One would assume that president-elect Joe Biden would have a smooth transition of power, considering how smoothly the rest of the election has gone, right? Just kidding. In case things weren't doom-filled enough, enter Emily Murphy, the administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA), who is providing the incoming Biden administration with yet another hurdle. Murphy is, in part, responsible for the Trump to Biden administrative transition, but since the election results were called on November 7, she has apparently refused to issue a letter of “ascertainment.” By doing this, Murphy is actively preventing Biden and his team to move into government offices, approve security clearance to new cabinet nominees, and allow the incoming president to be briefed on matters of national security.
Murphy's signature also pushes through 4,000 or so other political appointments, and given that many of those are in health and national security positions, her refusal to sign has stopped Biden's team from addressing the national health crisis, despite, you know, a quarter-million Americans already dying of COVID-19 and cases surging across the country. And that might explain why her name is suddenly the topic of controversy.
So who exactly is this person that has the internet seething? Emily Murphy was appointed to the lesser-known political office by Trump in 2017. Part of her job as director of this executive branch agency is to establish the “apparent successful candidate” in the general election and initiate transition procedures. Neither the Presidential Transition Act nor federal regulations offer specific language on how this determination is made — and therein lies Murphy’s small window of opportunity to be withholding.
But the GSA as a whole has not explained the decision to refuse to recognize Biden, despite the fact that it is supposed to be an apolitical decision, simply facilitating the will of voters across the country. Murphy, too, has yet to comment publicly about her failure to acknowledge Biden’s win in the presidential election. Transition officials for Biden have called on the Trump administration appointee to end what they are calling an unwarranted obstruction, but Murphy still won’t budge, reports The New York Times.
Although both the GSA and the White House have not said whether conversations on the matter have occurred between officials, it is clear that the decision is not being treated as non-partisan. At the time of her appointment, Murphy said: “I am not here to garner headlines or make a name for myself. My goal is to do my part in making the federal government more efficient, effective, and responsive to the American people.” (We think 2017 Murphy needs to have a talk with 2020 Murphy because the people have spoken and she is actively ignoring them and derailing the democratic process.)
It should also be noted that Murphy’s actions are completely unprecedented: Past GSA administrators have typically issued a letter of ascertainment within hours of the election being called so that the incoming administration can get to work setting up a new government. Even with legal challenges and recounts, every other presidential race for the past 60 years has formally determined the winner within 24 hours. It’s already been almost two weeks.
Murphy's political associations — and the apparent galvanization of the Republican party at the hands of the outgoing president — have been noted as playing a role in this. As a lawyer, Murphy has spent the last 20 years specializing in government procurement, holding positions as a Republican congressional staffer and working her way up in the GSA and Small Business Administration, reports The Los Angeles Times. She briefly worked in the private sector while volunteering for Trump’s own transition team in 2016 before her appointment to director in 2017, and is now known as being in Trump's pocket.
Whether or not Trump decides to concede, Murphy's responsibility is to the American people — as she said in her own words — and not to the person that appointed her and is trying to derail democracy as we know it. Full stop.