Briefs: Republicans back Donald Trump's election claims, fight transition

President-elect Joe Biden speaks Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Associated Press

Biden-Harris transition teams considers experienced candidates for cabinet

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration threw the presidential transition into tumult, with President Donald Trump blocking government officials from cooperating with President-elect Joe Biden's team and Attorney General William Barr authorizing the Justice Department to probe unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud.

Some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, rallied behind Trump's efforts to fight the election results. Few in the GOP acknowledged Biden's victory or condemned Trump's other concerning move on Monday: his firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

The developments cast doubt on whether the nation would witness the same kind of smooth transition of power that has long anchored its democracy. The Electoral College is slated to formally confirm Biden's victory on Dec. 14 and the Democrat will be sworn into office in late January.

On Monday, Barr authorized U.S. attorneys to probe "substantial" allegations of voter irregularities and election fraud, though no widespread instances of that type of trouble in the 2020 election exist. In fact, election officials from both political parties have publicly stated that voting went well and international observers also confirmed that there were no serious irregularities.

Biden campaign lawyer Bob Bauer said Barr's memorandum authorizing investigations "will only fuel the 'specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims' he professes to guard against." 

Biden eyes Washington veterans for key administration posts

WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden is looking to build out his nascent White House staff with more traditional Washington insiders, a notable departure from four years in which President Donald Trump filled his team with outsiders and government antagonists.

Ron Klain is an early favorite to become Biden's chief of staff, according to multiple people familiar with planning who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about private discussions. He has decades of Washington experience that includes being Biden's chief of staff when he was vice president in addition to serving as the Ebola response coordinator in 2014 and having a central role in the Obama administration's financial crisis response.

Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a longtime Biden ally and friend, is seen as a potential choice for secretary of state. Rep. Karen Bass of California, whom Biden considered for vice president, is seen as a potential housing and urban development secretary. Both served in Congress for the past decade.

Biden is expected to move quickly to name a chief of staff, but other top Cabinet positions will likely take longer. 

The names under consideration represent Biden's effort to move Washington past the tumult of President Donald Trump's administration and fill out his government with more seasoned professionals. The task is taking on even greater urgency than in past transitions because Biden will take office in January amid a raging pandemic that will likely consume the early days of his presidency and require a full government response.

Even for roles where Biden has the opportunity to make history and appoint the first woman or African American Cabinet secretary, like at defense and treasury, Biden is said to be considering options with decades of experience in their chosen fields. 

"You're not only talking about people who have an expertise in government functions, you're talking about people who have a great deal of respect for government functions," said Ed Espinoza, former western states political director for the Democratic National Committee. "That's a key distinction between the Trump administration and a Biden administration."

Joe Biden speaks out Tuesday on health care law

WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden is championing the Obama administration's signature health law as it goes before the Supreme Court in a case that could overturn it. 

He will deliver a speech on the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, the day the high court will hear arguments on its merits. The court ruled eight years ago to leave the essential components of the law known as Obamacare intact, but it is now controlled 6-3 by a conservative majority after President Donald Trump's appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. 

Biden's speech reflects the importance he is putting on health care as he prepares to take office in January amid the worst pandemic in more than a century. He's launching his transition process this week as the coronavirus surges across the country. The U.S. surpassed 10 million cases on Monday.

Biden also focused on health care Monday as he pleaded with Americans to put aside their political differences and wear masks to protect themselves and their neighbors from the virus. 

"We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives, American lives," Biden said. "Please, I implore you, wear a mask."

Europe runs low on ICU beds, hospital staff

PARIS — In Italy lines of ambulances park outside hospitals awaiting beds, and in France the government coronavirus tracking app prominently displays the intensive care capacity taken up by COVID-19 patients: 92.5 percent and rising. In the ICU in Barcelona, there is no end in sight for the doctors and nurses who endured this once already.

Intensive care is the last line of defense for severely ill coronavirus patients and Europe is running out — of beds and the doctors and nurses to staff them. 

In country after country, the intensive care burden of COVID-19 patients is nearing and sometimes surpassing levels seen at last spring's peak. Health officials, many advocating a return to stricter lockdowns, warn that adding beds will do no good because there aren't enough doctors and nurses trained to staff them. 

In France, more than 7,000 health care workers have undergone training since last spring in intensive care techniques. Nursing students, interns, paramedics, all have been drafted, according to Health Minister Olivier Veran. 

"If the mobilization is well and truly there, it is not infinite," he said last week, when the ICU units were filled to 85% capacity. "It is not enough." 

Candidate concessions have been colorful, funny — or absent

WASHINGTON — Losing presidential candidates have conceded to their opponents in private chats, telegrams, phone calls and nationally televised speeches. Al Gore conceded twice in the same race. President Donald Trump isn't expected to concede at all — not even with a tweet. 

There's no law that says he has to concede, but if he doesn't, Trump will be the first presidential candidate in modern times to ignore a tradition that has marked peaceful transitions throughout American history.

Most concessions are gracious — less about the loser and more about closure for the country. Others have a little dry humor mixed in. 

After failing to win reelection in 1992, George H.W. Bush quoted Winston Churchill and said he had been given the "Order of the Boot," according to presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Bush said he could accept defeat because of his "deep devotion to the political system under which this nation has thrived for two centuries." 

The concession tradition had a hiccup in 2000 when Gore called George W. Bush to concede and then called him back to recant as the results from Florida went sideways. 

Barr tells DOJ to probe election fraud claims if they exist

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr has authorized federal prosecutors across the U.S. to pursue "substantial allegations" of voting irregularities, if they exist, before the 2020 presidential election is certified, despite no evidence of widespread fraud.

Barr's action comes days after Democrat Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump and raises the prospect that Trump will use the Justice Department to try to challenge the outcome. It gives prosecutors the ability to go around longstanding Justice Department policy that normally would prohibit such overt actions before the election is certified.

Trump has not conceded the election and is instead claiming without evidence that there has been a widespread, multi-state conspiracy by Democrats to skew the vote tally in Biden's favor.

Biden holds a sizable lead in multiple battleground states and there has been no indication of enough improperly counted or illegally cast votes that would shift the outcome. In fact, election officials from both political parties have publicly stated the election went well, though there have been minor issues that are typical in elections, including voting machines breaking and ballots that were miscast and lost.

In a memo to U.S. attorneys, obtained by The Associated Press, Barr wrote that investigations "may be conducted if there are clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State."

Experts say no need to cancel Thanksgiving, but play it safe

A safe Thanksgiving during a pandemic is possible, but health experts know their advice is as tough to swallow as dry turkey: Stay home. Don't travel. If you must gather, do it outdoors.

With a fall surge of coronavirus infections gripping the U.S., many Americans are forgoing tradition and getting creative with celebrations.

For the first time in five years, Atlanta nutrition consultant Marisa Moore won't travel to South Carolina to see her large extended family. Instead, she plans to video chat with them as she attempts her first home-baked apple pie. When it's time to eat, they'll compare plates.

"We'll talk all day," Moore said.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its holiday guidance, noting the virus crisis is worsening and that small household gatherings are "an important contributor." The CDC said older adults and others at heightened risk of severe illness should avoid gathering with people outside their households.

Florida cities mop up after deluge from Tropical Storm Eta

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Cities in South Florida mopped up after Tropical Storm Eta flooded some urban areas with a deluge that swamped entire neighborhoods and filled some homes with rising water that did not drain for hours.

It was the 28th named storm in a busy hurricane season, and the first to make landfall in Florida. This year tied the record with 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma struck the Gulf Coast. But that was before Theta formed late Monday night over the northeast Atlantic, becoming the basin's 29th named storm to eclipse the 2005 record.

After striking Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane and killing nearly 70 people from Mexico to Panama, Eta swept over South Florida, then moved Monday into the Gulf of Mexico near where the Everglades meet the sea, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph).

Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, was among the harder hit areas.

"It's very bad. In the last 20 years, I've never seen anything like that," said Tito Carvalho, who owns a car stereo business in Fort Lauderdale and estimated the water was 3 feet (less than a meter) deep in some places. Some items in his business were damaged from the flooding, he added.

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