as they were in so many key battleground states, you're going to have a lot of different groups, a lot of different, you know, members of this coalition, saying that without our support, Joe Biden would have lost X state or Y state.

LANAE ERICKSON: I mean, I think every time someone wins, everyone takes credit (laughter). And just based on the vote margins, you could say any group was the decisive group in the election. But because we saw such incredible turnout on both sides, the people who really determined the margins were in the suburbs.

KHALID: And that doesn't mean that that was all white, right? I mean, if you look at places around Atlanta, the suburbs are incredibly diverse - full of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans. But I think that there really was this shift that we saw beginning, frankly, in 2018, but I think it was magnified in the 2020 cycle, where you saw Democrats do much better with folks in the suburbs. It didn't always translate, it seems like, to various congressional races, but it definitely mattered significantly in the presidential race.

SUMMERS: I do think it's worth keeping in mind, too, that when Joe Biden launched his campaign a long time ago, you know, the big electoral argument - one of the big electoral arguments that he made is that he was uniquely suited to recapture some of the white working-class voters who...

DAVIS: Yeah.

SUMMERS: ...Voted for President Trump in Rust Belt states back in 2016. It does seem like Biden did over-perform Hillary Clinton's performance four years ago when it comes to white men with college degrees. It also seems like Biden did make some inroads with white college-educated men and also a little bit of an improvement among white college-educated women - all of this coming, of course, with the context that we know that President Trump's most fervent base of support is and remains white folks and particularly white men without college degrees, who he did win, but by a smaller margin than four years ago.

DAVIS: How fragile or strong do you think the Biden coalition is?

SUMMERS: Yeah. I think that one test of that coalition we're going to see is going to come in January with that pair of runoff elections for the Senate in Georgia. That is a state in which we saw young voters in particular play a decisive role. Experts tell me that they were about 20%, give or take, of the votes in that state. Groups are working overtime to make sure that they turn out again in January in a year in which President Trump's name is not on the ballot.

I was talking to Ben Wessel, who is the executive director of the left-leaning NexGen America, and he made the point to me that their messaging is that, you know, they have to make an affirmative case to young people in that state that this is not just about getting the two men, the two guys running for the Senate elected to the Senate; this is for the whole ballgame. This race is for control of the Senate. So they're hoping that they can build upon what they saw in 2018 and then again in 2020 during the presidential race - to have heightened levels of youth turnout. And they believe that could be key to sending two Democrats to the Senate and then, of course, giving Democrats the control of that chamber.

KHALID: That's a really interesting point, too, Juana, 'cause there was a Democratic analyst I spoke with who mentioned that throughout the entire general election, Donald Trump was this unifying factor for the folks who came out to support Joe Biden. And my thought was that, at least in the first few months of a Biden presidency, the pandemic will remain a fairly unifying force. And so while you might have seen, like, splintering between progressives and moderates on Capitol Hill, you know, you might not see that, she thinks, in the first few months because there will just be so much consensus around the need to pass, say, a stimulus relief bill - right? - or to make sure that the vaccine is effectively deployed to different states. And that just might be this strange kind of unifying factor for a lot of folks on the left for a little while.

DAVIS: All right. Well, I think that's a wrap for today. We'll be back tomorrow with a special episode with Ron Elving and his take on the 2020 election.

I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

KHALID: I'm Asma Khalid. I'm covering the Biden transition.

SUMMERS: I'm Juana Summers. I cover demographics and culture.

DAVIS: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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