by Jonathan Mattise —
NASHVILLE — Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee on Friday said his administration has begun working with Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, making his first public acknowledgement that Biden will be the next president.
Lee told reporters he spoke with members of the team the previous day about Tennessee’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor was among many Republicans nationwide who refused to acknowledge Biden’s win as President Donald Trump continuously repeated unfounded claims of election fraud.
Those claims sparked a violent siege of the Capitol by Trump supporters Wednesday that left five people dead and delayed for hours congressional action to validate Biden’s win in November. Speaking two days after the attack, Lee said his goal now is to be “thoughtful and principled and wise in the days ahead as we work with this new administration, because that’s what our country needs the most.”
Lee declined to call out Trump publicly by name for urging his supporters to go to Capitol Hill prior to the siege. The state’s Republican U.S. senators, Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, likewise didn’t mention Trump in a joint statement Thursday.
Lee, Blackburn and Hagerty have been strong supporters of the president in a state that voted for him twice by big margins. All three have echoed widespread condemnation of the deadly riots.
Blackburn and Hagerty had sided with Trump in saying they would vote against the certification of Biden’s win, claiming the results were “tainted.” After seeing chaos unfold around them in the Capitol, they were among a group of Republicans who flipped and voted to certify — though neither one explained why at the time.
In their Thursday statement, which lacked the previous rhetoric casting doubt on the election results, they said the attacks “threaten to unwind the fabric of this country” and added that Americans “must unite in our commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law.”
“Last night we reconvened with our Senate colleagues to fulfill our constitutional duty to certify the 2020 election results and prepare for a peaceful transition of power,” Blackburn and Hagerty said in the statement. “On January 20th, we will prove to the world that America is still the shining city on the hill.”