President-elect Joe Biden in a virtual meeting with his national...

President-elect Joe Biden in a virtual meeting with his national security team Monday in Wilmington, Del. Credit: AP / Andrew Harnik

Dangerous games

It will be Joe Biden's job as of Jan. 20 to keep the nation safe and secure, but the president-elect on Monday accused President Donald Trump's appointees at the Pentagon of deliberately getting in the way.

Biden said his team has faced "obstruction" from the "political leadership" at the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget as they’ve sought to gather information "to make sure that nothing is lost in the handoff between administrations." The recently revealed mass cyberattack underscores concerns, Biden said in Delaware after a virtual briefing with members of his national security team. At stake, he said, is avoiding "any window of confusion or catch-up that our adversaries may try to exploit."

Instead, "right now we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas," Biden said. "It’s nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility." (See a video clip.)

Biden on Monday made a point of limiting his complaints to the Pentagon — where Trump installed more loyalists in key positions after the election — and to a lesser extent to OMB.

"For some agencies, our teams received exemplary cooperation from the career staff in those agencies," Biden said. Tensions between the Pentagon and the Biden transition team have escalated in recent weeks over stalled transition briefings. Politico reports that some administration officials, wary of repercussions from the president, don't want to seem too eager to assist with the transfer of power and have at times received contradictory messages from the White House about preparing for the end stages of the current administration.

Biden further bemoaned the state of the nation's national security and foreign policy agencies after four years under Trump, warning that they have incurred "enormous damage" and been "hollowed out in personnel, capacity and in morale."

A senior Trump administration official, speaking to Reuters, dismissed Biden's concerns and mocked them by saying the Trump team won’t "waste staff time giving them insights on how to stop protecting the border wall."

Janison: Art of the 'D'OH!'

Trump's fold this week after his dayslong holdout on signing the COVID-19 relief bill likely will be the final entry on his play-to-lose Capitol Hill scorecard, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Two years ago this week, in December 2018, Trump began a spiteful disruption that would end weeks later with his undeclared surrender. He forced a partial shutdown of federal agencies that lasted more than a month — the result of his failed standoff with Congress over funding for his border wall project.

Sabotaging funding agreements became his go-to method of posturing and creating tensions. Once again with the coronavirus aid bill, he attacked its provisions but failed as usual to negotiate any improvements.

Trump's threats inevitably end up at empty. He moved to hold up U.S. military aid to Ukraine that was authorized by both major parties, then relented. He threatened California with a cutoff of firefighting aid, which didn't happen. He hinted he'd withhold coronavirus help for blue states such as New York whose governors didn't "treat us well." He nattered about stopping law-enforcement aid to "sanctuary cities."

Trump's only gain from the episode will be misdirection. On cue, his fans recite alibis for the legislative delay, projecting blame onto Democrats, the GOP "establishment" and administration staffers.

Another adventure in futility

The Democratic-controlled House on Monday night voted 322-87 to override Trump’s veto of a defense policy bill, well above the two-thirds needed, with a majority of Republicans joining the rebuke to the president. In Long Island's GOP delegation, retiring Rep. Peter King of Seaford supported the override, while Rep. Lee Zeldin of Shirley stuck by Trump, an about-face from his original support of the defense bill when it passed in the House on Dec. 8.

The Republican-controlled Senate, which approved the defense bill 84-13 earlier this month, is expected to join in later this week to hand Trump the first veto override of his presidency. The legislation affirms 3% pay raises for U.S. troops and authorizes more than $740 billion in military programs and construction.

Among the reasons Trump rejected the defense bill last week was that it didn't include an unrelated provision he had demanded: a crackdown on social media companies he claims were biased against him. Trump also opposes language in the bill that allows for the renaming of military bases that honor Confederate leaders, and he claimed without evidence that the measure would help China.

House Democrats also happily approved legislation to increase COVID-19 stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000, meeting Trump's 13th-hour demand. Dozens of Republicans, including King and Zeldin, joined them. But the fate of the increase is uncertain in the Senate, where Republicans for months have strongly resisted a higher amount and it isn't clear the $2,000 provision will even reach the floor. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he will filibuster any attempt to vote to override the defense bill veto unless Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allows a vote in the chamber on the $2,000 payments.

Trump doesn't mind putting McConnell in an uncomfortable spot since the GOP leader accepted Biden as president-elect.

Dead-enders keep plotting

After more than a month of lawsuits seeking to overturn the election going nowhere, a group of Trump die-hards are trying a creative if far-fetched tack: Sue Vice President Mike Pence and ask a judge to grant him the power to decide the election by appointing pro-Trump electors in place of Biden's when Congress formally meets to certify the Electoral College results on Jan. 6.

The Electoral Count Act of 1887 requires the vice president, in his role as president of the Senate, to affirm the winner of the elections, in a largely ceremonial capacity. The suit by Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) and Republican Party officials from Arizona wants a federal judge in Texas to declare that law unconstitutional and decide that the vice president has the "exclusive authority and sole discretion" to decide which electoral votes from a given state should be counted.

Pence finds himself under increasing pressure from Trump supporters — and the president himself — to use his statutory role to subvert normal election protocols. Election law experts said there's a strong possibility that U.S. District Judge Jeremy Kernodle, a Trump appointee, would find that Gohmert and the other litigants lacked a legal right to sue.

University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck tweeted sarcastically: "If the Twelfth Amendment somehow gave the Vice President the power to unilaterally throw out electoral votes for the other guy in favor of their own party (and even *themselves*), one might think that one of them would've noticed by now. But I guess they were all just idiots …"

Excising presidential excess

With Trump on his way out and Biden coming in, House Democrats are hoping to interest Republicans in a bill that will constrain the kind of behavior the 45th president brought to the White House, reports Roll Call.

Trump stood apart in refusing to release his tax returns and the degrees to which he tried to interfere in Justice Department investigations, gave pardons to political allies and stymied congressional oversight requests.

"I’m hopeful that GOP interest will increase once we have a new administration," said the main sponsor, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

"Trump’s presidency demonstrates how much our system has truly depended on goodwill and respect for the rule of law. If those things are gone, we have a very fragile governmental structure," said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Trump's job approval has dipped to 39% in the latest Gallup Poll, down 7 points since the election that he keeps trying to overturn. Biden's transition moves have won approval from 65% of Americans, including 96% of Democrats, 67% of independents and 23% of Republicans.
  • Biden is looking to bring the heat on policies to combat climate change quickly after he takes office, with his team now sketching out executive orders aimed at mobilizing the federal government behind the effort, The Washington Post reports.
  • The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center physician who criticized Trump's decision to be driven in a motorcade to greet supporters outside the facility, where the president was being treated for COVID-19 in early October, has worked his last shift at the hospital. "I stand by my words, and I regret nothing," Dr. James Phillips wrote on Twitter after he was dropped from the schedule.
  • During his remarks in Delaware, Biden on Monday hailed the six Nashville police officers whose "bravery and coolheadedness" saved lives by evacuating a downtown street before a bomb-laden recreational vehicle exploded on Christmas morning. Trump hasn't spoken or tweeted about the Tennessee incident, and Nashville Mayor John Cooper said he has not heard from the president.
  • If you can't wait until 2020 ends to start thinking about the 2024 presidential race and want to know how handicappers rate Trump, Pence, Tucker Carlson and the MyPillow guy, Politico has a story for you.