All transition meetings between President-elect Joe Biden's team and the Trump team — scheduled at the Pentagon on Friday — were postponed, Pentagon officials said.
It was termed "a surprising step," by The Washington Post, and one that indicates the late start to the presidential transition — or something — has put pressure on the people involved.
Acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller made the decision after senior legal officials at the Pentagon raised concerns that they cannot keep up with the volume of meetings lately, said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Miller, himself, in a statement released Friday, denied that the Defense Department "canceled or declined any interview" for the transition. But he also said that "meetings from today" will be rescheduled after a "mutually-agreed upon holiday pause" that begins Saturday.
Miller blamed it on the need to focus on Operation Warp Speed and the military's effort to distribute vaccines.
But clearly, transition briefers are not vaccine deliverers. In fact, the briefers are lawyers, according to the U.S. official familiar with the transition process, and so far they have met in up to 20 meetings a day, with a relatively small number of lawyers.
The Biden transition team disputed Miller's explanation and told reporters that the break in meetings was not a mutual decision. They called it instead an "abrupt halt" in information sharing from an agency crucial to national security.
Axios reported the pause as "the biggest eruption yet of animus and mistrust toward the Biden team from the top level of the Trump administration," adding that Trump officials blamed the Biden transition team for a story in The Post on Wednesday revealing how much money, $2.6 billion, would be saved if Biden halted construction of Trump's border wall.
Yohannes Abraham, the executive director of the transition, said the Biden team was told Thursday that its Pentagon briefings were being put on hold.
"We have met isolated resistance in some corners, including from political appointees within the Department of Defense," Abraham said, adding that he hoped the meetings would resume "immediately."
Of course, it's not the first delay thrown at the Biden team.
The transition did not begin at all until Nov. 23, more than two weeks after Biden was declared victorious over Trump in the 2020 election. As Trump pushed out repeated and baseless lawsuits and challenges with unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud, his administration dallied, refusing to clear the way both for transition funding and meetings.
But Biden and his team aren't waiting.
Biden, his vice president-elect Kamala Harris and the rest of the team are busily sorting through 130 packets of detailed background memos on 45,000 potential administration hires. Some 2,500 people have already been vetted, according to another story by The Washington Post.
Biden has been conducting virtual interviews with final Cabinet candidates, "focusing on their values and life stories nearly as much as their approach to the departments they would lead," The Post wrote.
Harris has interviewed each candidate separately and traded notes with Biden afterward. People close to the transition told The Post this has been an important step in deepening their working relationship.
But in truth, Biden's transition began months, even years, before the 2020 election results were known, honed by his years in government when he first developed his style as a manager and decision-maker in chief.
The Post reports that Biden instructed transition officials months ago that he wanted a range of options for jobs available in his administration. By Election Day, the transition had built a database of 9,000 potential administration hires. It continues to grow.
"The Biden transition team is the most organized, best resourced and most effective transition team ever," David Marchick, director of the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition, told The Post.
Marchick has worked for months with Trump and Biden transition officials. He says, "Future transition teams, Republican and Democratic, will be studying their model. They're just wickedly organized."
This is wonderful to hear.
After four years of a president and administration that clearly can't organize its way out of its own way, our country needs this kind of leadership.