Biden Transition and Stimulus News: Live Updates – The New York Times

Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, introduced his own competing bill that combined the issue of the $2,000 stimulus checks with two other measures the president had demanded Congress take up.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said on Wednesday that the chamber would not consider the issue of larger stimulus checks separately from two other demands issued by President Trump: the investigation of election security and the removal of legal protections for social media platforms. The decision all but dooms the effort to increase direct payments to $2,000.

“Here’s the deal: The Senate is not going to split apart the three issues that President Trump linked together just because Democrats are afraid to address two of them,” Mr. McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, said.

A stand-alone bill to increase the payments, he said, has “no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate.”

Mr. Trump signed a $900 billion stimulus package last week after holding it hostage for days and demanding that lawmakers increase the size of direct payments to $2,000 from $600, remove a legal shield for tech companies and investigate “very substantial voter fraud” in the 2020 election, a baseless claim he has continued to repeat.

House Democrats seized on the demand for larger checks, and passed a bipartisan bill increasing the payments on Monday.

Mr. McConnell, who along with members of his conference have long resisted the idea of larger payments, on Tuesday introduced his own legislation combining provisions on the $2,000 checks, election security and social media into one bill. He insisted that the three demands be addressed together, though Mr. Trump never issued such a mandate.

On Wednesday, Mr. McConnell accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, of “trying to pull a fast one on the president.”

“They’re hoping everyone just forgets about election integrity and big tech,” he said. “They’re desperate to ignore those two parts of President Trump’s request.”

The decision to link the three demands in a single bill, however, all but ensures that it will not pass. Mr. McConnell’s bill would create a bipartisan commission to study election practices used in the 2020 election and to repeal outright the most consequential law governing speech on the internet — two provisions that are widely viewed by Democrats as poison pills.

Mr. Schumer on Wednesday again attempted to hold an immediate vote on the stand-alone, House-passed bill, arguing that with just four days left in the legislative session and the House out of session, that “there is no other game in town.”

“At the very least the Senate deserves the opportunity for an up-or-down vote,” Mr. Schumer said. Mr. McConnell again blocked his request, as he did on Tuesday.

Senate Republicans have shown little interest in turning the president’s demand for larger stimulus checks into a reality, citing concerns about their costs and efficacy. Instead, on Wednesday, the Senate will meet to advance the military policy bill Mr. Trump vetoed, setting up what is poised to become the first veto override of his presidency. Senators are expected to be able to muster enough votes for an override, with a final vote potentially coming on New Year’s Day.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at a rally in Georgia on Dec. 21. She plans to return to the state on Sunday.
Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will campaign in Atlanta on Monday — the same day President Trump will hold a rally in Dalton, Ga. — as Democrats and Republicans engage in last-minute battling to increase votes in the state’s two high-stakes Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is also headed to Georgia in a final attempt to garner votes for the two Democratic challengers, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, in an election that will determine control of the Senate and possibly the success of Mr. Biden’s presidency.

Ms. Harris is scheduled to hold a rally on Sunday in Savannah, Mr. Warnock’s childhood hometown and an area where Democrats are hoping to increase voter turnout.

The planned appearances by the leaders of the two parties emphasized the pivotal importance of the outcomes of the races. The election of both Democratic challengers would split the Senate 50 to 50, with Ms. Harris holding the tiebreaking vote, giving Mr. Biden a better chance to advance his legislative agenda.

The Republican incumbents, Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, are hoping for a lift from Mr. Trump’s scheduled visit but have repeatedly been placed in awkward situations by the president, who has refused to accept his election loss in the state and created rifts among Republican officials there. On Twitter on Wednesday, he said that Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, should resign, calling him “an obstructionist who refuses to admit that we won Georgia, BIG!”

Mr. Kemp, speaking to reporters in Atlanta on Wednesday at a hastily convened news conference, did not address Mr. Trump’s comments directly, saying he would not get “distracted” from his goal of electing Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler. He also said he was too focused on responding to the pandemic to get involved in political infighting.

“That horse has left the barn in Georgia,” Mr. Kemp said in reference to Mr. Biden’s win in Georgia — dismissing Mr. Trump’s false claims that the state’s election was tainted by fraud.

With voter turnout already at record levels in the close election, all the campaigns have been concentrating on spurring every last supporter to the polls.

In a new ad released by the Ossoff campaign on Wednesday, former President Barack Obama tells Georgians that Mr. Ossoff would pass a new voting rights act, urging, “Georgia, you have the power, and now it’s time to vote.” The ad’s musical backdrop is John Legend’s rendition of “Georgia on My Mind.”

The precise details of the visits by Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris were not announced, and it was not clear whether Mr. Biden’s rally on Monday would coincide with the appearance by Mr. Trump on Monday night in Dalton, a carpet manufacturing hub in a heavily Republican area of the state.

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Mr. Biden last appeared in the state on Dec. 15, the start of early voting in Georgia, thanking residents for his Nov. 3 victory in the state and urging them to “do it again,” characterizing the Senate’s Republican control as a “roadblock” to progress.

Ms. Harris and Vice President Mike Pence also campaigned in Georgia in December.

Mr. Trump will also be making a return appearance in his Monday rally. He campaigned for the two Republicans in Valdosta, Ga., on Dec. 5 in a rally that turned out be more of a public grievance session focusing on his own defeat than an endorsement of the two incumbents.

Mr. Trump lost the state by about 12,000 votes to Mr. Biden, an outcome that has been borne out by two recounts requested by the Trump campaign and a signature-match audit of absentee ballots.

In a statement on Tuesday announcing the outcome of the signature audit, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, said the audit found “no fraudulent absentee ballots,” adding that it “disproves” Mr. Trump’s claims of election fraud.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. made two top Pentagon picks: deputy secretary of defense and under secretary of defense for policy.
Credit…Carlos Barria/Reuters

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Wednesday began to fill out the top rungs of the Defense Department under his pick for defense secretary, retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, naming two former Obama administration officials for senior positions.

Mr. Biden said he would nominate Kathleen H. Hicks to be deputy secretary of defense, the Pentagon’s No. 2 official, and Colin H. Kahl to be under secretary of defense for policy. Both positions require Senate confirmation.

Ms. Hicks would be the first woman confirmed as deputy secretary of defense. She is leading the Biden transition’s agency review team for the Defense Department, and she worked in the department during the Obama administration, including serving as principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, a position for which she was confirmed by the Senate in 2012.

Mr. Kahl was national security adviser to Mr. Biden during his second term as vice president and had previously served in the Obama administration as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.

With Inauguration Day three weeks away, Mr. Biden has already named most of his cabinet picks, and Ms. Hicks and Mr. Kahl are among his first sub-cabinet selections.

The president-elect announced his selection of General Austin earlier this month. General Austin will require a congressional waiver to serve as defense secretary because he has not been retired from active duty for at least seven years.

In a statement, General Austin said that Ms. Hicks and Mr. Kahl “share my strong belief that we need empowered civilian voices serving alongside military leaders at the Department of Defense to ensure we are always accountable to the American people.”

A transition official said on Wednesday that Kelly Magsamen, who has worked at the Defense and State Departments and on the National Security Council staff, would serve as chief of staff to the defense secretary.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican, won 196,964 votes in her race to represent Iowa’s Second Congressional District — six more than her Democratic opponent.
Credit…Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette, via Associated Press

Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to seat a Republican who won her congressional race in central Iowa by six votes when members are sworn in this weekend — but only “provisionally,” pending the results of a challenge by the Democratic candidate who took the unusual step of appealing directly to the House.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a moderate Republican and former Iowa state senator, won the state’s Second Congressional District, a swing seat that includes the Des Moines suburbs and the college town of Iowa City, 196,964 to 196,958, the secretary of state’s office determined in late November after weeks of recounts.

Rita Hart, a Democrat who also served in the State Senate, has refused to concede the election, citing numerous “reporting errors” revealed during the recount.

It was one of the rare instances of a Democrat contesting an election in a year defined by President Trump’s refusal to recognize President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s decisive victory.

Unlike Mr. Trump, whose team appealed unsuccessfully in state courts, Ms. Hart took her case directly to the Democratic-controlled House, believing she would have a better chance of overturning the results, with a rare invocation of the 1969 Federal Contested Election Act, which empowers a legislative committee to review the balloting.

The situation has put Ms. Pelosi — who has fiercely criticized Mr. Trump for seeking to overturn the election while clinging to a narrowing majority in the House — in a tricky position.

Early Wednesday, the speaker, a San Francisco Democrat, told reporters at the Capitol that she planned to seat Ms. Miller-Meeks on Sunday, but a short time later, a top aide emailed news outlets to add a not-insignificant asterisk.

“Every vote counts and that’s why the Committee on House Administration is conducting a thorough and fair review of this election to make sure every vote was counted and counted as cast,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi, said in an email. “Pending the outcome of the committee’s review and consistent with House practice, we intend to provisionally seat the Republican candidate on Sunday.”

Ms. Hart’s decision to make her appeal directly to House Democrats raised alarm on the centrist editorial page of the state’s dominant media outlet, The Des Moines Register, which has urged Ms. Hart to make her appeals in the courts to avoid the appearance of seeking partisan political favor.

“It’s true that this is a legal path and that there are legitimate reasons to question the fairness of aspects of Iowa’s recount process,” the paper’s editorial board wrote this month. “But even if Hart prevails, a decision that’s ultimately made by a Democratic-controlled House will forever taint her service in Congress. And the move could well backfire on her party, providing Iowa Republicans a potent rallying cry of Democratic chicanery for years in races up and down the ballot.”

The planned objection by Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, would almost certainly have no effect on the outcome of the election but could create a short delay in certifying the result.
Credit…Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, announced on Wednesday that he would object to Congress’s certification of the Electoral College results on Jan. 6, a move that is unlikely to alter the outcome of the 2020 election but will create a divisive spectacle that could result in a short delay in affirming President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.

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Mr. Hawley’s decision elevates President Trump’s repeated false claims of a stolen election tainted by pervasive voter fraud, and it answers Mr. Trump’s demand that Republican lawmakers move more aggressively to defend him. In a statement on Wednesday, Mr. Hawley, an ambitious freshman senator, said he would object to the certification of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes, though he did not specify whether he would include other states in the objection.

“Millions of voters concerned about election integrity deserve to be heard,” Mr. Hawley said. “I will object on Jan. 6 on their behalf.”

The objection will force the Senate to debate his claim and Republican senators to take an on-the-record vote affirming Mr. Biden’s victory. Rejecting the objection requires a simple majority vote. For Congress to sustain Mr. Hawley’s objection, both chambers would have to do so, a virtual impossibility given that Democrats control the House.

Mr. Hawley framed the rationale for his objection as “an effort to highlight the failure” of states “to follow their own election laws, as well as the unprecedented interference of Big Tech monopolies in the election.”

He compared his planned objection to the one made in 2005 by then-Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, who objected to Ohio’s 20 electoral votes for President George W. Bush, citing voting irregularities in the state.

A parallel effort to contest the election in the House is being led by Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, who has said there was “serious voter fraud and election theft in this election,” despite considerable evidence to the contrary. He is eyeing challenges to the election results in five different states — Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia and Wisconsin — where Trump loyalists claim that varying degrees of fraud or illegal voting took place, despite certification by the voting authorities and no evidence of widespread impropriety.

Those challenges are required by the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to have a senator’s signature affixed.

The process is one that Republican leaders had long hoped to avoid. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, warned his conference this month not to lodge such an objection. Taking such a vote would put Republican senators in a position many have labored to avoid so as not to alienate their base — going on the record to either endorse or dismiss Mr. Trump’s claims that the election was stolen from him.

On Tuesday, Mr. McConnell began work on a bill that would create a bipartisan commission to study election practices that “strengthened” and that “undermined the security and integrity of the election,” like the use of mail-in ballots and vote-by-mail procedures, which Mr. Trump has baselessly complained encouraged voter fraud.

At a news briefing on Wednesday, the incoming White House press secretary, Jennifer Psaki, said that “the American people spoke resoundingly in this election,” and she described Congress’s certification of the Electoral College results as “merely a formality.”

“Regardless of whatever antics anyone is up to on Jan. 6, President-elect Biden will be sworn in on the 20th,” Ms. Psaki said.

Luke Letlow in July. He said on Dec. 18 that he was isolating at home after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Credit…Melinda Deslatte/Associated Press

Luke Letlow, a Republican who was elected to the House of Representatives this month to represent Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District, died Tuesday evening of complications from Covid-19, a spokesman said. He was 41.

Mr. Letlow was set to take office on Sunday. His death was confirmed by several politicians, including Representative Garret Graves of Louisiana, who said in a Facebook post that the death of his friend and “former co-worker” was “a huge loss to Louisiana and America.” Mr. Letlow died at the Ochsner L.S.U. Health medical center in Shreveport, La., the spokesman, Andrew Bautsch, said.

Mr. Letlow said on Dec. 18 that he was isolating at home after testing positive for the coronavirus. He was hospitalized a day later in Monroe, La., before being transferred to the hospital in Shreveport on Dec. 22. Mr. Bautsch said on Dec. 23. that Mr. Letlow had been receiving the antiviral drug remdesivir and steroids to treat his infection.

On Dec. 21, while he was hospitalized in Monroe, Mr. Letlow urged people who had recovered from Covid-19 to donate plasma. “Your plasma is ESPECIALLY needed by those who are suffering,” he wrote in a tweet. “I cannot stress this enough. Please consider saving lives by going out and donating at your local blood bank.”

He did not have any underlying conditions that would have increased his chances of dying from Covid-19, Dr. G.E. Ghali, a doctor at the Shreveport hospital, told The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La.

In a runoff this month against another Republican, Mr. Letlow was elected to succeed Representative Ralph Abraham, under whom Mr. Letlow had served as chief of staff.

Mr. Letlow is survived by his wife, Julia, and their two children, Jeremiah and Jacqueline.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, “Tonight, the United States House of Representatives sadly mourns the passing of Congressman-elect Luke Letlow.

“Congressman-elect Letlow was a ninth-generation Louisianian who fought passionately for his point of view and dedicated his life to public service,” she said.

Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, said, “Our hearts break tonight as we process the news of Congressman-elect Luke Letlow’s passing.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said Tuesday evening that Covid-19 had “taken Congressman-elect Letlow from us far too soon.” Mr. Edwards, a Democrat, said he had ordered flags to be flown at half-staff on the day of Mr. Letlow’s funeral.

Representative Mike Johnson, a Republican who represents the state’s Fourth Congressional District, issued a statement on behalf of the state’s six-member congressional delegation: “We are devastated to hear of Luke Letlow’s passing. Luke had such a positive spirit, and he had a tremendously bright future ahead of him. He was looking forward to serving the people of Louisiana in Congress, and we were excited to welcome him to our delegation where he was ready to make an even greater impact on our state and our nation.”

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Bobby Jindal, the former governor of Louisiana whom Mr. Letlow had previously worked for when Mr. Jindal was a congressional candidate, representative and governor, said the congressman-elect “had talked in recent days about his excitement about the opportunity to serve” his district.

“I first met Luke when he was still a college student, and spent countless hours with him in his truck driving the back roads of Louisiana,” Mr. Jindal said. “His passion for service has been a constant throughout his life.”

According to Ballotopedia, Mr. Letlow is the first elected federal official to die from the coronavirus; the first member of the federal government to die from it was a judge.

Other elected officials to die from Covid-19 include several state legislators: a Republican state senator from Minnesota, New Hampshire’s new Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, and in North Dakota, David Dean Andahl, a Republican known as Dakota Dave, who was elected posthumously to the State House of Representatives after dying from the virus.

Havana in 2019. The Obama administration removed Cuba from its list of terrorism sponsors in 2015.
Credit…Yamil Lage/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images

State Department officials have drawn up a proposal to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, a final-hour foreign policy move that would complicate plans by the incoming Biden administration to relax increased American pressure on Havana.

With three weeks left until Inauguration Day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must decide whether to sign off on the plan, according to two U.S. officials, a move that would also serve as a thank you to Cuban-Americans and other anti-communist Latinos in Florida who strongly supported President Trump and his fellow Republicans in the November election.

It is unclear whether Mr. Pompeo has decided to move ahead with the designation. But Democrats and foreign policy experts believe that Mr. Trump and his senior officials are eager to find ways of constraining President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s initial months in office and to make it more difficult for Mr. Biden to reverse Trump-era policies abroad.

The Biden administration could move quickly to take Cuba back off the list. But doing so would require more than the stroke of a presidential pen. The State Department would have to conduct a formal review, a process that might take several months.

A State Department spokeswoman said the agency does not discuss “deliberations or potential deliberations” regarding terrorism designations. The White House did not provide a comment.

The State Department removed Cuba from its list of terrorism sponsors in 2015, after President Barack Obama announced the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana for the first time since the country’s 1959 communist revolution.

Mr. Trump denounced the agreement as “terrible and misguided” and has rolled back many of its provisions. As a candidate, Mr. Biden pledged to again change American policy, saying he would “promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”

Jon Ossoff greeting supporters in November. Much is riding on whether Mr. Ossoff wins a Senate seat in Georgia next month.
Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

In early 2017, Angelika Kausche was frustrated, demoralized and looking for somewhere — or someone — to help her channel the rage she had recently expressed at the Women’s March.

Then Jon Ossoff appeared. A political newcomer, he announced his congressional bid two weeks before President Trump’s inauguration. He seemed even younger than his 29 years, dressed in suits that might have fit him on his high school graduation day. Liberal mothers in the Georgia suburbs joked that he would make a dream son-in-law, but they settled on him as a symbol of the growing Democratic resistance to the Trump administration.

Ms. Kausche, 58, who taught business communication and lived in the Atlanta suburbs, had never participated in a political campaign since moving to the United States from Germany decades earlier and had never seen herself as particularly political.

But soon she was joining other suburban women volunteering, organizing, knocking on doors and planning events for Mr. Ossoff’s special election campaign to replace Tom Price after he was tapped by Mr. Trump to be secretary of health and human services.

Since then, Ms. Kausche herself flipped her traditionally red suburban district when she won a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives in 2018.

“I always tell Jon, it’s all his fault,” Ms. Kausche said.

Much rides on whether Mr. Ossoff wins the race next month, one of two in Georgia that will determine control of the Senate and the scope of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s early agenda as president. Yet Mr. Ossoff’s bid is also a symbolic coda of the Trump era. His first congressional race helped mobilize a generation of grass-roots activists, offering disheartened progressives a way to channel their fury against the new administration into electoral opposition.

Now, as Mr. Ossoff runs again, the Democratic activism that grew alongside his political career faces its own moment of reckoning: What happens to the anti-Trump movement now that Mr. Trump has been defeated?

Mr. Ossoff frames the predicament in optimistic terms: “The opportunity that we have is to ensure that this grass-roots political movement that emerged as opposition to Trumpism is nurtured and sustained and grown to stand for a positive vision and a positive policy agenda,” he said in a recent interview.

Lin Wood, a lawyer who gained prominence through high-profile defamation cases, is now best known for amplifying the president’s false claims about the election.
Credit…Ben Margot/Associated Press

It is a turn that has surprised many former associates of the theatrical lawyer L. Lin Wood, whom Dan Rather once described as “the attorney for the damned” for his roster of high-profile clients like Richard A. Jewell, who was wrongly suspected of setting off a bomb at the Olympics in Atlanta, and the parents of JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old whose murder became a tabloid frenzy.

But Mr. Wood has reinvented himself into an extreme advocate for President Trump, one who has found fame among Mr. Trump’s supporters not because he is good at notching victories for the president, but because he will amplify Mr. Trump’s wildest accusations and dive head first into the culture wars.

Mr. Wood’s lawsuits seeking to undo the election in Georgia and to ask the Supreme Court to overturn votes in other key states have been soundly rejected by judges and riddled with errors, including a misspelling of his own name.

Still, many Republicans have grown worried that Mr. Wood is harming the party’s chances of holding the Senate. His repeated suggestion that people should sit out the Georgia runoff elections to punish Republicans who weren’t sufficiently supportive of Mr. Trump led Newt Gingrich to condemn Mr. Wood as “totally destructive.” The editor of National Review described him as “an exceptionally talented demagogue.”

Lawyers who have worked with Mr. Wood, 68, described him as animated and aggressive inside and outside the courtroom — someone known for showing up uninvited to the news conferences of his opponents and belittling witnesses in depositions.

But few who know him professionally said they expected him to descend into the miasmic swamp of right-wing conspiracy theories.

“The Lin Wood I see today bears basically no resemblance to the Lin Wood I knew back then,” said Timothy Terrell, a law professor at Emory.



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