Political

Trump-Biden transition updates: RI governor emerges as possible HHS secretary

Bet_Noire/iStockBy LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — President Donald Trump is slated to hand over control of the White House to President-elect Joe Biden in 49 days.

Here is how the transition is unfolding. All times Eastern:

Dec 02, 11:06 pm
Raimondo may be chosen to lead Biden’s HHS department

With President-elect Joe Biden preparing to unveil his picks to lead agencies on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus, Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island has emerged as a potential selection to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, sources tell ABC News.

The Harvard, Oxford and Yale-educated governor has long been rumored as someone who could enter a Biden administration after she was vetted for vice president. Raimondo, who was elected in 2014, was seen ahead of the election as a possible nominee for Treasury or Commerce secretary, given a Wall Street background that has made her a target for progressives hoping to influence Biden’s incoming administration.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who was also vetted for vice president, is seen as another leading contender for HHS secretary, given her work leading a state during the pandemic, and serving as New Mexico’s health secretary earlier in her career. She has also been boosted by Latino Democrats and advocates who want Biden’s cabinet to reflect the diversity of the coalition that helped him win the White House.

Biden’s pick for HHS secretary, and other coronavirus and health-related roles, could be unveiled as early as next week, sources told ABC News.

A transition spokesman did not immediately respond to questions about Biden’s consideration of the governors or the timing of any announcements. Raimondo and Lujan Grisham’s offices did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Dec 02, 7:32 pm
Loeffler, Perdue have been put “in a box”: Gabriel Sterling

Gabriel Sterling, the voting system implementation manager in Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office, told ABC News Prime anchor Linsey Davis Wednesday he believes  Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have been unfairly put “in a box” by Trump’s rhetoric and stance on the election.
 
“They don’t want to lose the Trump supporters, but by acting this way they’re going to lose another chunk of supporters, and so it’s a box they can’t get out of and the president, it was unfair of him to put them in the situation,” Sterling said.

Sterling’s comments come a day after his impassioned pleas to the president to stop spreading false claims and conspiracies about the election and to condemn violent threats that have been directed at election officials.
 
During that press conference, he called on Perdue and Loeffler to condemn the violent threats, which they did in statements, while also continuing to sow doubt in the election.

Sterling said he still plans to vote for them because, as a Republican, he said he wants to see the Republican Party maintain control of the Senate.
 
Davis pressed him on this, saying his support for the senators makes his “compelling argument … kind of fall a little hollow.” Sterling said it’s been somewhat of an internal struggle for him.
 
“Linsey, being a human being sometimes means dealing with ambiguity in your own mind and trying to balance out what you think is the right thing for the long term versus the right thing when you’re in the moment,” he said.

“For the long term of this, I’m gonna continue to fight for the sanity and sanctity of my party, and the policies and values that I want to fight for,” he added later.  “I was angry. I still believe that. And I do think if they step up, they can do better.”
 
Sterling said he would continue defending what he called the “safest, most secure election in the history of the United States, and that he “would go to (his) death bed” believing it was just that.
 
“These two senators, they still have time in my opinion to step up and step out and do the right thing,” Sterling said.

Dec 02, 6:37 pm
At inflammatory rally, Trump allies call for Georgians to ‘not vote’ in Senate runoff

There were unmistakable signs Wednesday of a growing rift in the Republican Party as allies of Trump — still fastened to the idea that the 2020 election was rigged — implored a large crowd of supporters to forget about the pivotal Georgia runoff elections.

Urging Georgians to make clear “you will not vote until you know your votes are secure,” Trump ally Sidney Powell told a large and boisterous crowd in Atlanta to focus their energy instead on protesting officials from both parties who she blames for a global conspiracy to throw the election. The widely debunked conspiracy involving the company that makes voting machines is also the premise of her multi-state legal effort.

“There should not be a run-off, at least on Dominion machines,” Powell said.

The message could not be further at odds with a national Republican drive to back two GOP candidates who were forced into runoff elections for the state’s two U.S. Senate seats — the outcome of which will determine control of the chamber.

The “Stop the Steal” rally at an Atlanta-area park also featured conservative lawyer Lin Wood, who used the platform to push baseless and outlandish claims about fraud in the 2020 election and generated a huge response with cries for a revolt to put Trump back in office.

Wood, wearing a red MAGA hat, at one point called for the Republican governor of Georgia to be locked up and urged rally-goers to protest outside Brian Kemp’s house. The incendiary language came just one day after Gabriel Sterling, a top official in the GOP secretary of state’s office in Georgia, made a passionate plea for civility and rebuked Trump for not condemning threats of violence against people overseeing the voting system in his state.

“I want you to go to the governor’s mansion, I want you to circle it … until Brian Kemp comes out and orders a special session of the GA legislature … then as far as I’m concerned, lock him up,” Wood told the excited crowd, which then erupted in “lock him up!” chants.

“I state as a matter of fact you are a criminal,” Wood repeated about Kemp. “You need to go to jail.”

Powell used similarly inflammatory language in urging the crowd to “flood” Georgia lawmakers with phone calls and letters to protest the certification of the election.

The rally in Georgia was organized by the same “Stop the Steal” group that has been protesting the election results across the country since the election, promoting baseless claims of widespread fraud and urging legislatures to overturn the results.

“Stop the Steal” is a pro-Trump group that quickly emerged flowing the 2020 election fueled by baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. It’s led by popular pro-Trump social media activists and has been organizing “stop the steal” rallies around the country calling for the results to be overturned.

Sterling responded to the rally in a press conference Wednesday.

“I find it interesting that somebody who’s had a Democrat voting record since 2004 is out there telling Republicans not to vote in an election,” he said. “We encourage all voters to vote in an election — Democrat, Republican, Independent, Green, socialist, you know, Libertarian, whatever party you want to be — go out and exercise your vote because that’s your right as an American.”

Sterling also shot down Powell’s claims about votes being switched as “not true” and noted that there was also a by-hand audit in the state.

-ABC News’ Will Steakin, Olivia Rubin and Quinn Scanlan

Dec 02, 5:35 pm
Biden urges Congress to pass emergency relief ‘down payment’

After listening to small business owners and workers discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in a virtual and at times emotional roundtable on Wednesday afternoon, Biden said he wouldn’t be able to make a direct difference in their lives until he takes office — urging Congress to pass relief in the meantime.

“The full Congress should come together and pass a robust package of relief to address your urgent needs now,” Biden said, reminding once again that any packages passed before he gets into office would only be a “down payment,” on his administration’s initiatives.

“This isn’t a political game,” Biden said. “My transition team is already working on what I will put forward in the next Congress to address the multiple crises we’re facing, especially the economic crisis and COVID. Come January, the vice president-elect and I are going to fight every day for your families.”

Biden also pointedly said that Americans “cannot be traveling” during the holidays, recalling his Thanksgiving, which was celebrated via Zoom, and noting the  surge in cases across the country. He ended the roundtable by urging Americans to “hang on” during the transition, saying it’s going to be “hard as hell” unless some additional relief is passed.

“I really don’t want you giving up hope. I promise you, hang on. We’re gonna get through this. You’re gonna get through this. It’s gonna be hard as hell for the next 50 to 70 days unless the House acts in some way, the Senate acts and passes some of this material,” Biden said.

His message came as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced they are backing a new $908 billion pandemic relief bill introduced this week by a bipartisan group of Senate and House lawmakers — a sign of movement in a stalemate that has dogged Congress for months.

-ABC News’ John Verhovek, Molly Nagle, Beatrice Peterson and Mariam Khan

Dec 02, 5:09 pm
Top US counterintelligence official calls threats against Krebs ’embarrassing’

The top U.S. counterintelligence official tasked with overseeing the security of the 2020 election called out Trump ally Joe diGenova in an interview Wednesday over his recent threat calling for fired CISA chief Chris Krebs to be “shot,” describing the attack as “embarrassing” while echoing some of Krebs’ recent statements that had described the election as secure overall.

“I think it’s wholly inappropriate and just disappointing to me as an American the comments that were made,” NCSC director Bill Evanina said during a panel at the Aspen Cyber Summit Wednesday. “As a 32-year government official, it’s just baffling to me that you would have someone who was respected once as a U.S. attorney or a judge make those foolish comments.”

“Embarrassing would be the right word,” Evanina added.

Asked if he was concerned about Americans who believed inaccurate conspiracy theories about what happened in this election, Evanina said he was — while not referring directly to anything peddled by Trump or his legal team.

“Our elections, as I’ve said publicly, are the core fundamental basis for which we have the ability to live in an amazing democracy, we have to preserve and protect our elections at all costs,” Evanina said. “So the folks who do that, put their lives on the line every day — metaphorically on the line — should have the ability to do that with safety and security, not be anguished because one party lost, one party won.”

Evanina’s comments related to the security of the election are reminiscent of those that landed Krebs in hot water with the president, who later fired him over his statements disputing conspiracies about the integrity of the vote. Trump nominated Evanina for his position as NCSC director in 2018.

-ABC News’ Alexander Mallin

Dec 02, 4:17 pm
Biden hears from workers and small business owners at roundtable

Biden is meeting with workers and small business owners impacted by the economic crisis in a virtual roundtable Wednesday afternoon from Wilmington, Delaware, to discuss his plan that he’s said will put the economy back on track and bring more jobs than before the pandemic.

The president-elect gave a brief introduction before opening the floor to participants to share their stories of how the pandemic has affected them.

“I know you’ve all experienced the effect of one great problem, and that is the economic downturn in large part because of COVID, and the failure of some of our friends in Congress to move forward on the kind of economic package that was passed and needed to help people,” Biden said.

Participants included a crossing guard in Chicago who lost her job, a restaurant owner in Milwaukee and a now unemployed worker at Comerica Stadium in Detroit who delivered an impassioned plea to Biden for assurance on unemployment benefits and job security.

“We feel hopeless,” she said through tears. “It’s just an everyday struggle for us, so we’re hoping that we can get some help.”

The event comes on the heels of Biden debuting his nominees to lead economic policy posts in the incoming administration.

Biden has said one of his top priorities is getting another COVID-19 stimulus package through Congress, even if one passes in the lame-duck session (which he has supported), telling Americans on Tuesday, “Help is on the way.”

Dec 02, 2:09 pm
Biden COVID-19 advisory board members hold Latino and immigrant worker roundtable

Two members of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, Drs. Marcella Nunez-Smith and Robert Rodriguez, met with Latino and immigrant workers and providers to discuss the COVID-19 crisis, according to a readout from the transition team. The meeting was part a larger effort to continually engage with health care and front-line workers, according to Biden’s transition team.

Nunez-Smith and Rodriguez “reaffirmed the president-elect and vice president-elect’s commitment to addressing the disproportionate impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in communities of color,” the readout of the meeting said. The group included an early educator, a farm worker, the executive director of nonprofit Servicios de la Raza and the chairman of the board of SOMOS Community Care, a network of health providers.

The meeting came ahead of Biden’s own virtual roundtable slated for later in afternoon with small business leaders to discuss the economic and coronavirus crises.

-ABC News’ John Verhovek


Dec 02, 1:50 pm
White House downplays Barr’s comments on election fraud

White House press secretary Kaleigh McEnany in an afternoon briefing downplayed comments from Attorney General William Barr that the Justice Department has not found evidence of voter fraud on a scale that could change the outcome of the election even as Trump vows to continue contesting results in court.

“The president has said that he believes all legal votes should be counted and all illegal votes should not be counted. And in fact, the campaign is pursuing that litigation. I can’t get into the details of that litigation here, but they do still have active cases in Nevada, in Wisconsin,” said McEnany, who has operated as a campaign spokesperson in a “volunteer” capacity.

“The attorney general was speaking to what had come before his desk,” McEnany said.

As of Tuesday, Trump and his allies have lost at least 31 different cases brought to contest the election.

Asked directly, McEnany wouldn’t say whether the president still has confidence in Barr.

“The president, if he has any personnel announcement, you will be the first to know it,” she said.

McEnany said she hadn’t spoken with the president about Barr’s comment. She also noted that a spokesperson for the Department of Justice released a statement following Barr’s interview reiterating the Justice Department’s investigation into fraud is ongoing.

-ABC News’ Benjamin Siegel

Dec 02, 12:38 pm
Democrat Mark Kelly to be sworn in as U.S. Senator, flipping seat

Former astronaut and retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly is slated to be sworn in as Arizona’s second Democratic senator Wednesday afternoon, shaving the Republican’s majority by one vote for the final weeks of the lame-duck session and marking the first time the state has had two Democrats in the Senate in 67 years.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin on the Senate floor around 2 p.m. He’s expected to be escorted to the dais by fellow Arizona Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema where Vice President Mike Pence, as Senate president, is expected to swear Kelly in. Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, Kelly’s wife and activist against gun violence, is expected to attend. After the official swearing-in, Kelly will go to the Old Senate Chamber for a photo op.

Kelly’s victory over GOP Sen. Martha McSally helped narrow the Senate GOP’s majority from 53-47 to 52-48. The balance of power — and the promise of Biden passing big ticket legislation he’s hoping for — now hangs on two runoff elections in Georgia. If Democrats win both races, the Senate would be split 50-50, and incoming Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would cast tie-breaking votes in the upper chamber.

-ABC News’ Trish Turner

Dec 02, 11:30 am
Georgia secretary of state backs election official who slammed Trump’s rhetoric

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger at the State Capitol in Atlanta defended Gabriel Sterling’s impassioned and angered plea to Trump Tuesday and said while he may not have used the same language, he was aware of what Sterling was going to say and that he had the “full support” of the secretary and his office.

“He spoke with passion, and he spoke the truth, and it’s about time that more people are out there speaking the truth,” Raffensperger said.

Sterling, the state’s voting system implementation manager, on Tuesday slammed Trump and GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Purdue for what he deemed their silence on failing to condemn harassment and death threats against election workers amid rampant and largely unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud as the state continues a third count of the presidential vote.

Sterling called on Trump to “step up” and say, “Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence,” adding, “Someone’s gonna get hurt. Someone’s gonna get shot. Someone’s gonna get killed.”

“All of you who’ve not said a damn word are complicit in this,” he said, detailing death threats one Georgia election worker has faced.

A more mild-mannered Raffenspeger also chastised Trump Wednesday for how he responded on Twitter to Sterling’s pleas for him to condemn violence.

“Even after this office request that President Trump trying to quell the violent rhetoric, being born out of his continuing claims of winning the states where he obviously lost, he tweeted out, ‘Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia.’ This is exactly the kind of language that is at the base of the growing threat environment for election workers who are simply doing their jobs,” Raffensperger said.

-ABC News’ Quinn Scanlan

Dec 02, 10:49 am
Overview: Biden meets with small business owners, Trump teases 2024 run

After debuting his nominees to lead economic policy posts in the incoming administration Tuesday, Biden is slated to participate in a virtual roundtable with workers and small business owners affected by the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis in Wilmington, Delaware, Wednesday afternoon.

For the third day he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will also receive the President’s Daily Brief, following a 16-day standoff with the Trump administration holding up federally-allocated resources to aid in the transition.

Although Trump still publicly refuses to concede the loss — vowing to press forward with legal battles despite a string of losses — at a White House holiday party Tuesday night, he acknowledged his potential departure from the White House by teasing running again in 2024.

“It’s been an amazing four years. We are trying to do another four years. Otherwise, I’ll see you in four years,” the president can be heard saying on video of the event reviewed by ABC News. Multiple sources also confirmed to ABC News that the president made the remarks.

In advance of Trump leaving office, sources tell ABC News the president is considering doling out preemptive pardons to members of his inner circle. Names for consideration include the president’s three oldest children, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — who has denied asking for one — and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

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