Ron Klain, designated chief of staff to President-elect Joe Biden, welcomed President Trump’s statement Sunday morning appearing to acknowledge Biden’s victory in the presidential election — only to have Trump, an hour and a half later, deny he had done any such thing.
Klain was appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, along with Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, who was also caught unaware by Trump’s head-spinning sequence of tweets.
At 7:47 a.m., Trump, quoting a tweet that raised questions about Biden’s victory by Fox News commentator Jesse Watters, wrote “He won because the Election was Rigged,” followed by a string of complaints about how votes were counted, all of which have been raised by his lawyers in challenges to the results, none with any evidence. Twitter flagged the tweet with the note that “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”
But the two words Trump had never previously spoken, or written — “He won” — went viral within minutes and caught the attention of, among others, NBC anchor Chuck Todd, who observed:
“[I]t's the first time he said he won. And our own reporting, Mr. Klain, we've asked an official and said, “Is this ... the closest we're going to get to President Trump admitting that Joe Biden won?” And we were told yes, and that this is the beginning of a concession process. Do you accept that as sort of step one here?”
“I accept it as a further confirmation of the reality that Joe Biden won the election and not through any of the rest of that tweet — not through fraud or anything else the president is baselessly alleging. He won because he got more votes … and he won the same number of electoral votes that President Trump himself called a landslide four years ago. But look, if the president's prepared to begin to recognize that reality, that's positive. Donald Trump's Twitter feed doesn't make Joe Biden president or not president. The American people did that.”
In the same broadcast, Hutchinson also took note of Trump’s apparent concession:
“I expect Joe Biden to be the next president of the United States. It was good, actually, to see President Trump ... tweet out that [Biden] won. I think that's a start of an acknowledgement.”
At 9:19 a.m., before heading off for another day of golf, Trump, presumably having realized the implications of his earlier tweet, took it all back, tweeting:
He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!
Although nothing Trump says or does seems likely to change the outcome of the election, Klain made the point that by refusing to concede and begin the normal process of presidential transition, Trump is hampering the next administration’s ability to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, among other urgent issues. Asked whether Biden has spoken since the election with Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the key figures on the Coronavirus Task Force, he replied:
“Unfortunately, Chuck, we can’t. We can't until we get that [General Services Administration] ascertainment that authorizes us to contact government officials. And so we can't have any of those kinds of contacts. … Joe Biden's going to become president of the United States in the midst of an ongoing crisis. That has to be a seamless transition. We now have the possibility — we need to see if it gets approved — of a vaccine starting perhaps in December, January. There are people at HHS making plans to implement that vaccine. Our experts need to talk to those people as soon as possible so nothing drops in this change of power we're going to have on January 20th.”
Trump’s last tweet of the morning was touting the appearance on Fox News of the designated head of his legal team that is challenging the election results, Rudy Giuliani.
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