Speaking on the Senate floor yesterday for the first time since the election, Mitch McConnell threw his weight behind President Trump’s efforts to cast doubt on the outcome of the presidential race, saying that Trump was “100 percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.”
McConnell, the majority leader, openly celebrated the Republican Party’s victories in key Senate races — victories that relied upon the same ballots Trump has baselessly called fraudulent.
Speaking immediately after him, the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, called Trump’s claims “extremely dangerous, extremely poisonous to our democracy,” and called on his Republican colleagues to reject them. “Republican leaders must unequivocally condemn the president’s rhetoric and work to ensure the peaceful transfer of power,” Schumer said.
Susan Collins, the moderate senator from Maine who won re-election last week, became only the fourth Republican in the Senate to break ranks with her party and acknowledge Joe Biden’s win. In a statement, she congratulated him on his “apparent victory” and argued that it was important to begin the transfer of power. “He loves this country, and I wish him every success,” Collins said.
The nation is now left hanging between the apparent completion of a successful, generally well-run election amid difficult circumstances, and unfounded claims of fraud and mismanagement. As is often true of Trump’s falsehoods, they’re difficult to refute because they’re not founded on much of anything, other than a pattern of earlier fictions.
On Fox News, even the conservative commentator Neil Cavuto cut away from the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, as she spoke at a news conference yesterday, making broad and unfounded claims about election mismanagement in Pennsylvania.
“I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this,” Cavuto said, adding that he would willingly cut back to McEnany if she presented any verifiable evidence to support her assertions.
At the General Services Administration, the Trump-appointed director has also refused to officially acknowledge the election results, a significant impediment to the transition process.
William Barr, the attorney general, told federal prosecutors on Monday that they could investigate accusations of voter fraud before the results of the presidential race were certified, though he cautioned that “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries.”
Barr’s move prompted the Justice Department official who oversees investigations of voter fraud, Richard Pilger, to resign nearly immediately, our reporters Katie Benner and Michael Schmidt wrote. Pilger told colleagues he would move to a nonsupervisory role working on corruption prosecutions.
In Republican-held state governments across the country, officials have collectively turned toward embracing Trump’s denials of the election result. Ten Republican attorneys general filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hear a dispute over the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling allowing mail-in ballots to be received up to three days after Election Day.
In Georgia, the Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, is under fire from members of his own party — essentially for counting votes. As elections officials have tallied some of the final ballots, Biden’s margin has only grown, and Trump’s campaign has increasingly pressured Raffensperger to stop the counting.
In an extraordinary letter, citing no specific evidence, the two Republican Senate candidates in Georgia, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, argued that Raffensperger had “failed the people of Georgia,” and called on him to step down. He replied at a news conference yesterday afternoon, saying that he wouldn’t resign and that he was just as unhappy as other Republicans about Trump’s loss.
Gabriel Sterling, the secretary of state’s voting system implementation manager, said that the election hadn’t been tainted by irregularities and in fact had run smoother than usual. “The facts are the facts, regardless of outcomes,” he said. “In this state, this time, this election on Election Day was an amazing success.”
Trump has little sway over how Raffensperger runs the election in Georgia, but the president relishes his ability to fire members of his own team. He put that firepower to use again yesterday as he ousted Mark Esper, the defense secretary, announcing abruptly on Twitter that Esper “has been terminated.”
The defense secretary had long appeared to be on the chopping block, especially after publicly breaking with the president over whether to deploy active-duty federal troops against protesters in American cities.
Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois announced yesterday that she would not seek another term as the head of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, acknowledging in a letter to colleagues that she had been “gutted at the losses we sustained.”
While Democrats had expected to build on the sweeping gains they made in 2018, they instead wound up losing seats in the House, while picking up fewer Senate seats than expected and making no major gains in state legislatures.
Accusations have flown throughout the party, with centrist Democrats arguing that the party’s left wing had left them open to being mischaracterized as socialists, while the more progressive incumbents have accused their moderate counterparts of lazy campaigning and ineffective messaging.
Biden announced a 13-member task force yesterday to lead his administration’s effort to confront the coronavirus pandemic, convening the group for a video conference call alongside the vice president-elect, Kamala Harris.
In brief public remarks after their meeting, Biden urged Americans to help contain the virus. “It doesn’t matter your party, your point of view,” he said. “We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months.”
Biden is moving ahead with planning for Day 1 of his presidency, despite Trump’s efforts to dig his heels into the Oval Office carpet. But there is a range of crucial national security information that Biden still doesn’t have access to; he has yet to receive a daily briefing on national security, as is customary for presidents-elect, and Trump’s refusal to concede could complicate Biden’s access to federal security until his inauguration.