Biden begins transition plans as Trump refuses to concede

By Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 8:00 p.m. ET, November 18, 2020
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12:47 p.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Sen. Lindsey Graham acknowledges he's not probing states Trump won: "They're not in question"

From CNN's Manu Raju

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on November 17.
Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on November 17. Chip Somodevilla/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham acknowledged on Wednesday he is not seeking an investigation into states that President Trump won, telling CNN that that "they are not in question" so it isn't an issue for him.

"We're looking at states where there's a contest," Graham said. "I'm not looking at states that he lost. I'm looking at states where there's a challenge." 

Graham has previously said he's reviewed the voting practices of Georgia, Arizona and Nevada to learn about whether any changes needed to be made to verify ballots sent by mail. He continued to defend his effort on Wednesday.

Graham also told reporters this when asked about Trump's lie that he won Michigan.

"It's a free country. The way you win Michigan is that you have a court to overturn enough votes, so that you're ahead. Or call for a new election. And right now, he's behind in Michigan," Graham said. Asked to elaborate, Graham said: "The way you could win is have a court to accept your challenge. The day that the court says there's no more challenges left... I'm very comfortable with the idea that the president should be allowed to go to court and challenge the process."

Asked if he's okay with counties refusing to certify the election results, Graham said: "If they had a reason not to certify it, I'd be okay with it, but apparently they did."

11:55 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

GOP senators defend Trump's firing of Homeland Security official who rejected voter fraud claims

From CNN's Ali Main and Ali Zaslav

The day after President Trump terminated a top election security official who had pushed back on his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, Senate Republicans defended the President's right to fire CISA's Chris Krebs, while continuing to cast doubt on the integrity of the election.

Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham told reporters on Wednesday it was Trump's "right" to fire Krebs, adding that he didn't think there was any foreign election interference.

"Now there may be some irregularities at the state level, but I believe that this election was secure when it came to foreign influence," Graham said. His comments come as the South Carolina Republican has been probing officials in states won by Joe Biden about mail-in voting, drawing much scrutiny over whether his actions were appropriate and whether he pressured states to discard legally cast ballots.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said it's ultimately up to Trump to decide who he wants in his administration, but "from everything I saw it appeared that [Krebs] did an able job in a difficult important role."

Last night, Cruz's colleagues Sens. Ben Sasse and Rob Portman also defended Krebs's work, but explicitly said they believed he should not have been fired.

Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said he didn't think Krebs's firing was an act of retaliation by the President, even though Trump directly tied it in his tweet to the top election security official publicly defending the integrity of election amid claims of fraud.

"Vice President Biden is talking about unifying the country. I don't think that's possible until you overturn every stone out there because I think it should be in the best interest of all Americans to make sure there aren't any irregularities in a process that’s so sacred to all of us," Braun said.

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in this election.

Speaking broadly of the President's many controversial firings of administration officials, Braun said "I don't follow all of that."

11:56 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Former Trump official expresses concern about campaign's use of Rudy Giuliani in election cases

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney publicly railed against the campaign’s use of Rudy Giuliani in election litigation in blistering remarks Wednesday. 

“I still am a little concerned about the use of Rudy Giuliani. It strikes me that this is the most important lawsuit in the history of the country. And they don't — they're not using the most well-noted election lawyers. There are folks who do this all of the time, this is a specialty,” Mulvaney said on Fox Business Wednesday morning. 

“This is not a television program, this is the real thing,” Mulvaney said, adding that was “struck by some things” Giuliani said in a Pennsylvania court Tuesday.  

He continued, “On one hand, I think it needs to go forward, it absolutely does, but I wish that it was being prosecuted a little more efficiently.”

Mulvaney was also asked to speculate on a Biden Cabinet, suggesting there would be a mix of centrists and progressives. He later called it a “potential Biden Cabinet,” adding the “if Biden is inaugurated” caveat.

11:16 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Trump campaign will seek a partial recount in Wisconsin

From Jeff Zeleny and Casey Tolan 

A Trump campaign official told CNN they will seek a limited recount of some Wisconsin counties, but the official declined to identify the counties. The campaign needs to officially request the recount, any pay an upfront fee, by 5 p.m. CT.

Wisconsin election officials confirmed on Wednesday that they received a partial payment of $3 million from the Trump campaign. These officials said last week that the price tag for a statewide recount would be approximately $7.9 million. 

“The Wisconsin Elections Commission has received a wire transfer from the Trump campaign for $3 million. No petition has been received yet, but the Trump campaign has told WEC staff one will be filed today,” the election commission said. 

Where the numbers stand: CNN projected that President-elect Joe Biden will win Wisconsin. According to unofficial results, Biden leads Trump by 20,470 votes, or 0.62%. Trump has refused to concede and instead has promoted conspiracy theories about voter fraud. 

Counties that undergo a recount will have 13 days to recount all their votes, starting on Thursday, according to procedures announced by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The commission must certify the final results by Dec. 1.

Remember: Experts say it’s extremely unlikely that the recounts will shift enough votes to overturn Biden’s lead of 20,470 votes. In 2016, a recount requested by Green Party candidate Jill Stein ended up increasing Trump’s margin by just 131 votes.

10:56 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Rep. Clyburn reelected House Majority Whip

From CNN's Kristin Wilson

Rep. James Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina, was reelected House Majority Whip, retaining the third-in-line leadership post.

Clyburn ran unopposed for the position. 

He also served as Majority Whip between 2007 and 2011.

The House Democratic Leadership will remain largely unchanged in the upcoming Congress, with Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn retaining the top spots.

Assistant Speaker is the only leadership position that has two candidates running: Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island.


10:45 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Georgia's audit is on track to finish today and affirm Biden's win, official says 

From CNN's Amara Walker, Wesley Bruer, Jason Morris and Marshall Cohen

Georgia is on a "good schedule right now" to finish an audit of the presidential election by Wednesday and thus certify its results by Friday, a top state voting official says, and the vast majority of counties are reporting results that are "spot dead on" to the initial tallies or finding only minor discrepancies.

Gabriel Sterling, the state's voting systems implementation manager, said Tuesday there are only approximately 300,000 ballots left to be hand-counted in Georgia out of the nearly 5 million cast in the presidential election.

Meanwhile, election officials from 29 counties across Georgia told CNN that they had already completed their audits and found no discrepancies with the results — further discrediting President Trump's lies about widespread fraud in the state.

The state is required by law to certify its results by Friday, which would thwart long-shot efforts by Trump to delay certification and potentially overturn the results of the state's election through the Electoral College.

What comes next: After the results are certified, the Trump campaign can request an official recount. Sterling said that the state of Georgia has already procured high-speed ballot scanners for all 159 counties to use in the event a recount is requested.

The President has repeatedly made unfounded allegations of fraud following his election defeat on Nov. 3, and his campaign has launched legal challenges in multiple states seeking to prevent certification of results.

10:50 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

House Speaker Pelosi reelected as Democratic leader

From CNN's Daniella Diaz

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Nancy Pelosi was reelected to lead Democrats in the House during virtual elections that took place Wednesday. 

"Congratulations to. @SpeakerPelosi, once again elected by House Democrats to be our fearless leader and nominee for Speaker of the House for the 117th Congress! #DownWithNDP #ForThePeople," the House Democrats account tweeted.

A full House floor vote for the speakership won't take place until the new Congress is sworn in. 

The fact that Pelosi is expected to remain on as speaker is a sign of how strong her hold is over House Democrats even after they suffered disappointing losses in the 2020 elections. 

Top House Democrats had confidently predicted they would expand their majority only to instead see a number of incumbents ousted by Republicans, who are now emboldened and on the offensive, though they are still in the minority. 

Those Democratic losses have sparked tense infighting among moderates and progressives with both factions of the party pointing fingers and casting blame. That rift, and a smaller majority, may create new challenges for Pelosi as she leads House Democrats in the next Congress. 

Pelosi has remained defiant even after the losses, telling reporters last week, "I take credit for winning a majority and holding the House."  

Pelosi is expected to hold a presser at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss the leadership. 

9:58 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Biden Covid-19 adviser: "We will be ready on day one"

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

 “We will be ready on day one,” Rick Bright, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Wednesday, when she asked about what they would do if there was no plan from the Trump administration for vaccine distribution.

Bright said they won’t be starting from scratch, as they are working hard to make sure they are communicating with health care professionals and others around the country, and getting a lot of expert advice.

“There is a transition plan and we’re translating that plan into a blueprint for action,” he said.

Bright did say that the idea the Trump administration didn’t have a plan was a good point.

“We’ve waited 10 months for a plan to be shared with the American public and health care experts on the vaccine program. We waited for a plan on national testing strategies. We waited for plans on ramp-up of production of PPE and other critical medical supplies,” Bright said. “We haven’t yet seen any of those plans. I don’t think those plans exist.”

Bright said he hopes there has been planning done “beyond dropping it off at a warehouse by the military.”

After that, there needs to be delivery of the vaccines to the health care providers who will be administering it, and communication within communities at all levels to ensure there is interest in the vaccine.

“The Trump administration unfortunately has politicized so much of this response, including the vaccine,” he said. “And there are many Americans across our country who are hesitant on whether or not they can trust this vaccine because of the political pressure that we've seen from the Trump administration.”

A lot of work needs to be done with the new transition team to make sure that confidence and trust can be rebuilt, to ensure that Americans take a vaccine when it become available and has been certified as safe and effective, Bright said.


10:04 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Biden Covid-19 adviser says lack of official contact with Trump administration “is really setting us back”

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images
Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images

Rick Bright, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, said on Wednesday that a lack of official contact between the current and incoming administrations is setting them back, and they don’t want anything to get in the way of the delivering vaccines to the American people as soon as they can.

“We haven’t had any official contact between the transition team coming in and the current administration. It is really setting us back,” Bright said on CNN’s New Day.

They are working hard to ensure that the best plans are in place for equitable distribution of the vaccine and that everyone who needs it first is prioritized and can get it, he said.

“We haven’t been able to sit down with the Trump administration at all, to be able to understand what plans are in place, where the gaps are, where help is needed, and how we can make sure there’s a smooth handoff after January 20, where the bulk of these vaccines will be administered after that date,” he said.

Bright said the Biden team doesn’t “want to have to step back, rewrite a plan, fix the communication gap or do anything. We want to keep running as quickly as and efficiently as possible to make sure Americans can get the vaccine as they become available.”

Remember: Trump has refused to concede the race and blocked his administration from taking any of the administrative steps typically taken in a transfer of power. This includes allowing the General Services Administration to declare that there is a president-elect  — a move that triggers the transition process.