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House Democrats want GSA administrator to brief Congress on her refusal to begin transition process

The General Services Administration (GSA) building is seen, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, in Washington.
The General Services Administration (GSA) building is seen, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, in Washington.Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

House Democrats on Thursday ratcheted up pressure on the head of the General Services Administration to grant President-elect Joe Biden the money and government access set aside by law for the presidential transition process, demanding that she brief lawmakers and possibly testify in public.

In a letter to Emily W. Murphy, the administrator of the sprawling agency, the chairwomen of the House Oversight and Reform and Appropriations committees said it was past time for her to acknowledge Biden’s clear Electoral College victory and grant the letter of “ascertainment” allowing his transition team to begin the transfer of power. They argued that President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election should not relieve Murphy of the legal requirement to recognize “the apparent successful candidates.”

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“We have been extremely patient, but we can wait no longer,” wrote the chairwomen, Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney and Nita M. Lowey of New York. “As GSA administrator, it is your responsibility to follow the law and assure the safety and well-being of the United States and its people — not to submit to political pressure to violate the law and risk the consequences.”

They said they wanted to question Murphy no later than Nov. 23. The course of the briefing, they added, could determine whether Murphy and two of her deputies would be summoned to testify in person on Capitol Hill. Reps. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia and Mike Quigley of Illinois, two subcommittee chairs, also signed the letter.

Murphy has not given a reason for her decision not to recognize Biden as the president-elect, although it comes as Trump and his administration have defied historical precedent and routinely insisted that he won, citing baseless claims of widespread fraud. Murphy’s office has said that it is not up to her to choose a winner and that she is following “the process laid out in the Constitution.” Her predecessors moved much more quickly to recognize apparent winners.

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Democrats warned there would be costs to Murphy’s inaction. Although Biden’s team is moving quickly to form a government, it cannot move into offices, formally meet with officials in federal agencies or conduct certain business involving government secrets until she signs off.

“Your actions in blocking transition activities required under the law are having grave effects, including undermining the orderly transfer of power, impairing the incoming administration’s ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, hampering its ability to address our nation’s dire economic crisis, and endangering our national security,” the Democrats wrote.

The letter came after Biden himself put public pressure on the agency to authorize the transition process and allow his team to begin preparing to take over the nation’s coronavirus response effort. Some Senate Republicans have begun to suggest that Biden should be given access to certain sensitive national security and health information, and a handful have said it is time for Murphy to act.