WASHINGTON (AP) — After weeks of fraught delay, the federal government recognized President-elect Joe Biden as the "apparent winner" of the Nov. 3 election on Monday and gave the green light for cooperation on a transition of power. The move came after President Donald Trump suffered yet more legal and procedural defeats in his seemingly futile effort to overturn the election with baseless claims of fraud.
General Services Administrator Emily Murphy cleared the way for Biden to coordinate with federal agencies ahead of his Jan. 20 inauguration after Trump's efforts to subvert the vote failed across multiple battleground states.
Trump, who has still refused to concede the election — and may never — followed up with a tweet that he was directing his team to cooperate on the transition. The president had grown increasingly frustrated with the flailing tactics of his legal team.
Murphy, explaining her decision, cited "recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results."
She acted after Michigan on Monday certified Biden's victory in the battleground state, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state.
It also comes as an increasing number of Republicans were publicly acknowledging Biden's victory, after weeks of tolerating Trump's baseless claims of fraud.
"With Michigan's certifying (its) results, Joe Biden has over 270 electoral college votes," tweeted Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy. "President Trump's legal team has not presented evidence of the massive fraud which would have had to be present to overturn the election. I voted for President Trump but Joe Biden won."
Yohannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden transition, said in a statement that the decision "is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track."
He added: "In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration's efforts to hollow out government agencies."
Murphy, a Trump appointee, has faced bipartisan criticism for failing to begin the transition process sooner, preventing Biden's team from working with career agency officials on plans for his administration.
The delay denied Biden access to receive highly classified national security briefings and hindered his team's ability to begin drawing up its own plans to respond to the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Murphy insisted she acted on her own.
"Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official—including those who work at the White House or GSA—with regard to the substance or timing of my decision," she wrote in a letter to Biden.
Trump tweeted moments after Murphy's decision: "We will keep up the good fight and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same."
Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, criticized the delay, but said Biden's team would be able to overcome it.
"Unfortunately, every day lost to the delayed ascertainment was a missed opportunity for the outgoing administration to help President-elect Joe Biden prepare to meet our country's greatest challenges," he said. "The good news is that the president-elect and his team are the most prepared and best equipped of any incoming administration in recent memory."
Murphy's action came just 90 minutes after Michigan election officials on Monday certified Democrat Joe Biden's 154,000-vote victory in the state. The Board of State Canvassers, which has two Republicans and two Democrats, confirmed the results on a 3-0 vote with one GOP abstention. Trump and his allies had hoped to block the vote to allow time for an audit of ballots in Wayne County, where Trump has claimed without evidence that he was the victim of fraud. Biden crushed the president by more than 330,000 votes there.
Under Michigan law, Biden claims all 16 electoral votes. Biden won by 2.8 percentage points — a larger margin than in other states where Trump is contesting the results like Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Some Trump allies had expressed hope that state lawmakers could intervene in selecting Republican electors in states that do not certify. That longshot bid is no longer possible in Michigan.
"The people of Michigan have spoken. President-elect Biden won the State of Michigan by more than 154,000 votes, and he will be our next president on January 20th," Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said in a statement, saying it's "time to put this election behind us."
The Trump legal team dismissed the certification as "simply a procedural step" and insisted it would continue to mount legal challenges.
Trump's efforts to stave off the inevitable — formal recognition of his defeat — have faced increasingly stiff resistance from the courts and fellow Republicans with just three weeks to go until the Electoral College meets to certify Biden's victory. Time and again, Trump's challenges and baseless allegations of widespread conspiracy and fraud have been met with rejection as states move forward with confirming their results.
In Pennsylvania, a conservative Republican judge shot down the Trump campaign's biggest legal effort in Pennsylvania with a scathing ruling that questioned why he was supposed to disenfranchise 7 million voters with no evidence to back their claims and an inept legal argument at best.
But the lawyers still hope to block the state's certification, quickly appealing to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which ordered lawyers to file a brief Monday but did not agree to hear oral arguments.
The campaign, in its filings, asked for urgent consideration so they could challenge the state election results before they are certified next month. If not, they will seek to decertify them, the filings said.
Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes.
Pennsylvania county election boards were voting on Monday, the state deadline, about whether to certify election results to the Department of State. The boards in two populous counties split along party lines, with majority Democrats in both places voting to certify. After all counties have sent certified results to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, she must then tabulate, compute and canvass votes for all races. The law requires her to perform that task quickly but does not set a specific deadline.
In Wisconsin, a recount in the state's two largest liberal counties moved into its fourth day at a slow pace, with election officials in Milwaukee County complaining that Trump observers were hanging up the process with frequent challenges. Trump's hope of reversing Biden's victory there depends on disqualifying thousands of absentee ballots -- including the in-person absentee ballot cast by one of Trump's own campaign attorneys in Dane County.