WASHINGTON — An increasing number of Senate Republicans said Thursday that President-elect Joe Biden should be granted access to classified briefings during the presidential transition, an acknowledgment of the election results despite President Donald Trump’s insistence that he will win.
Republicans have sought to delegitimize Biden’s victory, amplifying Trump’s baseless claims about widespread election fraud and endorsing the president’s legal challenges as he refuses to concede. Only four of the 53 Senate Republicans have congratulated Biden.
But several Republicans said Thursday that Biden should be afforded some of the privileges of an incoming president while still declining to say he won.
“Well, I think that it probably makes sense to prepare for all contingencies,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, told CNN when asked if Biden should get briefings. “And as these election challenges play out in court, I don’t have a problem with, and I think it’s important from a national security standpoint, continuity. And you’ve seen other members suggesting that. I think that makes sense.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was specifically pressed about whether the briefing material should be the same provided to Trump in his presidential daily brief.
“Whether he actually gets the product itself I think the information needs to be communicated in some way. I’m on the intelligence committee, we don’t get the PBR but we get products, intelligence products. I think he should get the information,” Cornyn said.
He added: “I just think it’s part of the transition. And uh, if in fact he does win in the end, I think they need to be able to hit the ground running.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the most senior member of the GOP, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said Biden should receive classified briefings.
Republicans are focused on winning two January runoff elections in Georgia and holding their Senate majority as a counter to Democrats controlling the White House and the House. They have been reluctant to take any steps that would anger Trump or depress GOP turnout ahead of those contests.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the four Republicans to congratulate Biden, said, “President-elect Biden should be receiving intelligence briefings right now. That is really important. It’s probably the most important part of the transition.”
She added that he should have access to office space, federal employees and the standard assistance given “that the apparent winner receives, and that doesn’t in any way preclude President Trump from pursuing his legal remedies if he believes there are irregularities but it should not delay the transition, because we want the president elect — assuming he prevails — to be ready on day one. And that’s why the intelligence briefings are critical.”
In the days since the race was called for Biden, Government Services Administration head Emily Murphy has refused to declare the winner of the presidential election, holding up access to computer systems and money for salaries and administrative support for the mammoth undertaking of setting up a new government.
Trump also is not allowing Biden to receive the classified Presidential Daily Brief that is typically offered to presidents-elect so they are up to speed on major threats and ongoing operations.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who sits on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the chamber’s main oversight committee, said Wednesday that he is prepared to intervene if the process to grant Biden access has not begun by a Friday deadline.
On Thursday, Lankford told reporters that both Trump and Biden should continue to be provided with the intelligence to which they had access during the campaign, “for the sake of national security.”
“Both sides had access to the intel information through the whole campaign; that’s normal,” Lankford said. He added: “We’re still in the same spot we were in during the campaign — both sides need to have access to the information, because we don’t know who the president is going to be.”
Biden said this week that access to classified information would be “nice to have, but it’s not critical.”
“Access to classified information is useful, but I won’t make any decisions on those issues anyway. As I said, there’s one president at a time,” he said in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., referred to those comments by Biden when asked Thursday whether he believes the president-elect should be granted access.
“I think I kind of stand with Joe Biden,” McCarthy said. “I’ll trust the intel community. He’s not president right now; don’t know if he’ll be president January 20th. But whoever is can get the information.”
Other Republicans suggested that Biden should receive the same briefings that he did as candidate.
“At this point at least I think he should absolutely be getting intelligence briefings. The briefings he’s been getting as a candidate should continue. I think he should continue to get what he’s been getting and then let’s get to with the resolutions on some of these disputes,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.
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The Washington Post’s Annie Linskey contributed to this report.