WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans and former national security officials Thursday increased the pressure on the General Services Administration to grant President-elect Joe Biden access to presidential-level intelligence briefings, a key step in the transition to the White House.
The congressional Republicans stopped short of acknowledging that President Donald Trump had been defeated, but they acknowledged a need for Biden to begin to get critical information about the country's security.
Over 150 former national security officials urged the GSA in a letter Thursday to recognize Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the winners of the election, giving them access to the President's Daily Brief and allowing them to begin to obtain the security clearances necessary for members of the transition team.
"In this moment of uncertainty, we must put politics aside," reads the letter, which was obtained by NBC News.
"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," it says.
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 in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Senate Republicans have also voiced support for Biden to receive the briefings, a rare break from Trump and a sign that the party could be inching closer to publicly accepting Biden's victory even as Trump refuses to concede. NBC News and other media organizations projected Biden as the winner 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., a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said Wednesday in an interview on KRMG radio of Tulsa. "If that's not occurring by Friday, I will step in."
Lankford told reporters at the Capitol that Biden began receiving a briefing 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 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 terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, less than a year after the election.
"Our adversaries aren't going to wait for you to catch up to take action," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., acting chair of the Intelligence Committee. "Giving them access to additional information doesn't prejudice the president's electoral claims."
Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the most senior Senate Republican, also said Biden should be getting intelligence briefings, even as he said that 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 Thursday "I think so" when pressed about 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 Administrator 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 this week that it wouldn't interact with the Biden transition team until the GSA decides it's clear who won the election.
CORRECTION (Nov. 12, 2020, 7:35 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misidentified the Republican candidate in the 2000 presidential election. He was George W. Bush, not George H.W. Bush.