President Trump declined Thursday to say whether he retains confidence in Attorney General William P. Barr, who this week undercut the president by saying he had not seen any evidence of fraud on a scale that would alter the election results.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to take up a challenge to the presidential election filed by Trump’s campaign, a new blow to his floundering efforts to overturn the election.

Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris named Tina Flournoy as her chief of staff and selected other key aides Thursday as the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden forged ahead with its transition to power.

Here’s what to know:
  • Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious-disease official, said he would be engaging in his first “substantive discussions” about the pandemic with Biden’s transition team on Thursday.
  • Former president Barack Obama plans to campaign virtually Friday for the two Democrats in Senate runoffs in Georgia.
  • Trump’s planned trip to Georgia on Saturday to campaign for two Senate candidates embroiled in tight runoff races has put some Republicans on edge that he could do more harm than good.
  • Trump distributed a 46-minute video rant filled with baseless allegations of voter fraud and outright falsehoods in which he argued that his election loss was “statistically impossible.”
3:17 a.m.
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Biden says several Republican senators have secretly congratulated him on election win

By Toluse Olorunnipa

President-elect Joe Biden has said “more than several” Republican lawmakers have secretly called him to congratulate him on his election victory, even though most have declined to publicly acknowledge the reality and instead have indulged President Trump’s fantastical claims about electoral fraud.

“There have been more than several sitting Republican senators who have privately called me and congratulated me,” Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper during a joint interview with Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris on Thursday. “And I understand the situation they find themselves in, and until the election is clearly decided in the minds of the electoral college votes, they get put in a very tough position.”

A month after Election Day, Biden’s answer offered an indication of how he plans to deal with the unprecedented attempt by Trump to overturn the election results, and the complicity of GOP lawmakers who have largely remained silent amid a disruption to the peaceful transfer of power.

Biden, who criticized Trump for reportedly considering last-minute pardons for family members and declining to concede the race, said he was under no illusions that the Republican senators would be eager to work with him in a post-Trump era.

“It’s going to be hard,” he said. “I’m not suggesting it’s going to be easy. It’s going to be hard. But I’m confident that on the things that affect the national security and the fundamental economic necessity to keep people employed, get people employed, to bring the economy back — there’s plenty of room we can work.”

While some GOP senators have publicly acknowledged Biden’s win, most have remained silent and some have claimed that Trump’s baseless fraud claims deserve consideration.

Asked about Trump potentially skipping the inauguration, Biden said such a move would reflect poorly on the country.

“It’s of no personal consequence for me,” he said, adding that Trump should attend for the good of the nation.

1:45 a.m.
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David Perdue appears to tacitly acknowledge Biden’s victory in video call with Republican group

By Amy Gardner

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) appeared to tacitly acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in a video recording obtained by The Washington Post on Thursday, speaking just days before President Trump plans to travel to Georgia to campaign for Perdue and fellow senator Kelly Loeffler.

Neither Loeffler (R-Ga.) nor Perdue has acknowledged Biden’s victory in public, and both have supported the president’s unfounded claims that fraud tainted the election.

But in a video meeting recorded Wednesday with members of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Perdue spoke pragmatically about the role a GOP-controlled Senate could play as a check on the Biden administration. He did not discuss Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.

“We know what this change of command at the top will mean with our foreign relations,” Perdue said in the video, adding: “If we can keep the majority in the Senate, we can at least be a buffer on some of the things that the Biden camp has been talking about in terms of their foreign policy.”

Read full story here.

11:44 p.m.
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GOP election challenge in Arizona centers on minor errors, not widespread fraud

By Emma Brown

An Arizona judge heard testimony Thursday in an election contest filed by Kelli Ward, the chairwoman of the state Republican Party, in an effort to annul or overturn Biden’s victory.

Judge Randall Warner dismissed a key part of Ward’s case, which claimed that election officials engaged in “misconduct” when they failed to provide observers with adequate access. Warner said that Republicans had waited too long to bring that complaint and that they should have sought redress when the alleged violations were ongoing and could have been fixed. But he allowed Ward’s lawyers to present evidence related to her claim that the processing of ballots in Maricopa County was so flawed that the election results — which were certified earlier this week — were either wrong or so uncertain that they should not be allowed to stand.

In court Thursday, Ward’s lawyers focused on errors in the duplication of ballots that are damaged or otherwise unreadable by tabulation machines. In such cases, a bipartisan board of election workers looks at the ballot to determine the voter’s intent and then fills in a clean ballot accordingly.

Before Thursday’s hearing, Ward’s lawyers were allowed to compare 1,626 duplicated ballots with the originals. Lawyers for Democrats and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) also attended. They found nine errors, an error rate of about a half-percent. In other words, Scott Jarrett, a county elections official said Thursday, 99.45 percent of the inspected ballots were duplicated properly. Jarrett said some level of human error is unavoidable. “We’re all people,” he said. “It would be unreasonable to expect there would be no errors.”

Seven of the errors deprived Trump of votes, compared with two that deprived Biden. Applying the same error rate to the more than 27,000 ballots that were duplicated countywide, Trump would gain a total of 103 votes, Jarrett said.

That is far fewer than Biden’s margin of victory of 10,457 votes.

Ward’s lawyers were also allowed to inspect signatures on 100 mail-ballot envelopes and the signatures on file that election workers used for verification. In court papers, they said handwriting experts had determined that 10 percent of those signature matches were “inconclusive.” Democrats, in their own court papers, argued that an election cannot be overturned because of a subjective review of signature matches — and they pointed out that the handwriting expert retained by Ward was criticized by a California court in 2019 for misrepresenting herself as having a doctoral degree.

Ward’s lawyers finished presenting her case Thursday afternoon. The hearing will continue Friday morning with witnesses called by Democrats, Maricopa County and the secretary of state.

11:01 p.m.
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GOP poll-watchers in Michigan ask judge to order an audit of already-certified votes

By David A. Fahrenthold

In a hearing Thursday, lawyers for GOP poll-watchers — who had earlier tried and failed to block the certification of Michigan’s votes — asked a judge to order an audit of the now-certified election results in Wayne County, home of Detroit.

The defendants — including Wayne County and the City of Detroit — asked the judge to not just reject the motion, but also to sanction the plaintiffs for bringing it. David Fink, an attorney for Detroit, said that the goal of the motion was not to win in court but to raise questions about the vote counting in Detroit, and damage public confidence in the election.

“They want to undermine our democracy,” Fink said. He asked Judge Timothy M. Kenny to “grant significant sanctions, because this has to stop. They are trying to use this court in a very improper way.”

Biden won Michigan by more than 150,000 votes, and his win was certified by Michigan’s bipartisan Board of Canvassers on Nov. 23. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) has said that, by law, she cannot start any audit of the state’s results until late December. By that time, Michigan’s electors will have already cast their votes for Biden on Dec. 14.

But in this case, the plaintiffs want Wayne County’s results to be audited immediately. The judge seemed skeptical of the plaintiffs’ argument, and asked them whether it was a backdoor way to try to overturn the now-certified results.

“Is the notion of wanting an audit done right now putting a cloud over the certification?” Kenny asked. “Or are you seeking to stop what has been a certified election from then going forward.”

“We’re not here to change results. We’re here to ask for an audit,” said David Kallman, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Kenny interrupted. “You really are trying to change the results, are you not?”

“Honestly, Judge, I don’t know what the results will be,” Kallman said.

Kenny said he would issue an opinion by noon Tuesday.

10:53 p.m.
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Fauci says he’s staying on in new administration, meets with Biden transition team

By Felicia Sonmez

Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, said Thursday that he plans to stay on as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases after the Biden administration takes office.

In an interview with CBS News’s Major Garrett earlier in the day, Fauci said that he has spoken several times with Ronald A. Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, and that he would meet by teleconference later Thursday with the entire Biden “landing team,” a group that facilitates the presidential transition.

“Today will be the first day where there will be substantive discussions about the … transition, between me and the Biden team,” Fauci said during a podcast interview with Garrett.

Later Thursday, in an interview with CNN, Biden said he has asked Fauci to serve as a chief medical adviser and as part of his pandemic response team.

“I asked him to stay on the exact same role he’s had for the past several presidents, and I asked him to be a chief medical adviser for me, as well, and be part of the covid team,” Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Biden added that he plans to ask Americans to commit to wearing a mask during the first 100 days of his presidency to slow the spread of the virus.

“Just 100 days to mask, not forever. One hundred days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction,” he said.

10:39 p.m.
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New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham, a contender for health secretary, picked to chair Democratic governors group

By Colby Itkowitz

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has been named the chair of the Democratic Governors Association, suggesting she’ll be staying in her current job and not taking a spot in the Biden administration.

Lujan Grisham was rumored to be among Biden’s top choices to be his secretary of health and human services, a critical post as the nation continues to endure a devastating pandemic.

But the Associated Press reported Thursday that Lujan Grisham was out of the running for that job and that she had turned down an offer to be Biden’s interior secretary.

Still, Lujan Grisham accepting the role of head of the Democratic governors and then joining the president-elect’s administration instead would not be without precedent. In 2016, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was slated to chair the Republican Governors Association when Trump picked her as United Nations ambassador.

9:42 p.m.
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Farah resigns as White House communications director in tacit nod to Trump’s loss

By Ashley Parker

White House communications director Alyssa Farah resigned from her post Thursday after three-and-a-half years in the Trump administration.

Farah, 31, began her White House tenure as press secretary under Vice President Pence, before joining the Defense Department as press secretary last September, and returned to the White House as communications director in April. She is the first person to serve in these three roles in one administration, and the youngest Pentagon press secretary.

Farah’s departure, with little over a month remaining in President Trump’s administration, amounts to a tacit acknowledgment that — despite his baseless and dangerous claims to the contrary — Trump lost the 2020 election, and much of his team is now pondering their post-White House future.

On the Saturday after the election, when the presidency was widely called for President-elect Joe Biden, Farah offered a call to unity on Twitter, writing, “There is more that unites as a Nation than divides us,” along with three American flag emoji.

8:34 p.m.
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Cornyn says Trump’s path toward contesting election results ‘has narrowed, if not closed’

By Felicia Sonmez

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Thursday that he believes Trump may no longer have a viable path toward contesting the election results, going further than he previously has in acknowledging the president’s loss.

“So far, it looks to me like the pathway for the president has narrowed, if not closed,” Cornyn told Texas reporters when asked about Trump’s efforts to challenge the election results in court, according to the Texas Tribune.

Attorney General William P. Barr said earlier this week that he has not seen any evidence of fraud that would swing the election results in Trump’s favor. Nonetheless, many Republicans have declined to call Biden the president-elect or congratulate him on his win, deferring to Trump, who continues to make false claims that the election was “rigged” or “stolen.”

7:47 p.m.
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Pennsylvania Supreme Court denies request to stay dismissal of GOP lawsuit against mail ballots

By Elise Viebeck

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously denied a request to stay its dismissal of a Republican lawsuit challenging universal mail voting in the state and seeking to overturn Biden’s victory there.

In a one-sentence order, the court declared the emergency application for stay of Saturday’s dismissal “denied,” the latest in blows for Trump and his allies as they seek to undo Biden’s wins in key battleground states.

It is unclear what effect the denial will have on Republicans’ strategy in the case. Trump allies who brought the lawsuit said Tuesday that they had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s dismissal, but that petition appears to have been withdrawn.

An email requesting comment from the petitioners’ lawyer was not immediately returned.

The GOP lawsuit challenged Act 77, a 2019 Pennsylvania statute that allows voters to cast ballots by mail for any reason, and sought to block certification of the state’s election results. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the challenge was brought too late, calling the “want of due diligence demonstrated in this matter … unmistakable.”

Maya Smith contributed to this report.

7:42 p.m.
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Sen. Durbin willing to give up subcommittee post as peace offering amid Democrats’ post-election infighting

By Paul Kane and Seung Min Kim

The second-ranking Senate Democrat threw his support behind a proposal that would force him to give up a powerful subcommittee post overseeing the Pentagon budget, a peace offering amid a heated internal reckoning after the caucus came up short of expectations in a fourth straight election.

The potential ascension of Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Democratic whip for the past 16 years, to the top post on the Judiciary Committee — as chairman or ranking Democrat, depending on the outcome of Georgia’s Jan. 5 Senate elections — set off a broader debate about the power accumulated by senior Democrats.

6:48 p.m.
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Ivanka Trump confirms she was questioned by the D.C. attorney general’s office over Inaugural Committee spending

By Jacqueline Alemany and David A. Fahrenthold

Ivanka Trump was questioned for more than five hours this week by investigators from the D.C. attorney general’s office, which has accused Trump’s Inaugural Committee of wasting donated money on an overpriced ballroom at the president’s D.C. hotel, Ivanka Trump said Thursday on Twitter.

The D.C. attorney general’s office revealed Wednesday in a court filing that it had taken Ivanka Trump’s deposition earlier in the week. In her tweet, she said investigators had “questioned the rates charged by the Trump Hotel at the inauguration” in 2017.

6:26 p.m.
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Wisconsin Supreme Court declines to hear Trump campaign challenge to election results

By Rosalind S. Helderman

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday declined to take up a challenge to the presidential election filed by Trump’s campaign, ruling that under state law, Trump should have sought a hearing first in a lower-level court.

Trump’s campaign could still seek to challenge Biden’s more than 20,000-vote lead in the state in Wisconsin circuit court. But the refusal of the state’s highest court to take up Trump’s petition is a new blow to Trump’s floundering efforts to overturn the election — and a particularly stinging rebuke, given that conservatives hold a 4-to-3 majority on the elected panel.

One conservative member of the panel, Brian Hagedorn, joined the court’s three more liberal members in declining to take the case.

In a concurring opinion, he wrote, “We do well as a judicial body to abide by time-tested judicial norms, even — and maybe especially — in high-profile cases. Following the law governing challenges to election results is no threat to the rule of law.”

Hagedorn wrote that he had determined the court should decline to take the case so the Trump campaign could “promptly exercise” its right to seek action in a lower court.

Trump’s campaign had argued the matter was of such pressing and urgent concern that it should be considered immediately by the high court. In the petition, it argued that more than 220,000 ballots cast in the state’s two most Democratic counties were improperly accepted by election officials and should be thrown out.

The campaign did not allege that individual voters committed fraud or engaged in wrongdoing, but rather that election officials misinterpreted state law regarding several large categories of ballots.

That included all ballots cast early and in person in the two counties. The campaign challenged the practices, even though they were identical to those in place statewide and were unchanged since prior to the 2016 election, which Trump won and did not contest.

The state Supreme Court agreed that Wisconsin law allows for a challenge from a person who loses after a recount — which Trump sought and confirmed his defeat in the state by Biden. But the state high court said the law requires that the challenge be filed first in circuit court.

Under state law, a candidate gets five days to file such a challenge, a window that will close on Monday.

6:06 p.m.
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More Senate Republicans signal openness to $908 billion relief package as pandemic spike worsens

By Jeff Stein, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim

Several senior Republicans expressed interest in the bipartisan coronavirus relief package Thursday, joining Democratic leaders who have also said the $908 billion proposal should be used as the starting point for urgent negotiations.

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) signaled their openness to the package, which had been unveiled by a group of moderate Republican and Democratic senators Tuesday. The measure is more than what Senate Republicans had originally offered but less than what House Democrats had wanted, but it is designed to try to provide immediate relief to some parts of the economy as the pandemic enters a dangerous and increasingly deadly phase.

The two top congressional Democrats — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) — on Wednesday called the bipartisan offer an appropriate basis for stimulus negotiations, a significant retreat from their previous demands for a much larger stimulus package. President-elect Joe Biden has also urged lawmakers to come together on an interim deal during the lame-duck session of Congress.

6:02 p.m.
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Vivek Murthy likely to reprise role as surgeon general

By Amy Goldstein

Vivek H. Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general who won the trust of Biden during the presidential campaign, has been offered the same role in the new administration.

According to an individual familiar with the decision, Murthy had been one of the candidates under consideration by the Biden transition team to lead the Department of Health and Human Services — a role he sought.

But Biden’s transition leaders appear to be leaning toward a governor or someone else with more extensive management experience than Murthy, who is trained in internal medicine, has a public health background and is regarded as a skillful communicator about health issues.

The individual, who spoke on the condition of anonymity lacking authorization to discuss personnel moves, said Murthy may also receive a White House title to signify that he is a central member of the incoming president’s team charged with fighting the raging coronavirus pandemic, the top priority for Biden and his advisers.

Medical and public health advocates are pressing the Biden transition team to include in the new administration’s Cabinet at least one person with a background in medicine or public health — Murthy or someone else.

Murthy, 43, was the surgeon general from late 2014 until a few months into Trump’s tenure. He issued the first surgeon general’s report on addiction as opioids were a national crisis. Since then, he has, among other things, written a book about loneliness.