While our venerable Constitution describes the basic structure of our tripartite federal government and outlines the powers to be exercised by each of the three branches, the mechanisms whereby those functions are translated from word to deed reside in the real world, not on parchment. So it is with presidential transitions.
The Constitution is silent on how the change from an incumbent president to a successor is to occur. A presidential term lasts four years and ends precisely at noon on January 20 of the year following the November election. That is where the certainty ends. How those nearly three transitional months play out often have been rocky rather than smooth, and occasionally downright hostile. The current stand-off between President Trump and apparent President-elect Biden promises to be no exception
That neither Trump nor Biden likes the other is no secret, and in this they are in good historic company. America’s second president, John Adams, disliked his successor, Thomas Jefferson, to such a degree he left Washington before the latter’s swearing in and never looked back (Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams, repeated the snub by refusing to attend his successor’s inauguration in 1829). History records that the 31st president, Herbert Hoover, and the man who trounced him in the 1932 election, Franklin Roosevelt, were on such poor terms by the time of the latter’s inauguration that neither spoke a word to the other on the ceremonial car ride to the U.S. Capitol.
At times, the presidential transition process has veered into the juvenile, as when Bill Clinton’s White House staff removed the “w” from typewriters and keyboards on their way out the door, prior to George W. Bush taking his oath of office after the infamous November 2000 “hanging chad” election. (As always, the taxpayers pick up the tab for such antics; estimates are that replacing all those busted “w’s” cost between $12,000 and $14,000.)
Fortunately, history has shown that not only does life go on, but the country survives even very unfriendly transitions. More important than what happens before January 20, however, is what happens after that date; in this case, how Biden exercises his power as “employer-in-chief.”
It is, after all, though the appointment process that the incoming president can make a profound and lasting impact on public policy. While it is the high-profile appointments – secretary of state, treasury secretary, attorney general and other cabinet-level posts – that garner public attention by the boatload, it is in appointments to jobs that do not require the “advice and consent” of the Senate where a new president can really make his mark. And it is here that Biden’s nearly five decades as a denizen of the “swamp” will pay rich dividends to him and his party.
Unlike Trump, who barged into office promising to “drain the swamp,” Biden will be looking to “fill the swamp;” and he will have bureaucratic allies in every department, agency and office eager to help him.
To his credit, Trump did a credible job of replacing many top-level, bureaucracy-loving officials in key departments with individuals who shared his disdain for the Nanny State. Unfortunately, Trump’s dislike for the Washington “Establishment” extended even to refusing to heed or take advantage of advice from well-intentioned and knowledgeable Republicans, who early-on offered to help him identify and fill those second- and third-tier positions that are crucial to ensuring that policy directives from the top are actually implemented where the rubber meets the road. Biden will not make such a mistake.
The former vice president loves bureaucrats and they in turn love him; his administration will be relentless in reversing Trump’s regulation-averse policies and ferreting out and removing Trump holdovers. In fact, Biden has already started.
Two months before Inauguration Day 2021, Biden and his cohorts, including snarky governors like New York’s Cuomo and California’s Newsom and the weaselly Dr. Fauci, are undercutting the good news that a COVID vaccine has been developed and should be ready for distribution before the end of next month. This disgraceful display of hatred not just for President Trump, but for the market-based process that appears to have given the citizens of America and the entire world a defense against the Coronavirus pandemic in record time, is but a hint of the price we will be paying for a resurgence of the Nanny State in a Biden administration. It truly will be a regulatory Hell.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s.