Well, it’s over. Donald Trump has finally said that, if the Electoral College votes Joseph Biden to the presidency, he will leave the White House. The transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden has officially begun.
And yet, despite that, Joe Biden won’t be inaugurated until January 20, nearly two months away.
That means, for the next two months, the executive branch of the United States government finds itself in an awkward position. Donald Trump, while still technically leader, is a “lame duck” president, and thus won’t be enacting any new policies. Joe Biden, as President-Elect, will be the person everyone will be looking to for change; and yet, he is not the President, and thus unable to do anything.
Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be that big of a problem, but during a national emergency (a global pandemic, for example), it is crucial that the President is able to enact changes as soon as possible. These next two months will be wasted; Trump doesn’t have a mandate to enact real change, and Biden doesn’t have the authority. That means as the pandemic worsens in the winter months, the executive branch of the US government is forced to sit on its hands. We lose an opportunity to enact new policies and safety measures at the time they are most necessary.
There are a number of reasons we wait so long for the official transition of power. The first is that, as of this moment, Joseph Biden has not technically been voted in as President of the United States. That process is done by the Electoral College, which doesn’t officially vote him in until mid-December. Nonetheless, that’s still a month gap between the vote and the inauguration.
When the Constitution was created, the long waiting period was put in place because of communication difficulties; when traveling by horseback, it took a long time for voting results to be accurately conveyed across the country, and longer still for President-Elects to begin forming their cabinets. However, as transportation and communication technology improved, Congress passed the 20th Amendment, which moved Inauguration Day from its original date (March 4) to January 20.
The long waiting period does still serve a purpose. It allows for enough time to recount votes, which, as we have seen in this election and in 2000, can be a long process. It allows the President-Elect time to form their Cabinet, and it also allows the current administration time to transition to their successor, making for a smoother transition of power. Yet, if we were to move the Inauguration Day to an earlier date, these processes could be amended to be made easier. Elections are usually decided by December. Both the transition plan, and choosing Cabinet members, could be done while the election is still going on, and formally enacted once the vote is finalized.
The United States is currently in the midst of one of its greatest challenges to date, and it needs an executive who is able to take decisive action. Instead, we find ourselves caught between a lame-duck and a Presidential-Elect, unable to enact any real change.
The days when we had to rely on horses to relay election results are far over. In the modern world, a more speedy transfer of power is absolutely necessary to be able to respond to a rapidly changing world. The United States needs to take a serious look at the gap between the election and Inauguration Day, spend a little less time waiting and a little more time acting.