I assume Obama wouldn't be responsible for anything that happened on the 20th January but neither Trump could be as he wouldn't have the chance to practically manage to take over the important contacts. Is there some kind of temporary representative both the former and the new president agree upon to run the country while they're switching their seats?

4 Answers 4


There is a website for presidential transitions, which says:

Inauguration Day marks the official end of the current Administration. In past transitions, the President has requested all non-termed political appointees to submit in advance a letter of resignation effective upon the swearing-in of the new President. On this day, agencies will begin on-boarding new appointees and will continue to do so over the course of 2017. On-boarding includes appointee orientation activities, such as briefings and workshops, which are funded through the GSA. On January 20, 2009, the Obama Administration had seven Senate-confirmed appointees ready to begin work.

(Emphasis added.)

In the past, some appointees have been asked to stay. For example, Barack Obama kept George W. Bush's Defense Secretary for several years and asked Bush's Secretary of Homeland Security to stay until the new one was confirmed. But that was by request, not something that happens automatically. Hillary Clinton took office the day after Condoleezza Rice left. Timothy Geithner took six days. Source.

The presidential portion of the transition is explicitly defined in the twentieth amendment:

The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.

There is no actual moment where neither person is president. The actual transition is seamless.


There is no lapse in coverage for executive power. President Obama will still be POTUS right up until the moment Donald Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20.

During a presidential election, the outgoing President and the new President-Elect form a joint transition team (as Obama and Trump have done) to handle the graceful transition of power from one administration to the next.

As for the executive officers appointed by Obama, they all remain in power until the new nominees are confirmed by the Senate.

  • 1
    what about the "order" from Trump asking all ambassadors to quit by Jan. 20th ? (see US ambassador to Canada quit on jan. 20th with not replacement ?
    – Max
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 0:00
  • 4
    I doubt such an "order" would be enforceable, because right now Trump has no legal power at all. Once he is sworn in, he can issue the order again (this time as the POTUS and legally binding). Right now it is more a declaration of intentions than an actual order.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 2:08
  • Sorry, what is the official name of the team? Could you please link me anything, I can't find it.
    – Probably
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 11:08
  • @Probably; There is no official name for this team. It's not codified in law or the Constitution. It's just a practical matter that presidents do when transitioning power. Here's a Wikipedia article on Trump's transition team.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 17:34
  • 2
    "President Obama will still be POTUS right up until the moment Donald Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20." According to the 20th amendment, the presidential term ends at noon on Jan 20, and the term of the successor immediately begins, regardless of whether or when they are sworn in. If he isn't sworn in, that just means he cannot "enter on the Execution of his Office", but he will still be President after noon on Jan 20.
    – user102008
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 19:45

I agree with the answer by @Wes Sayeed.

However, I will add one important caveat. Technically, the official transfer of power happens on January 20. But as a practical matter people tend to begin cooperating with the incoming administration as soon as the election results become final.

You can see this in practice as the new cabinet members are appointed. And even the recent announcements of some notable manufacturers who have announced investment decisions to open plants or keep plants in the United States reflect this trend. In fact, on Obama's inauguration day, many of his appointments were approved by the Senate.

This trend is no accident. It is purely practical. Everyone realizes the outgoing administration will have no power after the inauguration and, therefore, those with an interest in maintaining a positive relationship with the White House tend to cede to the wishes of the incoming administration as soon as practicable.

  • 1
    Actually, I believe the process starts even before the election, with extended access being given to the Nominees and maybe even before that to the most serious candidates. I could be wrong, though. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 0:59

Who runs the USA when the presidents are switching?

Besides "There is no lapse in coverage for executive power."... bureaucrats do all the day to day running of the country no matter who the President is.

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