Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt urges Trump to begin handoff to Biden

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Former Governor Mike Leavitt attends a a viewing for Olene Walker, Utah's 15th Governor, at the Utah State Capitol Thursday December 3, 2015. Leavitt is urging the Trump administration to let the transition process begin.

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt is urging the Trump administration to initiate the transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden, a process stalled by the president’s refusal to admit his election loss.

“This is a very significant part of the way you preserve a democracy, to have smooth transitions,” Leavitt said during a Monday appearance on MSNBC. “It requires both sides to enter into it with the right attitude.”

On Sunday, the former Republican governor joined other members of the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition advisory board in congratulating Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their successful campaign and urging the incumbent administration to “immediately begin the post-election transition process.”

“While there will be legal disputes requiring adjudication, the outcome is sufficiently clear that the transition process must now begin,” the advisory board wrote in its message. “This was a hard-fought campaign, but history is replete with examples of presidents who emerged from such campaigns to graciously assist their successors.”

And there’s no reason that the Trump administration could not start this handoff while continuing to wage his legal challenges to vote totals in various states, Leavitt explained on MSNBC.

“It’s not a judge’s hammer coming down, saying it’s final,” he said. “It’s a procedural step, and they can and should be done simultaneously."

Leavitt, who served as Health and Human Services secretary and Environmental Protection Agency administrator under former President George W. Bush, recalled the tradeoff between his boss and President Barack Obama in 2008, saying the outgoing administration worked hard to lay an “intellectual foundation” for the next term. On the other hand, lack of access to information and intelligence could delay an incoming president in preparing to take the reins of power, Leavitt said.

Leavitt led the transition team of 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who lost the election to Obama.

Biden will have to recruit thousands of political appointees, set a policy agenda and get ready to lead millions of civilian and military employees before his inauguration on Jan. 20, according to the Center for Presidential Transition advisory board — which also includes Josh Bolten, Bush’s former White House chief of staff; Thomas McLarty, a White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration; and Penny Prtizker, the secretary of commerce in the Obama administration.

Trump has baselessly claimed that the election results are fraudulent and has refused to concede to Biden. Though he’s pledged to fight the outcome in court, the lawsuits filed by him and his supporters have so far failed to build momentum in battleground states.

Amid the president’s denial of the election results, the Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration has declined to sign a document that would affirm Biden’s victory and give the president-elect’s team access to federal funding, agency office space and equipment and government officials.

A spokesperson for the agency has said General Services Administration ascertains the “apparent successful candidate once a winner is clear based on the process laid out in the Constitution,” according to a CNN report.

Blocking this process could put Biden’s administration behind schedule in preparing to take over critical initiatives and the general workings of government. For instance, Leavitt said, the incoming president needs to be ready to assume control of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s initiative to develop and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine.

“The ability to have information to coordinate as the Biden team stands up its task force will be very important,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt served as Utah governor from 1993 to 2003, when he joined the Bush administration as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.