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Republicans escalate effort to overturn Biden election victory

Tyler Pager and Jordan Fabian
Bloomberg

Republicans escalated their efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, refusing to acknowledge Donald Trump’s defeat, as the president-elect moved more forcefully to make the transition to the White House.

The most significant move came from Attorney General William Barr, who on Monday authorized Justice Department officials to open inquiries into potential irregularities in the presidential election, though he acknowledged there’s no conclusive evidence.

Attorney General William Barr leaves the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020.

Barr received cover from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who delivered a floor speech earlier Monday saying that the president is “100% within his rights” to challenge the election results. The attorney general’s announcement came after he met with the top Senate Republican at the U.S. Capitol.

The stepped-up legal efforts to challenge vote counts in several battleground states come despite the failure of Trump and his allies to produce evidence that widespread voter fraud occurred and affected the results.

The Justice Department said neither Trump nor anyone at the White House had asked Barr to take action, but some Republican lawmakers signed a letter recently asking him to intervene.

Taken together, Democrats say the moves represent what could be an effort by the federal government to change the results of a U.S. election – something that would be unparalleled in the nation’s modern history. Trump’s refusal to concede has also bogged down the legal transition process, leaving Biden to hold public events that emphasize his presidential posture.

Trump signaled that he’s emboldened about his chances of a second term. “WE WILL WIN!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., answers questions after Senate Republicans held leadership elections, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.

Legal Deadline

Trump and his supporters have until Dec. 8 to complete any legal challenges. That’s the so-called “safe harbor” day in order for a state’s electors to be automatically accepted by Congress.

Before Barr’s intervention, the Trump team’s legal push was sputtering. Several lawsuits were thrown out in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan, Arizona and Georgia – all states where Biden has a lead. The public front-man for the effort has been Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who railed against media organizations for projecting Biden as the winner over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Biden is forging ahead with forming his government in waiting. He is expected to name a chief of staff as early as this week and plans to make additional policy announcements. 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.

Late Monday, Biden’s transition team insisted that the Trump administration declare 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.”

No Substantial Evidence

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, in Washington.

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.

His Campaign’s Job

Senior Republican lawmakers said they were willing to let Trump make his challenges. But they mostly haven’t repeated the president’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud and indicated there may be a limit to how long the challenges could play out.

Asked whether he saw evidence of improper voting or tabulations, Texas GOP Senator John Cornyn said that’s the responsibility of the Trump campaign.

“In the end, they’re going to have to come up with some facts and evidence,” Cornyn said. “But that’s not my job, that’s his campaign’s job.”

Acknowledging Biden Win

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 from Pfizer 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.”

Senate Majority

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 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.