Live politics updates: Biden, Harris to introduce more staff picks as Electoral College prepares to vote Monday

Live politics updates: Biden, Harris to introduce more staff picks as Electoral College prepares to vote Monday thumbnail

USA TODAY’s coverage of the 2020 election and President-elect Joe Biden’s transition continues this week as he rolls out more of his picks for top jobs in his administration. Meanwhile, the remaining final states certify their vote counts before the Electoral College ballots are officially cast Monday.

President Donald Trump has cleared the way for Biden’s team to use federal resources and get briefings during the transition, although Trump has yet to formally concede the race.

Be sure to refresh this page often to get the latest information on the election and the transition.

House Dem asks Pelosi to sanction, not seat GOP lawmakers backing efforts to overturn election results

A House Democrat is asking Democratic leadership to both sanction Republicans and not seat incoming conservatives who are backing efforts to overturn election results in Trump’s favor. 

The request came from Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., who has been outspoken against Republicans backing Trump’s baseless allegations of voter fraud. He authored a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren arguing the 126 House Republicans who signed on to support a lawsuit, which asks the Supreme Court to invalidate election decisions in several key states in hopes of overturning Biden’s win over Trump, were attempting to “demolish democracy” and steal the election. He cites provisions in the Constitution outlining that a person cannot serve in Congress if they have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the Constitution or the country and asks the leaders to “evaluate steps you can take” in holding Republicans accountable. 

“Stated simply, men and women who would act to tear the United States government apart cannot serve as Members of the Congress,” Pascrell Jr. writes in the letter. “These lawsuits seeking to obliterate public confidence in our democratic system by invalidating the clear results of the 2020 presidential election attack the text and spirit of the Constitution, which each Member swears to support and defend, as well as violate the Rules of our House of Representatives, which explicitly forbid Members from committing unbecoming acts that reflect poorly on our chamber.”

It’s unlikely that Pelosi and Lofgren will act against Republicans engaged in the lawsuit. Shortly after Pascrell’s request, Pelosi sent a letter to fellow House Democrats criticizing Republicans over the far-fetched effort but did not mention any efforts to reprimand the lawmakers. 

“Republicans are subverting the Constitution by their reckless and fruitless assault on our democracy which threatens to seriously erode public trust in our most sacred democratic institutions, and to set back our progress on the urgent challenges ahead,” Pelosi said in the letter. 

– Christal Hayes

‘I’m proud of my son:’ Biden brushes aside questions about Hunter Biden

WILMINGTON, Del. – President-elect Joe Biden passed up several opportunities Friday to answer questions about a Justice Department probe into Hunter Biden, telling reporters only that he is proud of his son.

Hunter Biden confirmed this week that prosecutors are investigating his tax affairs. Investigators are also looking into some of his business dealings in China, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

Biden transition officials have declined to say when the president-elect became aware of the investigation or answer other questions. Pressed on the matter during an event in Wilmington on Friday to announce new members of his administration, Biden responded by saying only that “I’m proud of my son,” before walking off stage.  

Biden also did not respond earlier in the day to a shouted question from reporters about when he learned of the probe.

Hunter Biden’s announcement this week has brought an issue back to the forefront that Republicans, including President Donald Trump, tried to use against the former vice president during the campaign. Trump repeatedly slammed Hunter Biden for his business dealings in the run up the election and has been raising the issue again recently, predicting Friday that the Biden administration would be a “scandal plagued mess.” 

Hunter Biden was the focus of Republican complaints during the campaign for business dealings with Ukraine and China. He hasn’t been charged, and two Republican committees found no wrongdoing by Joe Biden.

– John Fritze and Bart Jansen

Biden calls for leadership in ‘teeth’ of COVID crisis

WILMINGTON, Del. – President-elect Joe Biden led off his announcement of administration appointees Friday with warnings about “a grim milestone” in the COVID-19 crisis, with more than 3,000 deaths in one day this week, and he also sought to promote confidence in the vaccines federal regulators are considering for approval.

Biden noted that the daily death total, a pace that is projected to continue for two to three months, is more fatalities in a day than in Pearl Harbor or the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.

“This is serious business,” Biden said. “We’re in the teeth of a crisis right now.”

Biden argued that President Donald Trump should be offering more leadership now to provide a national strategy for dealing with the virus and to prepare more for distributing vaccines. A Food and Drug Administration panel has approved a vaccine candidate from Pfizer and others are expected.

“This nation needs presidential leadership right now,” Biden said. “We can wish this away, but we have to face it head on.”

Biden argued that people should have confidence in the vaccines because they were developed and overseen by scientists. 

Biden did not directly mention multiple reports that the White House leaned on FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to grant emergency authorization for the COVID vaccine by Friday. But the former vice president tried to assure Americans the vaccine was being reviewed “free from political influence.”

Biden described those working on the vaccine as “first rate scientists,” who are “taking their time.” Hahn disputed reports that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows threatened his job Friday if the vaccine wasn’t approved quickly. 

“You should have confidence in this,” Biden said.

He repeated his priorities for the first 100 days of his administration, with goals of 100 million vaccinations, having everyone wear masks and getting most schools reopened during that period if Congress provides the necessary funding for safety equipment and training. 

– Bart Jansen and John Fritze

Asian American lawmakers call it ‘unacceptable’ if Biden does not pick an Asian American Cabinet secretary

In a blistering statement issued Friday, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus called it “unacceptable” if President-elect Joe Biden does not pick an Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) secretary for his Cabinet.

AAPIs were the fastest-growing racial group and turned out for Biden, the lawmakers wrote, but “for the first time in over two decades, we are facing the possibility that there might not be a single AAPI Cabinet Secretary in a presidential administration.” To not include an AAPI as the secretary of an agency, they said, “would send the wrong message that AAPIs do not need to be included.”

Asked about the lawmakers’ advocacy during a Friday conference call with reporters, Biden transition executive director Yovannes Abraham said Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris wanted to build the “most effective and most diverse Cabinet in history” but did not commit to including an AAPI as a Cabinet secretary. Abraham pointed to Biden’s recent nominations of Neera Tanden as OMB Director and Katherine Tai as U.S. Trade Representative, but both positions are Cabinet-level officials rather than secretaries of agencies.

– Nicholas Wu

126 House Republicans sign on to support Texas election lawsuit

More GOP lawmakers on Friday were added to the lengthy list of House Republicans supporting a longshot lawsuit in Texas aiming to void election results in several key swing states.

The addition of 20 additional House Republicans supporting the lawsuit means a total of 126 members of the conference – or about 64% of the entire House Republican conference – are supporting President Donald Trump’s attempts at overturning the results of the election over baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud.

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., who is shepherding the effort, said the 20 members added Friday were initially not included on the amicus brief the previous day due to a “clerical error.” The additional members added to the brief include House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. – the highest ranking Republican in the House. Other members of House Republican leadership to sign on to the brief include Reps. Steve Scalise, who serves as whip for House Republicans, and Tom Emmer, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee. No senators have signed on to the effort.

“Because the Framers recognized elections could be corrupted or stolen, they created the Electoral College as a safeguard and empowered state legislatures to ensure the integrity of our unique election system,” the amicus brief states. “Yet before the 2020 election, rationalized in some instances by the occasion of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the constitutional authority of state legislatures was simply usurped by various governors, state courts, state election officials, and others.”

The lawsuit the group are supporting asks the Supreme Court to block Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin from casting their electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden, which is set to happen Monday. The lawsuit has become ground zero in Trump’s battle over the election results, spurring involvement from nearly every state in the country.

While a majority of House Republicans are backing the effort, plenty of lawmakers within the party have come out in opposition to the effort – some even calling it dangerous.

“This brief, however, represents a dangerous challenge to federalism and would set a precedent in which one state is attempting to infringe upon another state’s electoral process and legal systems,” said Rep. Tom Reed, R-NY. “I cannot support such an effort.”

Some Senate Republicans have similarly criticized the effort. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she was “really surprised and disappointed” to see so many House Republicans and states support the lawsuit.

It’s unclear whether the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case, though legal experts agree it’s unlikely. 

– Christal Hayes

Senate passes defense authorization bill over Trump’s objections

The Republican-controlled Senate by a lopsided 84-13 vote passed an annual defense authorization bill Friday over President Donald Trump’s objections and threats to veto the measure.

The bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, which already passed the House by a 335-78 vote on Tuesday, sets policy at the Pentagon and includes provisions like pay raises for members of the armed forces.

It awaits Trump’s signature for his final approval. The president has threatened to veto the measure over objections to language requiring the renaming of bases named for Confederate officers. Trump also demanded the defense bill include a provision ending certain legal protections for internet companies.

Top Republicans shrugged off Trump’s threats and said the bill must be passed anyway without the additions Trump wanted.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Tuesday he was “disappointed” by Trump’s continued opposition to the bill and would vote to override a presidential veto. Veto overrides require a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, though Congress rarely votes to override the president. Trump has vetoed eight bills over his presidency, but Congress has not voted to override any of them.

– Nicholas Wu

Haaland says she’s not being ‘vetted’ for Interior secretary

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., who has been under consideration for Joe Biden’s Interior secretary and would make history as the first Native American in the position, said she was not being formally vetted yet, a process she said would wait until a nominee was picked.

“No, I’m not being vetted. I think anyone who is being considered is being vetted to some degree. What I’m doing now is concentrating on making sure our country can get past this pandemic,” she said, adding that the president-elect’s team needed to make a decision on a nominee first before a formal vetting process began.

Haaland declined to answer a question on what it would mean if Biden didn’t pick the first native secretary and picked someone like former Deputy Interior Secretary Michael Connor, saying she’d “support anyone” Biden picks.

But she called it progress that the nation could even have a conversation over having a Native American Cabinet member.

Haaland’s potentially historic bid to lead the sprawling department managing public lands and the federal government’s relations with Native American tribes has drawn the backing of progressives and Native American groups. Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said Thursday that Haaland was respected on both sides of the aisle and had “unique lived experience as a Native American woman that I think would be invaluable and historic in this role.”

But Democrats’ small majority in the House and Biden’s picks of two current House Democrats, Reps. Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, has raised concern among some Democrats about taking too many other members from the House.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Wednesday he was “concerned by the slimming of the Majority” and had told Biden’s team he wanted them to be “very careful” in which members they picked.

– Nicholas Wu

Trump refers to the ‘Biden administration’ in tweet

President Donald Trump insists his election protests will succeed and he will remain president – but on Friday he acknowledged Joe Biden’s pending presidency by referencing “the Biden administration” in a tweet.

“The Biden Administration will be a scandal plagued mess for years to come,” Trump tweeted.

Trump cited Biden’s future presidency in the context of a plea to the Supreme Court to hear a complaint from Texas about voting rules in other states – an argument the justices will almost certainly reject.

Trump has previously acknowledged the imminence of the Biden presidency. On Nov. 15, he tweeted that Biden had indeed “won” the election.

“He won because the Election was Rigged,” Trump claimed then. A variety of judges and election officials across the country have since rejected those complaints.

Biden will be sworn in as the nation’s 46th president on Jan. 20.

– David Jackson

Biden and Harris to unveil new staff selections

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will introduce new members of their incoming administration in a Friday news conference in Wilmington, Delaware.

The Democrats recently chose Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, to be secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture; Denis McDonough to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs; Katherine Tai to take over as U.S. trade representative and Susan Rice has been tapped as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. 

Biden continues to build out his administration while facing pressure from members of Congress who want him to ensure his staff is diverse. 

– Sean Rossman

Electoral College expected to seal Biden’s win Monday

Despite President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept Joe Biden’s election win, the Electoral College will vote Monday, possibly sealing the president’s electoral fate. 

Across all statehouses amid a global pandemic, 538 electors are set to convene to cast their votes for either Biden or Trump, reflecting the popular votes in their states. 

Although protests are likely at some capitol buildings, the outcome should offer little suspense. Biden is set to end the day with 306 electoral votes, topping Trump’s 232.

Historically, the Electoral College meeting is a formality given little attention. But Trump’s unprecedented efforts to overturn the election have magnified every turn in the election calendar and shined the spotlight on electors who are usually overlooked.

– Joey Garrison

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