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Live politics updates: Biden plans to campaign in Georgia for Senate candidates

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 12/4/2020 Sean Rossman, Bart Jansen, Nicholas Wu, Savannah Behrmann and Michael Collins, USA TODAY
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USA TODAY's coverage of the 2020 election and President-elect Joe Biden's transition continues this week as he rolls out his picks for top jobs in his administration and states continue to certify their vote counts. 

a screen shot of Joe Biden in a suit and tie: President-elect Joe Biden speaks about jobs at The Queen theater, Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. © Andrew Harnik, AP President-elect Joe Biden speaks about jobs at The Queen theater, Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.

President Donald Trump has cleared the way for Biden's team to use federal resources and get briefings during the transition, although Trump has yet to formally concede the race.

Be sure to refresh this page often to get the latest information on the election and the transition.

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Pence tells Georgia voters presidential election not over

Vice President Mike Pence on Friday said the presidential election is still undecided as he urged Georgia Republicans to put aside shared “doubts” about how fairly that race was conducted and show up for the state’s Senate runoff elections.

“We're on ‘em this time,” Pence said. “We're watching. We're gonna secure our polls. We're gonna secure our drop boxes. So get an absentee ballot and vote and vote today.”

Pence has not gone as far as President Donald Trump in falsely claiming the presidential race was rigged.

But he continues to assert that the winner hasn't been determined.

Read the full story.

– Maureen Groppe

Barr's chief of staff is leaving

Attorney General William Barr’s chief of staff has resigned as the transition to the Biden administration progresses. Will Levi’s last day is Friday, the Justice Department said. 

“Will is a rarity: a brilliant lawyer with common sense, humility, and integrity. For the past two years, he has unstintingly given himself in service to the Department. As both Counselor and Chief of Staff, he handled challenges with remarkable resiliency and humor. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to work closely with him, and I know he has a bright future ahead,” Barr said in a statement.

Political appointees typically leave at the end of every administration. But departures in the waning weeks of President Donald Trump’s presidency have caught more attention recently because of the president’s refusal to concede or acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. 

Levi’s departure comes a day after White House communications director Alyssa Farrah announced she is resigning after a 3 ½-year stint in the Trump administration.

Barr appointed Levi as his chief of staff last spring. His grandfather, Edward Levi, served as attorney general under President Gerald Ford, taking over a Justice Department recovering from the Watergate scandal. 

– Kristine Phillips

Biden plans to campaign in Georgia for Senate candidates

President-elect Joe Biden said Friday he would campaign in Georgia, where two Senate runoff races could determine whether Republicans retain control of the chamber.

Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are each in separate runoff races to hold onto their seats, with voting ending Jan. 5. Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in the state Friday and President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit Saturday. "I know we’ve all got our doubts about the last election. And I actually hear some people saying, `Just don’t vote,' " Pence said. "If you don’t vote, they win."

Biden, a former vice president who served 36 years in the Senate, would need Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to win both seats to achieve a Senate with 50 members in each party caucus. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris could then cast tie-breaking votes in favor of Democratic priorities.

Georgia has been reliably Republican statewide for decades. But Biden beat Trump in Georgia after he made two campaign stops in the state during the final week of the campaign, and had former President Barack Obama visit.

“Yes,” Biden replied Friday to a reporter’s question about whether he would visit during the runoffs. But he didn’t break stride after a news conference to say when the appearance might happen or where.

– Michael Collins and Bart Jansen

Biden expects scaled-back inauguration

WILMINGTON, Del. – President-elect Joe Biden said Friday that plans for his Jan. 20 inauguration will be scaled back from traditional celebrations and look more like the Democratic National Convention that was held largely online.

Biden said plans are still being developed in consultation with House and Senate leaders who control 200,000 seats for the potential event. But he said decisions would be based on science, to avoid spreading COVID-19.

“It is highly unlikely there will be 1 million people on the mall,” Biden told reporters at The Queen theater, in response to a question from USA TODAY. “I think you’ll see something closer to what the convention was like than a typical inauguration.”

Biden said he expects there will still be a ceremony on a platform on the west front of the Capitol. But he suggested more of the celebrations will be held remotely across the country, rather than in downtown Washington.

“My guess is there will probably not be a gigantic inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Biden said. “I don’t know exactly how it’s all going to work out.”

– Michael Collins and Bart Jansen

Biden says ‘a lot more’ must be done to distribute COVID vaccine

WILMINGTON, Del. – President-elect Joe Biden said more must be done to plan the distribution of vaccines for COVID-19 after they are approved, but that his health advisers are developing plans.

“There’s a lot more that has to be done,” Biden told reporters at The Queen theater. “There is no detailed plan, that we’ve seen anyway, about how you get the vaccine out of a container into an injection syringe and into an arm.”

He called the anticipated distribution “difficult and expensive.” He also said it must be equitable, to ensure that communities of color receive vaccinations beyond those distributed through major drugstore chains that might not have offices in all neighborhoods.

Utah officials suggested they could distribute a vaccine easily, Biden said. But the process is “not that easy” in populous states such as California, Texas and Florida, he said.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Biden said.

Biden said he would take the vaccine – along with former presidents – as part of the effort to persuade residents of Black and Latino communities the vaccine is safe.

Coronavirus vaccine: Biden says he will join former presidents in publicly getting COVID vaccine

“I think that my taking the vaccine and people seeing me take the vaccine is going to give some confidence,” Biden said. “It’s going to take some effort to rebuild confidence in science because it’s been so diminished in this administration.”

– Michael Collins and Bart Jansen

Biden calls job growth ‘grim,’ urges ‘down payment’ to stimulate economy

WILMINGTON, Del. – President-elect Joe Biden on Friday called a federal report about job growth in November “grim” and said it reflected the economy is “stalling” amid a surge of COVID-19 infections.

“It was grim. It shows an economy that is stalling,” Biden told reporters at The Queen theater. “We remain in the midst of one of the worst economic and jobs crises in modern history.”

U.S. employers added a disappointing 245,000 jobs in November, the Labor Department announced. The figure was about half the 486,000 jobs that economists surveyed by Bloomberg had projected were added last month.

The lackluster report came as Biden said 12 million Americans face the loss of jobless benefits by the end of December. A moratorium on evictions also is scheduled to expire.

“This is a dire jobs report,” Biden said. “We need Congress and the president to act now.”

States are adding restrictions that will hinder economic growth. The number of coronavirus cases surged beyond 277,000 dead and 14 million having been infected. An additional 2,800 deaths daily and 100,000 hospitalizations have been reported this week.

The economy has regained about 11 million jobs lost early in the pandemic in the spring, but economists warn it could take years to restore 9.8 million jobs shed during the crisis.

Congress is considering a $900 billion stimulus, including loans for small businesses and a resumption of federal unemployment benefits, but without direct payments to individuals as happened over the summer. Lawmakers are also negotiating a spending bill to fund the federal government beyond Dec. 11. Both measures could potentially be combined.

But passage of stimulus spending for the pandemic is uncertain because the Democratic-controlled House seeks a larger package than the Republican-led Senate.

“We must get it done before we leave,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Friday. “We cannot leave without it.”

Biden has said any money Congress approves this month would be a “down payment” and he would seek more when he takes office Jan. 20. 

“This situation is urgent,” Biden said. “If we don’t act now, the future will be very bleak.”

– Michael Collins and Bart Jansen

Kellyanne Conway acknowledges Biden as election winner: He and Harris ‘will prevail’

Kellyanne Conway, former adviser and White House counselor to President Donald Trump, acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election during an interview with The 19th on Friday.

Conway explained it is Trump’s “right” to exhaust “all of his legal avenues” but “if you look at the vote totals in the Electoral College tally, it looks like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will prevail. I assume the electors will certify that and it will be official. We, as a nation, will move forward, because we always do.”

She added, “You always need a peaceful transfer of democracy, no matter whose administration goes into whose administration.”

Conway, who also served as Trump’s campaign manager in 2016, has been a staunch defender of the president and his administration. She left her position in the White House in August to focus on family, but still remains a prominent member of the president's inner circle. 

Her admission of Biden’s victory is noteworthy, as many of Trump’s allies and those in the White House have not publicly acknowledged his victory as Trump and his legal team continue to challenge election results.

Most of the lawsuits brought forth to challenge the results have been dismissed or rejected due to the lack of evidence to back up the baseless. Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday that the Justice Department has not found evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Biden said Thursday night that many Republicans have been calling him privately to congratulate him.

– Savannah Behrmann

Pelosi on what changed in COVID relief demands: new president, vaccine

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was backing down from months-long demands for trillions in new coronavirus relief to support a $900 billion bipartisan deal because of two things: Joe Biden was elected president and a COVID-19 vaccine is on the way.

“That is a total game changer. A new president and a vaccine,” Pelosi said, adding that some of her objections to the bill are OK because another batch of relief will come once Biden takes office. “We have a new president, a president who recognizes that we need to depend on science to stop the virus.”

The California Democrat has been the lead negotiator for Democrats on another coronavirus stimulus bill and has been firm in demanding a large package of about $2 trillion. She and other Democrats repeatedly rejected smaller bills to replenish some of the most popular programs, such as more funds for a small business loan program and unemployment assistance. Top Democrats even cast aside proposals from within the party to quickly get more aid to Americans. But this week, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., backed a $908 billion proposal offered by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate and House, saying it offered a good framework for bipartisan discussions.

Pelosi, asked about the sudden change after months of demands, cut off a reporter's question and sternly said, "Don't characterize what we did before as a mistake," she said. "That was not a mistake. It was a decision. And it has taken us to a place where we can do the right thing without other, shall we say, considerations in the legislation that we don't want."

The California Democrat added that she and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have had discussions and both support adding a relief package to a must-pass government spending bill, though she noted work needs to be done to come to agreements on both COVID-19 relief and certain provisions in a spending bill.

Time is of the essence, though. The government is set to shut down Dec. 11 if Congress does not pass a spending bill that President Donald Trump will sign and the House is only scheduled to be in session for one more week.

“There is momentum,” Pelosi said, adding that Congress must pass more aid. “We need to do it to save lives and livelihood with the hope that much more help is on the way."

– Christal Hayes

Biden calls for ‘new era of LGBTQ rights’

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday said his administration would be “the most pro-equality administration in history” as he called for a “new era of LGBTQ rights.”

Biden’s comments to the 2020 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference came while honoring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for receiving the LGBTQ Victory Institute’s History Maker Award. He recorded his statement for a panel marking the 10-year anniversary of repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about sexual orientation for serving in the U.S. military.

Biden called it an honor for him and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to have campaigned with a record number of LGBTQ candidates.

“It’s an honor to be an ally,” Biden said. “Vice President-elect Harris and I are committed to being the most pro-equality administration in history. But we can’t do it without you and we can’t do it without my dear friend Nancy Pelosi.”

Biden caused a stir as vice president when he supported same-sex marriage in May 2012 before President Barack Obama. The Supreme Court later decided in June 2015 that states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize marriages from other jurisdictions.

“I can’t wait to work together again to continue to fight for full equality and to usher in a new era of LGBTQ rights,” Biden told the group Friday.

– Bart Jansen

Fauci accepts job as Biden's chief medical adviser

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and a leader in the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, will join President-elect Joe Biden's administration.

Biden told CNN on Thursday that he asked Fauci to become his chief medical adviser and part of his COVID-19 response team.

"I asked him to stay on the exact same role he's had for the past several presidents, and I asked him to be a chief medical adviser for me as well, and be part of the COVID team," Biden said.

"Oh, absolutely. I said yes right on the spot," Fauci told NBC's "Today" on Friday when asked if he'd taken the role.

Ron Klain, Biden's incoming White House chief of staff, praised Fauci in a tweet.

"There are few public servants in our history who have served as long and as well and with as much distinction at (sic) Dr. Tony Fauci. It will be a great honor to work with him again," he wrote.

– Bart Jansen and Sean Rossman

House to vote on marijuana legalization bill

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is set to vote on marijuana legalization at the federal level Friday, the first time either chamber of Congress has voted on the matter.

The bill is likely to pass the chamber, but the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the legislation in the last two weeks Congress is in session this year.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., would remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances and expunge some marijuana-related criminal records. It would still be up to states to pass their own regulations on the sale of marijuana.

Nadler told USA TODAY in September the vote on the bill would be a "historic vote" as the federal government put an end to its "40-year, very misguided crusade" against marijuana.

– Nicholas Wu

Pence heads to Georgia to campaign, discuss COVID vaccine

Vice President Mike Pence returns Friday to Georgia, when he'll stump for Republicans seeking reelection in the highly watched Senate run-off races there. 

Pence will participate in a 3 p.m. EST rally in Savannah. The vice president has campaigned for Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who face Democratic opponents Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff on Jan. 5. The races have national significance because if Democrats manage to flip both seats, the Senate would then be split 50-50, giving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the deciding vote in the chamber.

Pence also will visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to lead a roundtable on the COVID-19 vaccine.

– Sean Rossman

Biden picks up 1.5 million more votes in New York

President-elect Joe Biden had a big Election Day in New York. In the final tally, his victory got even larger over President Donald Trump.

The former Democratic vice president picked up 1.5 million additional votes when all the absentee ballots were tallied and final counting was finished.

It ended with Biden getting about 5.2 million votes to 3.2 million votes for Trump, a victory of 60.4% to 37.5%, according to the certified tally approved Thursday by the state Board of Elections.

Biden's victory in New York bested the nearly 60% of the vote that Democrat Hillary Clinton garnered four years ago against Trump, the native New Yorker, and helped Democrats down ballot in key state Senate races.

Due to a surge in absentee voting because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden's lead swelled in New York, as it had in many states. Biden won the popular vote by more than 7 million votes, according to national totals updated Thursday.

– Joseph Spector (New York State Team - USA TODAY Network)

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Live politics updates: Biden plans to campaign in Georgia for Senate candidates

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