President-elect Joe Biden is moving more forcefully to make the transition to the White House even as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other senior Republicans give President Donald Trump cover to pursue his legal challenges to the outcome of the election.
Biden, who is likely to name his chief of staff this week, is also forging ahead on policy. After naming his transition’s coronavirus task force on Monday, Biden plans to speak Tuesday on the Affordable Care Act, the same day the Supreme Court takes up a case that could gut the Obama administration’s signature health-care law. Biden has promised to expand it in the face of the worst pandemic in a century.
Yet as Trump continued to rage on Twitter and without evidence that his victory had been stolen by fraud, McConnell said Monday that the president is “100% within his rights” to challenge the election results. And Attorney General William Barr authorized Justice Department officials to open inquiries into potential irregularities in the presidential election, though he acknowledged there’s no conclusive evidence.
The legal transition process remained bogged down as the Republican Party stood behind Trump and his insistence that the election was not over, leaving Biden with messaging to emphasize his presidential posture.
Late Monday, Biden’s transition team insisted that the Trump administration ascertain the Democrat as the winner, an act that would release millions of dollars in funding and unlock access to federal resources like secure rooms for intelligence briefings and State Department facilitation of calls with foreign leaders. Transition officials threatened legal action because the law says the resources must be released when there is “an apparent winner.”
At one of a series of news conferences staged by Trump allies since the race was called Saturday, the Republican Party on Monday said it was filing lawsuits over “irregularities” in voting but like others, did not provide any substantial evidence to back up their claims.
“If you are finding these irregularities, if you are being told to backdate ballots, that’s a problem. We’re going to pursue all of this,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said without offering evidence of her claims. “Is it going to be enough? We don’t know. Is it going to take time? Yes, it’s going to take time. But what we are seeing is deeply alarming.”
McConnell also declined to recognize Biden’s victory.
“All legal ballots must be counted, all illegal ballots should not be counted,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “The process must be transparent.”
Biden has secured 290 Electoral College votes, according to the Associated Press and networks, more than the 270 required for election. Trump has 213.
Only four Republican Senators have publicly acknowledged Biden’s victory: Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Former President George W. Bush, a Republican, spoke with Biden and has congratulated him on his election.
At the same time, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have plunged into tackling the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, they announced a 13-member advisory council that will assist them and their transition team in mapping out policies to curtail the outbreak.
After meeting with the task force, Biden took on his new role of messenger in chief, imploring Americans to wear masks and practice social distancing as he warned of a “dark winter” ahead with Covid-19 cases surging around the country.
“It doesn’t matter your party. It doesn’t matter who you voted for,” he said. “We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask.”
McConnell began staking out ground in opposition to Democrats’ hopes that a stimulus bill could be passed before the new Congress and administration is in place that would provide economic support to states, cities and Americans affected by the virus.
McConnell, citing positive results fromPfizer Inc.’s Covid vaccine trial, renewed his stance that Congress should pass a limited stimulus bill before the end of the year. Democrats are still pushing for a much larger relief bill, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Republicans “have proposed totally inadequate solutions.”
Biden may have to work with McConnell once he is sworn in in January if Democrats do not win the two Senate races in Georgia that will be decided by a Jan. 5 run-off. The two seats would essentially give Democrats the narrowest of majorities by dividing the Senate 50-50. As vice president, Harris would break any ties.
The incumbent Republicans in the race — David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — made clear they were sticking with Trump’s insistence that he won, assailing the state’s Republican elections official and demanding his resignation for failing “to deliver honest and transparent elections.” They offered no evidence for their claims and he promptly refused.
Biden spent most of Monday in private meetings with advisers as they begin to fill top staff positions. He could announce some roles, including the key role of chief of staff, as early as this week, according to people familiar with the timeline. Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff when he served as vice president, is widely expected to fill that role in the White House, and Ted Kaufman, Biden’s longtime chief of staff in the Senate, is likely to join the administration in a counselor to the president role.
Others likely to be chosen for top positions include Jake Sullivan, Mike Donilon, Bruce Reed, Steve Ricchetti, Kate Bedingfield and Symone Sanders.
The transition effort is being led by Jeff Zients and Yohannes Abraham, who both served in the Obama administration, and they could join the administration in key roles.
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