Top Senate Republicans say Biden should get presidential intel briefings

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Senate Republicans still aren’t acknowledging that Donald Trump lost the election. But they’re getting a little closer.

As Trump refuses to concede and continues to wage legal battles based on unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, Senate Republicans are increasingly deferring to the presidential transition process, arguing it should at least begin so that President-elect Joe Biden can receive high-level intelligence briefings.

“Both of them have got to be ready to serve, if selected. We don’t know who the winner is. So keep the briefings going,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said. “Ultimately, the president has to make this decision.”

Lankford, who chairs a Homeland Security subcommittee, noted that in 2000, then-President Bill Clinton allowed George W. Bush to begin receiving presidential-level intelligence briefings during the recount in Florida. Lankford added that he plans to question the government agency responsible for jump-starting the transition process if a certification is not made by Friday.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has already said that Biden should start receiving the Presidential Daily Brief, an intelligence report curated for the president and senior White House officials. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Intelligence Committee and the No. 4 Senate Republican, agreed Thursday.

“Whether [Biden] actually gets the product itself, I think the information needs to be communicated in some way,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Intelligence Committee. “I don’t see it as a high-risk proposition, and if in fact he does win in the end, I think they need to be able to hit the ground running.”

Other Republicans were less committal, only saying that they would have no issue if Biden began receiving the briefings.

“All trends look like he’s going to be the president of the United States,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said.

“I see no problem with that,” added Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa.), who has said that the results of the election will be known in December when members of the Electoral College will meet. “I think there’s a process.”

Trump has continued to rail against the election results since Biden secured enough Electoral College votes on Saturday to take the White House, and Republicans this week have mostly stood by the president.

By law, the General Services Administration has the sole authority to kick-start a presidential transition by unlocking federal funds and allowing transition officials to have access to agencies and departments. But a Trump appointee who leads the GSA, Emily Murphy, has yet to certify that Biden is the president-elect, preventing his team from speaking with the government agencies it will soon run. Without sign-off from the president, Biden also cannot receive the intelligence briefings that are usually afforded to the president-elect. The briefings hold increased importance now as the incoming president will need to be up-to-speed on multiple crises facing the nation, including skyrocketing coronavirus infections and other national-security matters.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine.), one of a handful of Republicans who has congratulated Biden on winning the White House, criticized the GSA’s handling of the transition.

“The GSA, in my view is not acting appropriately in denying the Biden team access to the office space and the traditional, materials, services, that a president-elect would receive,” Collins said, adding that the intelligence briefings should “begin immediately” for national security reasons.

While Republicans acknowledge privately that the chances of Trump overturning the election results are close to zero, no one is calling on him to concede. Instead, the GOP is laser-focused on two runoff Senate races in Georgia, where the president’s voters will be crucial and will determine which party controls the upper chamber in January.

Some Republicans maintain that it’s too early to begin the transition process, arguing that vote recounts and legal challenges are still underway.

“Hopefully we’re not very far from doing these recounts, we’ll find out what happened,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who does not think Biden should begin receiving briefings just yet. “My belief is, let’s go through the normal process and we’ll figure it out.”

Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) — the current and future chairmen, respectively, of the committee that oversees the GSA — said they have no problem with Biden receiving the high-level briefings but did not call on the GSA to make the ascertainment.

The Biden transition is still moving forward by forming “review teams” that are meeting with former federal employees, as well as think tanks, unions and trade groups to get a grasp of the agencies.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said Thursday that Biden has a “pretty good chance” of being the next president and suggested the briefings issue should be resolved sooner rather than later.

“I do think they’re going to have to work that out pretty quickly because I do think it’s going to come very shortly, that they’re going to need to have that worked out,” Rounds said.

Martin Matishak and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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