US President-elect Joe Biden shrugged off Donald Trump’s effort to challenge the election results on Wednesday, forging ahead with transition planning even as the president pursues a multi-state legal fight backed by Republican allies and the US Justice Department.
Trump’s campaign on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit in Michigan that seeks to stop the state’s top election official from certifying Biden’s win. The campaign filed a similar suit in Pennsylvania, which Secretary of State Kathryn Boockvar moved to dismiss Tuesday, arguing Trump’s lawyers failed to present a case.
Biden leads Trump in Michigan by more than 148,000 votes and in Pennsylvania by more than 46,000 votes.
Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, meanwhile brushed aside calls from the state’s two US senators, both fellow Republicans, for him to resign over unspecified election irregularities. Biden leads in the state by more than 12,000 votes.
Trump’s campaign has so far produced no evidence of widespread irregularities or fraud, and it isn’t clear his effort to delegitimise the election is finding much traction among the public. A Reuters/Ipsos poll published Tuesday found that 79 percent of US citizens believe Biden won the election, including nearly six in ten Republicans.
Just three percent say Trump won, according to the poll, while 13 percent say the election hasn’t been decided.
Two separate groups of international observers have said the election was fair and free of major irregularities. One of them, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, criticised Trump for “baseless” attacks on the integrity of the vote. The other, the Organisation of American States – which was invited by the US State Department to observe the election – pointed out that Trump has repeatedly sought to cast “aspersions” on the election process.
Biden called Trump’s approach an embarrassment, and his lawyers said the legal challenges would fail and the Democrat will inevitably be sworn in as president on January 20.
“How can I say this tactfully? I think it will not help the president’s legacy,” Biden said at a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware.
His campaign announced dozens of members of “agency review teams” on Tuesday that will begin preparing the government for Biden’s administration once the administrator of the General Services Administration, a Trump appointee, allows the transition to begin with a finding that the Democrat is the incoming president.
Biden allies have complained that the GSA administrator, Emily Murphy, is obstructing the transition by so far refusing to issue the finding.
Republicans have largely backed Trump’s effort, though a handful -- including Ohio Senator Rob Portman, in a statement on Tuesday – have called on the president to produce whatever evidence he has of widespread fraud. Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, also a Republican, said Tuesday in an interview with Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 that the Trump administration should begin the transition to Biden’s presidency, a step it has so far resisted.
Nonetheless, Trump’s campaign has pressed ahead with its long-shot court cases while the president -- who hasn’t spoken publicly since last Thursday -- fires off tweets falsely declaring himself the winner. In a tweet on Tuesday evening he said that the country had endured a “rigged election,” as usual presenting no evidence for the claim.
Trump’s campaign sent talking points to allies on Tuesday saying the election is “far from over” and that it would pursue a range of legal challenges. It also said they are “preparing to announce recount requests in key states.”
Vice President Mike Pence is postponing a trip to Sanibel, Florida -- a regular vacation spot for his family -- as Trump fights to try to reverse his re-election defeat, according to two people familiar with the matter. The vacation had been planned since before the election, but will be postponed until later this fall.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has backed Trump’s approach. Attorney General William Barr issued a memo to federal prosecutors on Monday inviting them to recommend vote fraud cases, in violation of Justice Department policy that advises against conducting such investigations overtly before elections are certified in order to avoid harming public confidence in the results.
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo joked Tuesday that there’d be a smooth transition – to a second Trump administration.
Biden leads by about 12,600 votes in Georgia, 14,700 votes in Arizona, 20,500 votes in Wisconsin, 46,000 votes in Pennsylvania and 148,600 votes in Michigan. Vote recounts typically only change results of elections by hundreds of ballots.
“These margins cannot be overcome in recounts. So the recounts are yet another piece of the political theatrics,” one of Biden’s lawyers, Bob Bauer, told reporters Tuesday. Trump’s true aim, he said, is “other, if you will, collateral objectives.”
A few Republicans have spoken out against the effort by Trump and his allies to undermine the election and Biden’s presidency. His former national security adviser John Bolton said Pompeo’s remark “eviscerated his credibility internationally,” adding that he suspects the secretary was influenced by his own ambition to seek the party nomination in 2024.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican and a Trump critic, said the president had the right to use legal processes to challenge the results of the election, but that he hasn’t seen anything that would change the outcome. “I think most people realise that this election is over,” he said. “We’ve got to move on.”
Cost of a recount
The Trump campaign will likely have to decide by next week whether it will pay for a recount in Wisconsin. The former Republican governor, Scott Walker, has said he doesn’t think it will change the state’s results, citing previous recounts that had minimal effects on the tally.
The state’s last recount cost US$2 million; two people familiar with the matter said the Trump campaign intends to ask for one in this election.
Biden’s allies are intensifying their criticism of the president. Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, called Trump delusional on Tuesday.
“This delusion is not a quaint sideshow. It’s an assault on our democracy,” he said Tuesday, adding that Barr’s invitation for vote fraud investigations is a “fishing expedition.”
by Josh Wingrove & Tyler Pager, Bloomberg