With Joe Biden winning the presidential election, what kind of power does he have until Jan 20? What can he effectively do?

In this question "Has Joe Biden made any promises to revert Trump's US pullouts out of global alliances?", he said, for instance, he will recommit to the Paris Climate Agreement. Can he do that (initiate the process) before Jan 20?

Note that this question "What powers does a US president have between the end of an election and the inauguration of the next president?" is quite the opposite of this one.

  • I think the downvotes are a bit unnecessary -- this is a perfectly OK question, even if it is based on ignorance.
    – yeah22
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 5:25
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    Ignorance is totally assumed, but isn't that the basis of each question on this site?
    – Déjà vu
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 6:46
  • I think questions that can be answered by a 30 second google search are also discouraged. There does seem to be a large variance on how strict this is imposed among different SE sites though.
    – quarague
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 10:42
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    @quarague What search do you suggest, and, honestly, does it take 30" to find a nuanced answer like the ones given below, among the whole US elections literature? Here I get a couple lines complete answer for a very specific question, plus relevant comments from people used to the matter. Precious.
    – Déjà vu
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 11:15
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    I mean, questions like these often end up on Google Search, considering StackExchange is a very popular website. This gives people the opportunity to write a good answer. In addition, if a user's questions get downvoted too much, they are automatically banned from posting questions on the site for a few months; I think that's very harsh, considering questions are often downvoted just for being unclear or confusing, which is another reason why I upvote.
    – yeah22
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 20:16

2 Answers 2


The president-elect has no formal power or position in the government until he is inaugurated in January. However, the president-elect has influence. He can signal his plans and intentions, either publicly to the population or through informal, semi-private conversations with other leaders. Biden in particular has an extensive list of contacts in the US government and the world at large, and once he begins getting access to government intelligence and information (which should happen sometime in the next few weeks) he will almost certainly begin laying the groundwork for actions he will take after he is sworn in.

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    I am not sure that is actually true and from what I remember Trump was criticized for that after the 2016 election because it interfered with the policy decisions of the current president.
    – Joe W
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 15:44
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    @JoeW: As I remember, Trump was criticized because he didn't limit himself to signaling intention and laying groundwork. He actually did try to butt in and interfere during Obama's lame duck. In case you missed it over the last four years, Trump is not particularly restrained or nuanced. But honestly, we can't stop the president-elect from talking, and there's no doubt that someone with that much oncoming power has influence. For better or worse, that's the way things are. Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 15:49
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    I understand that Trump is not normal but that doesn't change my understanding
    – Joe W
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 15:54
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    @JoeW: Meh, I'm not sure we're actually disagreeing, even though it sounds like we are. What it comes down to is this: we agree that only the president can bake a cake; we disagree about how much the president-elect can mix the batter, waiting for his turn in the kitchen. Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 16:11
  • "once he begins getting access to government intelligence and information (which should happen sometime in the next few weeks)": that's a powerful access.
    – Déjà vu
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 16:21

Donald Trump is President until 12:00 EST on January 20. Joe Biden is not, and has no power to do anything before then.

All he can do before then, apart from assembling his team, is signal his intention to do certain things. But until he is sworn in on January 20, he cannot actually do the said things.

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    "has no power to do anything before then": he has not only power but statutory obligation to undertake transition planning.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 16:08

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