WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans and former national security officials on Thursday increased the pressure on the General Services Administration to grant President-elect Biden access to presidential-level intelligence briefings, a key step in transitioning to the White House.
The congressional Republicans stopped short of acknowledging that President Donald Trump has been defeated, but acknowledged a need for Biden to begin to get critical information about the nation’s security.
Over 150 former national security officials in a letter on Thursday urged the GSA to recognize Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the winners of the election, giving them access to the President’s Daily Briefing and to begin to obtain the security clearances necessary for members of the transition team.
“In this moment of uncertainty, we must put politics aside,” the letter, obtained by NBC News, reads.
“Further delaying the Biden team’s ability to access the President’s Daily Brief and other national security information and resources compromises the continuity and readiness of our national leadership, with potentially immense consequences for our national security.”
The group, which includes several former Trump administration officials, warned of serious national security risks as a result of the delay in Biden’s transition. Other signatories include retired lawmakers and national security officials who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents.
Senate Republicans have also voiced support for Biden to receive the briefings, a rare break from the president and a sign that the party could be inching closer to publicly accepting the Democrat’s victory even as Trump refuses to concede. NBC News and other media outlets projected Biden as the winner on Saturday after he secured the needed 270 Electoral College votes.
“This needs to occur so that regardless of the outcome of the election, whichever way that it goes, people can be ready for that actual task,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said of the intelligence briefings in an interview on KRMG radio in Tulsa on Wednesday. “If that’s not occurring by Friday, I will step in.”
Lankford told reporters at that Capitol that Biden was receiving a briefing beginning during the summer — a process that exists because it is unknown who will be the next president.
“That’s now stopped for Joe Biden, I think we should continue that because we still don’t know who the President is going to be at this point,” Lankford said.
Some Republicans framed it as an issue of precedent, pointing to the 2000 election when both George H. W. Bush and Al Gore received the daily intelligence briefing while the election results were being settled. Many also raised national security concerns, pointing to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that followed shortly after the election.
“Our adversaries aren’t going to wait for you to catch up to take action,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., head of the Intelligence Committee. “Giving them access to additional information doesn’t prejudice the president’s electoral claims.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the most senior Senate Republican, also said Biden should be received intelligence briefings.
Grassley also said it was premature to congratulate Biden and that Trump had a right to pursue legal challenges.
“I would think — especially on classified briefings — the answer is yes,” Grassley said Thursday. “We ought to do exactly what we did for Gore in 2000.”
Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump’s most vocal supporters on Capitol Hill, said Biden should receive the presidential-level security briefings, telling reporters on Thursday, “I think so” when pressed on the issue.
The GSA has the power to initiate the transition process by formally recognizing the incoming Biden administration, granting federal funds, making federal office space available and allowing Biden’s staff to begin to work with different federal agencies. But GSA chief Emily Murphy, a Trump appointee, has yet to certify that Biden is the president-elect, holding up the transition process.
Trump could also grant Biden access to the intelligence briefings, but that appears unlikely given his unwillingness to concede.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence told NBC News earlier this week that it would not interact with the Biden transition team until the GSA decides it’s clear who won the election.