President-elect Joe Biden has accused the Trump administration of withholding defence department information from his transition team, endangering US national security.
Mr Biden said on Monday that while some agencies had fully co-operated with the incoming administration, his team had “encountered obstruction from the political leadership” at the Pentagon as well as “roadblocks” at the Office of Management and Budget.
“We need full visibility into the budget planning under way at the defence department and other agencies in order to avoid any window of confusion or catch-up that our adversaries may try to exploit,” Mr Biden said.
“Right now, we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas. It’s nothing short of irresponsible.”
Mr Biden spoke from Wilmington, Delaware, after meeting with his cabinet appointees and transition officials who had been conducting reviews of government activities before his inauguration next month.
He said the team had discussed the strategic challenges posed by China and Russia, and the need to “innovate and reimagine our defences against growing threats in new realms like cyber space”, as demonstrated by the sprawling SolarWinds hack that came to light this month.
“This is an area where Republicans and Democrats are in agreement — and we should be able to work on a bipartisan basis to better secure the American people against malign cyber actors,” Mr Biden said.
The president-elect said the incoming administration would also need to make “critical early investments” at the state department and USAID, the US development agency, to rebuild alliances that had atrophied under Trump.
Improved alliances with allies would allow the US to better compete with China and hold Beijing accountable on trade, technology and human rights abuses, he said.
Mr Biden did not address the Covid stimulus bill, signed by Mr Trump on Sunday evening, in his prepared remarks. However, asked while he was leaving the stage if he supported increasing direct payment cheques to Americans from $600 to $2,000 — a change Mr Trump and Democrats have advocated — Mr Biden responded: “Yes.”
Mr Biden also addressed the Christmas Day bombing in Nashville, Tennessee, which Mr Trump has not mentioned in public remarks.
The president-elect said federal, state and local law enforcement were “working around the clock to gain more information on motive and intent”. He said the bombing was “a reminder of the destructive power that individuals and small groups can muster”.
He thanked the Nashville police officers, firefighters and first responders who had been quick to arrive. “Their bravery and cool-headedness likely saved lives and prevented a worse outcome — and we are all grateful for that,” Mr Biden said.