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 and prepares to take the oath of office Jan. 20. The Electoral College affirmed Biden's win Monday, officially giving Biden enough electoral votes to defeat President Donald Trump. Congress will count and certify the results in a joint session Jan. 6.
Be sure to refresh this page often to get the latest information on the election and the transition.
Barr said CIA 'stayed in its lane' during Russia probe
Attorney General William Barr said Special Counsel John Durham’s probe is now narrowly focused on the conduct of a small group of FBI agents, telling the Wall Street Journal that the Central Intelligence Agency did not do anything improper during the early months of the Russia investigation.
“The CIA stayed in its lane,” Barr said in an interview published Friday by the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section. Barr also said Durham is looking at “certain private actors” (he did not elaborate, according to the Wall Street Journal), as well as an assessment by the intelligence community that Russia preferred Trump to win in the 2016 election.
The wide-ranging interview, which touched on several controversial events of Barr’s tenure, was published days before the attorney general is set to leave the Justice Department. President Donald Trump announced earlier this week that Barr will resign after weeks of speculation about the attorney general’s fate.
Barr has been Trump’s most effective advocate of presidential authority, but the relationship has soured in recent months. In early December, Barr departed from the president by declaring that the Justice Department has not found widespread evidence of voter fraud that could alter the outcome of the election.
Barr, who has repeatedly said he believes the FBI improperly spied on the Trump campaign, appointed Durham in 2019 to investigate the early stages of the Russia investigation. Barr later made Durham special counsel – one of his last acts in office – guaranteeing Durham will be able to continue his investigation during the Biden administration.
In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Barr criticized Robert Mueller, who took over the FBI’s Russia probe, saying the former special counsel should have exposed what he believed to be misconduct by FBI agents.
Barr frustrated the president and his Republican allies who had been anxious for the Justice Department to release damaging findings from Durham’s investigation before the presidential election. Barr was also criticized for not disclosing that Hunter Biden, President-elect Joe Biden’s son, was under investigation over his taxes. The younger Biden revealed earlier this month that he was being investigated.
Barr told the Wall Street Journal that he does not regret staying silent about the Hunter Biden probe, citing the Justice Department’s rule against confirming the existence of investigations. He said the rule is “not absolute,” but unless the government has “decisive evidence of a serious crime against a candidate,” the rule should be followed.
— Kristine Phillips
Biden team complains about Pentagon resistance to transition
Yohannes Abraham, executive director of President-elect Joe Biden's transition, told reporters Friday that transition teams at the Defense Department were told Thursday that meetings were being halted for a two-week holiday break.
Transition teams, which meet between the incoming and outgoing administrations to ensure a smooth transition after the inauguration Jan. 20, have run into resistance among political appointees in a number of departments and agencies, but Abraham declined to name others.
“Our agency review teams make progress on shortened timeline. We benefited from constructive cooperation within many departments and agencies,” Abraham said. “But we have met isolated resistance in some corners, including from political appointees within the Department of Defense. We were concerned this week with the abrupt halt in already limited cooperation there. As indicated by DOD earlier today, we expect decision to be reversed.”
Abraham said cooperation from the Pentagon is important for national security, particularly because of the classified and non-public information involved.
“A failure to work together could have consequences well beyond January,” said Abraham, who added that career professionals have made “valiant efforts to be cooperative.”
Abraham said it is important for meetings and responses to requests for information continue through the holidays because of the delay in the transition based on President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the election.
“There was no mutually agreed upon holiday break,” Abraham said. “There is no time to spare.”
Resistance goes beyond the Pentagon, but among political appointees rather than career officials.
“There have been pockets of recalcitrance and DOD is one of them,” Abraham said. “It’s our hope and expectation across the board given the challenges that the country faces that all of the agency review teams be given the access to information that they need to do the job that they need to do the job that they need to do for the American people.”
– Bart Jansen
Pelosi, McConnell get first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Friday in the office of the Attending Physician in the Capitol, her office said.
Pelosi, 80, said in a Thursday evening statement that even after getting vaccinated, she would continue to wear a mask and follow other CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell received the COVID-19 vaccine later Friday.
“Vaccines are how we beat this virus,” McConnell said in a statement posted on Twitter.
McConnell, 78, posted a picture with the Attending Physician of the Capitol Brian Monahan, and said he would get back to negotiating a COVID-19 stimulus package.
– Nicholas Wu
Biden staff might not fully occupy White House on Jan. 20
President-elect Joe Biden’s White House staff probably won’t be fully working out of the West Wing when his administration begins Jan. 20, press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday.
She didn’t have specific announcements about how the staff would function amid restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But she said the administration would follow guidance from medical experts, which is expected to be detailed in January.
“I think we expect that everybody who would traditionally be and historically be working out of West Wing probably will not be working out of the West Wing on Jan. 20 and 21,” said Psaki, who served as communications director for former President Barack Obama. “We are waiting for and will abide by the guidance and direction by our medical direction on our doctors.”
The transition already tests its staffers and reporters coming into contact with them, requires staffers to wear N95 masks and requires staffers to quarantine after testing positive for the virus. But it’s not clear how those rules will play out for working in the close quarters of the White House. The administration seeks to serve as an example for the American public, Psaki said.
“There are stringent standards and expectations,” Psaki said. “It’s of course to keep everybody safe.”
-- Bart Jansen
Biden to receive vaccine Monday; Harris to get hers after Christmas
President-election Joe Biden and Jill Biden will get the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday in Delaware, Jen Psaki said Friday.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will stagger her vaccination, to avoid getting it at the same time as Biden, by receiving hers the week after Christmas, Psaki said. The staggering was based on advice from medical experts, but Psaki declined to specific the reasoning behind the recommendation.
– Bart Jansen
COVID-19 stimulus deal is close but debate remains over Federal Reserve lending powers
Lawmakers continued to negotiate over the final provisions of a COVID-19 stimulus deal Friday morning, but a debate over Federal Reserve lending authority threatened to throw a wrench in negotiations.
One of the largest remaining holdups, according to two Democratic aides not authorized to speak on the record, was Sen. Pat Toomey’s insistence on restricting emergency Federal Reserve lending powers authorized in March that are set to expire at the end of the year.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a Friday statement that sunsetting the Fed’s authority “would set a terrible precedent, hurt the Fed’s independence, and weaken its ability to respond quickly to future crises.”
Republicans counter that the authority was already set to expire at the end of the year.
In a statement, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., defended the provision as affecting only a “narrow universe” of the Federal Reserve’s lending authorities. The provision would only affect five of the Federal Reserve’s lending authorities, Toomey said, and would ensure those authorities expire at the end of 2020 and would require congressional action to restart or duplicate them.
The second-ranking Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, told reporters Thursday the restriction of the lending authority was a “big priority” for Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed the Senate would keep negotiating.
“I am even more optimistic now than I was last night that a bipartisan, bicameral framework for a major rescue package is close at hand,” he said Friday morning, though he warned the Senate could stay in session through the weekend.
Yohannes Abraham, executive director of President-elect Joe Biden’s transition, said the team is closely monitoring negotiations over the $900 billion package, but that more funding would be required next year.
“This is just a start,” Abraham said. “We must focus significant resources on direct public response to COVID-19.”
– Nicholas Wu and Bart Jansen
Kamala Harris to campaign Monday in Georgia
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will campaign in Georgia on Monday for two Democrats in runoff elections whose results will determine control of the Senate.
Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are trying to defend their seats against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, respectively.
The races present an opportunity to shift control of the Senate from Republicans to Democrats. If both Democratic challengers won their races, the chamber would be split eve and Harris could break ties in favor of President-elect Joe Biden’s priorities.
Harris will travel to Suwanee and Columbus to campaign on behalf of Ossoff and Warnock. Both parties are campaigning heavily for the seats. President Donald Trump visited Valdosta on Dec. 5. Vice President Mike Pence has made several campaign swings through the state.
Biden visited Tuesday. Georgia supported Republicans statewide reliably for decades, but Biden narrowly beat Trump in November and is trying to repeat the feat in the Senate runoffs.
– Bart Jansen
Pence receives the COVID-19 vaccine on camera
Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the White House's coronavirus task force, was vaccinated for COVID-19 Friday morning at an event intended to build public confidence in the vaccine.
"I didn't feel a thing," Pence said. "Well done."
Pence sat in a chair next to an American flag and under a sign that said “SAFE and EFFECTIVE.”
He received the recently-approved vaccine developed by Pfizer that is being distributed throughout the country.
"Karen and I hope this step today will be a source of confidence and of comfort to the American people," Pence said. "These days of hardship and heartbreak will, in a day not too far in the future, be put in the past."
– Maureen Groppe
Top lawmakers to be vaccinated as first vaccines arrive on Capitol Hill
Top lawmakers would soon be vaccinated as the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived on Capitol Hill.
In a memo sent to lawmakers late Thursday, Brian Monahan, the Attending Physician of the United States Congress, said members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and top government officials had received doses to ensure continuity of government. Monahan said the "small" number of doses received were just a "fraction of the first tranche of vaccines."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would receive the vaccine "in the next few days," though she said she would continue to follow CDC guidelines and wear a mask. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement he too would receive the vaccine . As a polio survivor, he said, he knew "both the fear of a disease and the extraordinary promise of hope that vaccines bring." Both congressional leaders urged Americans to accept the vaccine as it became available and to continue following CDC guidelines.
– Nicholas Wu
Congress rushes to strike deal on COVID stimulus, avoid shutdown
After months of contentious negotiations and bitter finger-pointing over their failure to reach a deal on a new stimulus package, lawmakers on Capitol Hill say they are close to an agreement to deliver about $900 billion to Americans reeling from the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. But a final version of the bill is still being hammered out, and while both sides still seem optimistic a deal is near, it appears likely Congress will have to stay in session through the weekend to get it done.
The broad strokes of the package are said to include $300 billion in aid for business, direct payment of $600 to taxpayers and $300 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits for the millions of Americans unable to find work amid the crisis.
Though the pandemic has not relented since the coronavirus first began to infect people in the U.S., Congress has not passed a major stimulus package in response since the CARES Act in March.
On top of the COVID relief bill, congressional Democrats and Republicans are also wrangling over a roughly $1.4 trillion government funding bill. An extension passed last week expires at midnight and a partial government shutdown would begin if lawmakers can't agree.
Though lawmakers are undoubtedly anxious to leave town for the holidays, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stressed the importance of getting the bills through before recess.
"We must not slide into treating these talks like routine negotiations to be conducted at Congress’ routine pace," McConnell said. "The Senate is not going anywhere until we have COVID relief out the door."
– William Cummings
Tuberville suggests he might object to electoral vote count on Jan. 6
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump praised a GOP Senator-elect on Thursday night for suggesting he might challenge the Electoral College count.
Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville of Alabama said "You'll see what's coming ... You've been reading about in the House. We're going to have to do it in the Senate."
"It's impossible. It is impossible what happened," Tuberville said, referring to President-elect Joe Biden's victory, during a campaign stop in Georgia, "But we're going to get that corrected."
Trump called Tuberville a "great champion and man of courage" and demanded "More Republicans Senators" follow his lead and "Do something!"
That’s because he is a great champion and man of courage. More Republican Senators should follow his lead. We had a landslide victory, and then it was swindled away from the Republican Party - but we caught them. Do something! https://t.co/nZU0czsZgB
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2020
Any objections Jan. 6, when Congress meets to count the election results from the state, would require support from one House member and one senator to be considered.
On Thursday, Biden's cabinet selections continued with the historic pick of Rep. Deb Haaland to be secretary of the Interior. If confirmed, she will be the first Native American to serve in that position.
Top Senate leaders said Thursday a COVID-19 stimulus deal was close but warned they might not pass a bill until the weekend as they tried to close the gap on remaining differences.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Politics live updates: Congress works to OK COVID deal, avoid shutdown