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Trump administration informs Biden it is ready to begin the formal transition

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Live updates: GSA ready to begin transition; Biden to name first female heads of national intelligence, treasury

By Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner and Paulina Firozi, THE WASHINGTON POST
November 23, 2020 at 8:58 p.m. AST

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Emily Murphy, head of the General Services Administration, said in a letter to President-elect Joe Biden on Monday that her office is ready to begin the formal presidential transition, after weeks of pressure from Democrats to allow the process to go ahead.

The letter came after a four-member canvassing board in Michigan certified that state’s election results, effectively awarding Michigan’s 16 electoral votes to Biden, who defeated President Trump with a margin of more than 155,000 votes.

Trump thanked Murphy in tweets Monday night and said he had recommended that she and her team “do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols.” But he also maintained, “Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good fight, and I believe we will prevail!”

Earlier Monday, Biden announced several picks for top jobs in national security and foreign relations, and is also expected to name Janet L. Yellen as treasury secretary, according to three people in close communication with aides to the president-elect.

The nominations are: Alejandro Mayorkas to head the Department of Homeland Security, the first immigrant in that position; Avril D. Haines as director of national intelligence, the first woman in that position; and former secretary of state John F. Kerry as special presidential envoy for climate.

Here’s what to know:
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris met virtually Monday with about 50 mayors.
Biden confirmed that he plans to name Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. See Biden’s picks so far for his Cabinet.

A group of leading GOP national security experts urged congressional Republicans to demand Trump concede the election and immediately begin the transition to the incoming Biden administration.
Three Republican senators, Rob Portman (Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), joined the ranks of those acknowledging Biden as the apparent winner and urging the Trump administration to allow the transition to go forward.
Former president Barack Obama, in a live interview hosted by The Washington Post, praised Biden’s national security and foreign relations picks, some of whom served in his administration as well.

8:58 p.m.
Sen. Feinstein announces she will not seek top Democratic spot on Judiciary Committee next year
By Felicia Sonmez and Seung Min Kim

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced Monday that she will not seek the top Democratic spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee, stepping down from a position she has held since 2017.

“After serving as the lead Democrat on the Judiciary Committee for four years, I will not seek the chairmanship or ranking member position in the next Congress,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Feinstein, who at 87 is the oldest sitting senator, said she intends to remain a member of the panel as well as the Senate Intelligence, Appropriations and Rules committees. She cited the need to devote more attention to the fight against climate change as among the factors leading to her decision.

“California is a huge state confronting two existential threats — wildfire and drought — that are only getting worse with climate change,” Feinstein said in a statement. “In the next Congress, I plan to increase my attention on those two crucial issues. I also believe that defeating covid-19, combating climate change and protecting access to health care are critical national priorities that require even more concentration.”

The move comes as liberal groups have called for Feinstein’s ouster as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, arguing that she has been too passive in battling the Trump administration, particularly on judicial nominees.

Liberal activists have been irate about Feinstein’s praise of Republicans, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), for how they conducted the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) is next in line for the top Judiciary Committee spot after Feinstein. Durbin is also the Senate Democratic whip, which is the No. 2 position in the caucus and comes with its own security detail.

In a statement Monday night, Durbin thanked Feinstein for her “distinguished leadership on the Judiciary Committee during turbulent years” and announced that he intends to seek the top Democratic spot on the panel.

8:43 p.m.
GSA informs Biden it is ready to begin formal transition; Trump tweets that he recommended initial protocols
By Lisa Rein and Felicia Sonmez

Emily Murphy, the embattled Trump appointee who held off declaring a winner in the presidential race for nearly three weeks while her boss tried to subvert the election results, declared Biden the victor in a letter Monday.

In a one-page letter to Biden, the head of the General Services Administration addressed the controversy that engulfed the country over her refusal to release more than $6 million in taxpayer-funded transition money and crucial access for his team to federal agencies. Using unusually personal language to describe the predicament she faced as Trump, baselessly alleging widespread voter fraud in battleground states, refused to concede the election, she wrote that she has “always strived to do what is right.”

“Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts,” she wrote. “I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official — including those who work at the White House or GSA — with regard to the substance or timing of my decision.”

News of the letter was first reported by CNN.

Murphy said she did not receive “any direction to delay my determination” but did receive “threats online, by phone, and by mail directed at my safety, my family, my staff, and even my pets in an effort to coerce me into making this determination prematurely.”

“Even in the face of thousands of threats, I always remained committed to upholding the law,” the letter said.

News of the letter was soon followed by tweets in which Trump thanked Murphy and said he had recommended initial protocols for the transition.

“I want to thank Emily Murphy at GSA for her steadfast dedication and loyalty to our Country,” Trump tweeted Monday night. “She has been harassed, threatened, and abused – and I do not want to see this happen to her, her family, or employees of GSA.”

He added: “Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good fight, and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

Biden’s transition team welcomed the GSA’s move as “a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track.”

“This final decision is a definitive administrative action to formally begin the transition process with federal agencies,” Yohannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden-Harris transition team, said in a statement. “In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration efforts to hollow out government agencies.”

A Republican appointed by Trump in 2017, Murphy lamented vagueness in a law called the President Transition Act of 1963, which was supposed to guide her in making a declaration of the winner.

“Unfortunately, the statute provides no procedures or standards for this process, so I looked to precedent from prior elections involving legal challenges and incomplete counts,” Murphy wrote. “GSA does not dictate the outcome of legal disputes and recounts, nor does it determine whether such proceedings are reasonable or justified.”

And she said that “I do not think that an agency charged with improving federal procurement and property management should place itself above the constitutionally-based election process. I strongly urge Congress to consider amendments to the Act.”

8:08 p.m.
Why Democrats face an uphill battle in Georgia’s Senate runoffs
By Lenny Bronner

Democrats need to win both of two Georgia runoffs to take control of the Senate. But despite Biden carrying the state, they’re fighting an uphill battle in both races — particularly given they took fewer votes than Republicans the first time around in each race.

Biden won Georgia by about 12,000 votes, a very slim margin in a state where nearly 5 million were cast but enough to become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1992. But now attention turns to the state’s runoffs. In those races, Biden received 100,000 more votes than Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate in the regular Senate election. Biden also outperformed the eight Democratic candidates in the special Senate election by about the same amount.
Read the full story

6:46 p.m.
Three more Republican senators say Biden is apparent presidential winner, urge release of transition funds
By Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner

Three GOP senators on Monday joined the ranks of other high-profile Republicans acknowledging Joe Biden as the apparent winner of the presidential race and urging the Trump administration to allow the transition to go forward.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), in an op-ed published Monday, called a Biden presidency a “likely event” and argued that transition funds being held up by the Trump administration should be released.

His piece, published by the Cincinnati Enquirer, suggests that Portman is among a growing number of Republicans who are willing to publicly acknowledge — or at least come close to it — that Trump has lost the election, despite the president’s continuing claims to the contrary.

“Based on all the information currently available, neither the final lawful vote counts nor the recounts have led to a different outcome in any state,” Portman wrote. “In other words, the initial determination showing Joe Biden with enough electoral votes to win has not changed.”

Later Monday, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) issued a lengthy statement in which she said that although Trump has the right to file lawsuits, “at some point, the 2020 election must end.”

“If states certify the results as they currently stand, Vice President Joe Biden will be our next president and Senator Kamala Harris will be our next vice president,” Capito said. “I will respect the certified results and will congratulate our nation’s new leaders, regardless of the policy differences I might have with them. As with any administration, I will look for common ground in the best interest of our state and our country.”

She added that in the meantime, Biden and Harris should be given “all appropriate briefings” related to national security and the coronavirus pandemic “to facilitate a smooth transfer of power in the likely event that they are to take office on January 20.”

And Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in a statement Monday night that the election “is rapidly coming to a formal end.”

“Since it seems apparent that Joe Biden will be the president-elect, my hope is that President Trump will take pride in his considerable accomplishments, put the country first and have a prompt and orderly transition to help the new administration succeed,” Alexander said. “When you are in public life, people remember the last thing you do.”

Several other Republicans said over the weekend that Trump’s legal arguments had run their course and called on him to allow the presidential transition process to begin. Among them were former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) and Sen. Kevin Cramer (N.D.).

In his statement Monday, Portman, who was a co-chair of Trump’s campaign in Ohio, counseled that the General Services Administration “should go ahead and release the funds and provide the infrastructure for an official transition, and the Biden team should receive the requested intelligence briefings and briefings on the coronavirus vaccine distribution plan.”

“This is only prudent,” he wrote. “Donald Trump is our president until Jan. 20, 2021, but in the likely event that Joe Biden becomes our next president, it is in the national interest that the transition is seamless and that America is ready on Day One of a new administration for the challenges we face.”

6:20 p.m.
Avril Haines would be first woman to be director of national intelligence
By Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima

Biden’s intention to nominate Avril D. Haines as the next director of national intelligence marks a historic turn — she would be the first woman to hold the country’s top intelligence position — and a stabilizing one, with the national security expert expected to restore rigor and independence to an office that has been beset by political intrigue and mismanagement, current and former officials said.

For weeks, Haines had been an odds-on favorite to land the top post. She was also said to be considered for director of the CIA, where she served as the No. 2 during the Obama administration. News of her selection was greeted enthusiastically by career intelligence officers, who regard her as a sharp policy expert and attuned to the operational aspects of intelligence.
Read the full story

6:07 p.m.
Court rejects Trump campaign push to discard thousands of mail ballots in Pennsylvania

By Elise Viebeck

More than 10,600 contested mail ballots were declared valid Monday by Pennsylvania’s highest court, representing the latest failure by the Trump campaign to gain legal traction for its arguments that certain votes should be discarded in battleground states that Biden won.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected Trump campaign challenges to 8,329 mail ballots in Philadelphia and 2,349 in Allegheny County, finding that state law does not require election officials to toss out votes because of minor omissions or errors by the voter, such as failure to print their street address on the ballot envelope.

The court noted that “no fraud or irregularity has been alleged” by the Trump campaign for any of the ballots at issue. Each voter signed the declaration on their ballot envelope.

“Here we conclude that while failures to include a handwritten name, address or date in the voter declaration on the back of the outer envelope, while constituting technical violations of the Election Code, do not warrant the wholesale disenfranchisement of thousands of Pennsylvania voters,” the court wrote.

The ruling upheld previous decisions in favor of the Philadelphia ballots and reversed one that would have invalidated the Allegheny ballots. Biden beat Trump in Pennsylvania by roughly 80,700 votes.

Keith Newell and Aaron Schaffer contributed to this report.

—— AUTO – GENERATED; Published (Halifax Canada Time AST) on: November 23, 2020 at 09:18PM

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