SUSAN CORNWELL, DOINA CHIACU and SIMON LEWIS
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden moved ahead with planning his new administration on Thursday as his fellow Democrats in Congress blasted Republican “shenanigans” challenging Donald Trump’s election loss and urged action on the coronavirus pandemic.
The Republican president has refused to concede the election and his allies in Congress have declined to acknowledge Biden as the winner while Trump’s campaign pursues legal challenges to vote counts in several states, based on unsubstantiated claims of voting fraud.
The two top Democrats in Congress – House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer – on Thursday urged Republicans to join them in passing legislation to address the pandemic and buttress the battered economy.
“We just had a divisive and hard-fought presidential election,” Schumer told reporters. “But instead of working to pull the country back together so that we can fight our common enemy, COVID-19, Republicans in Congress are spreading conspiracy theories, denying reality and poisoning the well of our democracy.”
“The Republicans should stop their shenanigans about an election that President Trump has already lost and focus their attention on the immediate issue at hand – providing relief to a country living through the COVID health and economic crisis,” Schumer added.
Efforts to pass such legislation before the election stalled.
Biden has won enough of the battleground states to surpass the 270 electoral votes needed in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the next president. He is also winning the popular vote by more than 5.2 million votes, or 3.4 percentage points, with a few states still counting ballots.
Biden in the last few days has not publicly engaged with Trump’s long-shot challenge, instead focusing on planning his administration. He named longtime adviser Ron Klain on Wednesday as White House chief of staff, his first major appointment before taking office on Jan. 20.
Trump’s campaign has filed a series of lawsuits aiming to challenge vote counts in pivotal states as he makes unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud. State election officials have said no such widespread fraud occurred.
“They’re engaged in an absurd circus right now, refusing to accept reality,” Pelosi said.
In a sign of weakening support for Trump’s efforts, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, owned by major Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, on Thursday ran an editorial saying that Trump “seeks to delay the inevitable.”
“There is no evidence that fraud cost Mr. Trump the election, no matter how much the president tweets the opposite and his supporters wish it,” the editorial said.
New records for daily coronavirus infections and hospitalizations in the United States ensured that the presidential transition will be dominated by the response to the pandemic, which has worsened since the election.
Klain, who served as Democratic President Barack Obama’s “Ebola czar” in 2014 during an outbreak of that virus in West Africa, is expected to take a leading role in the Biden administration’s response to the nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases.
About 242,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. The United States again set records on Wednesday with more than 142,000 new coronavirus infections, according to a Reuters tally.
Attention is now expected to shift to Biden’s picks for Cabinet posts, though aides have so far given few clues about when announcements will be made.
On foreign policy, diplomat and longtime confidant Antony Blinken is seen as a possible choice for secretary of state or national security adviser.
Whoever is chosen for treasury secretary will have to cope with a recession and joblessness, as well as serving as the fulcrum to address wealth inequality, climate change and other issues.
Foreign allies have congratulated Biden. A group of prominent former world leaders known as The Elders, chaired by former Irish President Mary Robinson, urged Trump to accept defeat, fearing he was “putting at risk the functioning of American democracy.”
Since major news organizations called the election for Biden on Saturday, Trump has maintained a minimal public schedule, preferring instead to air his grievances on Twitter, and has not addressed the climbing virus caseload.
In the past day, two Republican senators – James Lankford and Chuck Grassley – have called for Trump’s administration to allow Biden access to presidential daily intelligence briefings.
A U.S. president-elect traditionally receives such briefings from the intelligence community in order to be up to speed on threats facing the United States ahead of taking office.
Trump’s team has also been busy raising money, soliciting contributions to pay for legal challenges.
But a donor would have to give more than $8,000 before any money goes to an account established to finance election challenges. Small-dollar donations instead will go to the Republican National Committee or a newly formed political action committee, which can use the cash for other purposes such as travel expenses or other political campaigns. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.