President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn his election loss are plunging deeper into incoherence.
On Saturday night, the Trump campaign requested a second recount in Georgia, a day after top Republican state officials certified his defeat following a statewide audit. This one will be done by machine and is even less likely to reverse his fate. Hours earlier, a federal judge rejected the Trump campaign’s latest effort to disenfranchise millions of voters – this time in Pennsylvania.
All around the country, Trump lawyers and loyalists are seeing their baseless allegations of systemic voter fraud treated with increasing contempt by disbelieving judges. Even now, with a wave of certification deadlines about to crash down, the President and his opportunistic enablers are injecting doubt – and anxiety – wherever they can. The returns, though, seem to be diminishing and Joe Biden’s transition team is plowing forward – with the President-elect set to announce his Cabinet picks this week.
On Saturday, it was Judge Matthew Brann, a Republican, who in tossing out a Trump-backed lawsuit felt compelled to underscore, with a literary flourish, the absurdity of the campaign’s assertions.
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“This claim, like Frankenstein’s Monster, has been haphazardly stitched together from two distinct theories in an attempt to avoid controlling precedent,” Brann wrote. His decision prompted another Republican, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey – who is not running for reelection in 2022 – to do the bare minimum in breaking ranks with party leaders and acknowledging Biden as the President-elect.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a staunch Trump ally, called the conduct of the President’s legal team a “national embarrassment” on Sunday and said it was time for him to end his futile legal gambit.
“I have been a supporter of the President’s. I voted for him twice, but elections have consequences, and we cannot continue to act as if something happened here that didn’t happen,” Christie, an ABC contributor, said on “This Week.”
Later Sunday, Trump’s lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis attempted to distance themselves from attorney Sidney Powell, a member of Trump’s legal team who has been spreading conspiracy theories about the election and whom Christie had singled out.
“Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own,” Giuliani and Ellis said in their statement, which came just days after Powell joined them for a wild news conference at Republican National Committee headquarters and a week after the President announced on Twitter that she was joining his legal team.
In her own statement later Sunday, Powell said she agreed that she was “not part of the campaign’s legal team” and that she never billed the campaign any fees. “My intent has always been to expose all the fraud I could find and let the chips fall where they may–whether it be upon Republicans or Democrats,” she added, vowing to file an “epic” lawsuit this week.
But even as Trump’s brazen bid to subvert American democracy keeps gobbling up headlines, it is his appalling handling of the pandemic that seems poised now to etch itself more lastingly into the history books.
The United States surpassed 12 million coronavirus cases on Saturday, adding nearly 200,000 more to its staggering count. Trump has made no mention of the terrifying milestone. Rather, he spent part of the day golfing.
It was just as well.
Trump’s petulance worsens pandemic pain
When the lame duck President speaks about the pandemic, he only further undermines scattershot efforts to contain it. That Trump skipped out of a side-session focused on pandemic preparedness with world leaders at the G20 virtual gathering on Saturday surprised no one. It’s unlikely he was missed. All the while, states and cities around this country reported record-high numbers of infections as hospitalizations mounted – setting off alarm bells over a collapse of an overwhelmed health care system. And that’s before millions of Americans begin their ill-advised holiday travels ahead of Thanksgiving this week.
More than 255,000 are already dead, millions out work, and the administration and its Republican allies in the Senate seem determined to deepen the despair – while, in the process, undermining Biden’s efforts to right the ship when he takes control on January 20 of next year. By blocking Biden’s team from accessing sensitive government information, complicated operations like the distribution of a vaccine are likely to be delayed or made more cumbersome.
Moncef Slaoui, the head of the White House’s coronavirus vaccine effort, lamented Sunday that “it’s very unfortunate that the whole (vaccine) process has been politicized and, therefore, the context has created conditions whereby people’s perception has been exacerbated and we are where we are today.”
Vaccines are safe for Americans, Slaoui told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” and with two separate vaccine makers – Moderna and Pfizer – reporting their vaccines are about 95% effective with no major safety concerns, “it’s almost a full insurance against this pandemic,” he said.
Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser of Operation Warp Speed, told Tapper that the operation has stayed out of the political arena, but, when asked about the transition between the Trump administration and incoming Biden administration, said: “Smoothness is what we all aim for and therefore it would be better.”
Some nine months after the coronavirus first gripped the country, there is still no unified plan to combat it. And measures taken by Congress to mitigate the pain are lapsing. The expanded federal unemployment benefits extended as part of $2 trillion package passed earlier this year are due to run out just after Christmas, affecting an estimated 12 million Americans. There is, for now, little to suggest a coming renaissance of negotiation on Capitol Hill, where Senate Republicans have refused to take up a new aid package passed by House Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected potential piecemeal deals floated by the GOP in the run-up to the election.
Trump White House
The trickle down effects of inaction in Washington, DC, are being felt most acutely at the state and local level, where even officials who acknowledge the extent of the crisis are hesitant to take bold action and implement the kind of drastic measures proven to help curb the spread of the virus.
“You shut nonessential workplaces or indoor dining, you’re basically putting a bullet in them,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said on Friday about the absence of federal aid, suggesting that something like a “two-week pause” is effectively out of the question without a capital boost from Capitol Hill.
Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, ripped Senate Republicans over their hesitance to act – a contrast with the body’s relatively swift passage of the initial $2 trillion package back in March.
“With more than 12 million cases, over a quarter million Americans dead, more than 60 million unemployment claims filed since March, 8 million people have been pushed into poverty, and over one hundred thousand businesses shuttered, the same exact Senate has recessed without even the notion of hope of relief for Americans destined to die more likely from homelessness than a raging pandemic,” Nelson said. “Anyone musing politics makes inaction explainable better just resign now and let the patriotic essential workers take the reins.”
Even within congressional ranks, the number of Covid cases is steadily rising. Just this week, Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rick Scott of Florida tested positive. On Saturday night, Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican campaigning ahead of a runoff for her seat, announced that she, too, returned a positive test, bringing the total count to more than three dozen lawmakers from both parties. (Loeffler’s campaign said Sunday that a previously inconclusive test came back negative but she will continue to undergo testing and self-isolate.)
The twin crises of Covid and Trump’s antidemocratic machinations collided over the last 48 hours, when two leading Michigan GOP lawmakers emerged from a meeting at the White House by stating, again, that they had seen no evidence to suggest Biden did not win their state fair and square. Instead, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield apparently used at least part of their time with the President to deliver a letter pleading for more federal aid to fight the virus.
“Months ago, Michigan received funds through the federal CARES Act, and we used that funding to quickly support front line workers, improve testing, ensure adequate PPE, provide additional support to out-of-work Michiganders, and deliver assistance to local businesses that are struggling through no fault of their own,” the Michigan Republicans said in a joint statement. “We once again face a time in our state when additional support would go a long way to help those same residents who need our help.”
Trump retweeted the statement on Saturday morning, but ignored the request for help and focused on pumping air into his deflating campaign to upend the election.
“This is true, but much different than reported by the media,” Trump said. “We will show massive and unprecedented fraud!”
The meeting drew criticism from Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who told Tapper on Sunday that it was “completely outrageous.” Hogan, a moderate member of his party and a known Trump critic, also said he’s “embarrassed that more people in the party aren’t speaking up.”
“We used to go supervise elections around the world, and we were the most respected, you know, country with respect to elections. And now we’re beginning to look like we’re a banana republic. It’s time for them to stop the nonsense,” he said.
With a handful of local and state certification deadlines early next week, it has become plain that – like with so many other promises – Trump’s pledge to reveal some kind of massive, coordinated fraud will never materialize.
Shortly before news of the Pennsylvania case’s embarrassing defeat began to spread, Trump retreated to more hospitable territory – the Wild West of social media – to engage in a round of coronavirus whataboutism. He pointed to the toll of the pandemic on other countries and attacked the media for not reporting on the efficacy of emerging therapeutics.
“The Fake News is not talking about the fact that ‘Covid’ is running wild all over the World, not just in the U.S.,” he wrote, before referencing, presumably, the portion of the morning’s international summit he took part in. “I was at the Virtual G-20 meeting early this morning and the biggest subject was Covid. We will be healing fast, especially with our vaccines!”
Those vaccines, though promising, are still months away being made available to millions of desperate Americans, tens of thousands of whom are projected to die before they arrive.
Trump allies out to undermine Biden
In the meantime, Trump’s Treasury secretary appears to be doing his best to starve the distressed business community of a key lifeline. On Thursday, Steve Mnuchin requested that the Federal Reserve return some $455 billion in so-far unused funding that the central bank insists has – and will – continue to be crucial in preventing further economic woes.
Mnuchin himself, in a letter to the Federal Reserve, acknowledged that the lending programs “clearly achieved their objective.” But he still demanded the return of the nearly half-trillion dollars, a move that brought objections from corporate leaders – hardly a hotbed of anti-Trump resistance – and the Fed, which said it preferred “that the full suite of emergency facilities established during the coronavirus pandemic continue to serve their important role as a backstop for our still-strained and vulnerable economy.”
The reasoning for the decision, some experts said, appeared to be a bid to hamstring the incoming administration.
“This appears to be a political move by Team Trump to limit what President-elect Joe Biden can do next year to boost the economy,” Jaret Seiberg, financial services and housing policy analyst for Cowen Washington Research Group, wrote in a research note, “especially if Congress fails to pass a big stimulus.”
And with the balance of the next Senate currently up for grabs, with Democrats needing to sweep the January runoff elections in Georgia to win control, the prospects for a package sizable enough to match the needs of the country are, at best, uncertain.
So too is it for Biden and his transition team, which remains locked out of the agencies it is poised to take over after the inauguration, and cut off from information that could help in planning its way out of the current shambles. Emily Murphy, the Trump appointee who heads the General Services Administration, has given no indication of when, or if, she plans to exercise her power to acknowledge Biden as the “apparent” winner, which would open up crucial lines of communication and avail the President-elect’s team to millions of dollars in federal funds.
Jen Psaki, who is overseeing Biden’s nominations team, said Sunday that “the longer this goes, the longer it’s going to jeopardize people’s well being.”
But legal action, she told Tapper on “State of the Union,” isn’t the transition team’s “preference” for getting the GSA to formally begin the transition process.
“If it was, we would have done it days ago because we have known the clear outcome for two weeks now and that’s the only trigger for ascertainment,” Psaki said.
She tweeted shortly after her interview with Tapper that Biden will name his first Cabinet picks on Tuesday – a date also confirmed by White House chief of staff Ron Klain on ABC Sunday.
With Murphy stalling, Biden’s transition team is now seeking to effectively crowdsource its efforts. On Friday it sent a fundraising email to supporters as it weighs legal options.
“The nation faces too many challenges to not have a fully funded and smooth transition to prepare the President-elect and Vice President-elect to govern on Day One,” a transition official told CNN.
But no amount of money can buy access to the classified briefings typically granted within days to election winners. Biden – and the country – appear condemned to wait for Trump to set aside his wounded pride and concede to reality.
The wait continues. The surge of death and despair does, too.
This story has been updated with additional developments Sunday.
CNN’s Devan Cole, Sarah Mucha, Kevin Bohn and Daniella Mora contributed to this report.