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Biden to pick Katherine Tai as top trade envoy

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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 more of his picks for top jobs in his administration. Meanwhile, the remaining final states

certify their vote counts before the Electoral College ballots are officially cast Monday.

President Donald Trump has cleared the way for Biden’s team to use federal resources and ge

t 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.

Biden to pick Katherine Tai as top trade envoy

President-elect Joe Biden is set to nominate Katherine Tai to be the top U.S. trade envoy, according to two people familiar with his plans.

Tai, who is chief trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee, will be tapped as the U.S. Trade Representative, according to the two people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Associated Press because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about it.

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The role is a Cabinet position, and the Senate will vote on whether to confirm Tai for the position. Biden’s selection of Tai, who is Asian American, reflects his promise to choose a diverse Cabinet that reflects the makeup of the country.

Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Tai earlier oversaw China trade enforcement for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, setting U.S. strategy in trade disputes with China. Biden’s trade representative will inherit a trade war with China, put on pause by an interim trade pact in January that left many of the hardest issues unresolved and U.S. taxes remaining on $360 billion in Chinese imports.

As the top trade staffer at Ways and Means, Tai handled negotiations last year with the Trump administration over a revamped North American trade deal. Under pressure from congressional Democrats, Trump’s trade team agreed to strengthen the pact to make it easier for Mexican workers to form independent unions and demand better pay and benefits – decreasing the incentives for U.S. firms to move south of the border to take advantage of cheap and compliant labor.

The administration also dropped from the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement what Democrats considered a giveaway to pharmaceutical companies that could have kept drug prices high.

– The Associated Press

Nina Turner files to run for Rep. Fudge seat

Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and former co-chair for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, has filed with the FEC, signaling she will be run for Rep. Marcia Fudge’s seat.

It was reported on Tuesday that President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Rep. Fudge, D-Ohio, as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would set up a special election for her seat.

Cabinet nominations:Biden will nominate Rep. Marcia Fudge as HUD secretary

As a state senator from 2008 to 2014, Turner represented the Cleveland area. Ohio’s 11th district, which Fudge represents, includes precincts between Cleveland and Akron.

Turner has gained national recognition for being a progressive activist, as well as being an advocate for Sanders, and regular surrogate on cable news.

– Savannah Behrmann

Trump seeks to join Supreme Court election lawsuit filed by Texas

President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court Wednesday to overturn the 2020 election results by tossing out votes cast in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and allowing state legislatures to appoint new electors.

Attorneys for the president asked the justices to let Trump intervene in a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and endorsed by 17 other Republican state attorneys general that claims the four battleground states illegally expanded mail-in balloting that helped President-elect Joe Biden.

Trump’s legal papers sought to back up the claim by citing various election results from states and counties that he won and lost, then adding: “These things just don’t normally happen, and a large percentage of the American people know that something is deeply amiss.”

But the president did not present evidence of fraud, asserting that “it is only necessary to demonstrate that the elections in the defendant states materially deviated from the ‘manner’ of choosing electors established by their respective state Legislatures.”

– Richard Wolf

House passes bill to avert government shutdown for week

The House on Wednesday passed a bill allowing the federal government to remain open for one more week as lawmakers scramble to come to a bipartisan deal on government spending.

The bill, which passed by a 343-67 vote, punts a potential government shutdown, which was set to occur Friday, to next week.

The legislation will head to the Senate. Then, if approved, will go to President Donald Trump for his signature. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the chamber planned to take up the bill soon after it was approved by the House.

Congressional leaders have continued to meet in hopes of reaching a compromise on some of the biggest sticking points in the budget. As in years past, immigration-related issues, including funding for a wall along the U.S. southern border and immigrant detention beds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, are at the center of the dispute.

Another hurdle is a Democratic hope to incorporate language on police reform after a summer of protests over systemic racism and the killing of unarmed Black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis.

– Christal Hayes

Hunter Biden’s taxes under investigation

President-elect Joe Biden’s transition announced Wednesday that his son, Hunter, is being investigated for his taxes by the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware.

Hunter Biden was the focus of Republican complaints during the campaign for business dealings with Ukraine and China. But Hunter Biden hasn’t been charged, and two Republican-led congressional committees in September found no wrongdoing by Joe Biden.

Political adversaries including President Donald Trump accused the former vice president of benefitting from his son’s business. But Joe Biden denied any illegal or unethical dealings with his son.

Hunter Biden said Wednesday that he learned Tuesday that federal prosecutors are investigating his tax affairs.

“I take this matter very seriously but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisors,” Hunter Biden said in a statement.

In this Nov. 7, 2020, file photo, President-elect Joe Biden, right, embraces his son Hunter Biden, left, in Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden’s transition said in a statement that the president-elect “is deeply proud of my son, who has fought through difficult challenges, including the vicious personal attacks of recent months, only to emerge stronger.”

Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said in the closing weeks of the campaign that a laptop recovered from a Delaware repair shop allegedly revealed a trove of evidence against Hunter Biden. But the FBI was investigating the laptop as a potential misinformation from Russia to influence the election.

– Bart Jansen

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tests positive for COVID-19

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Wolf tested positive on Tuesday and is at home in isolation, according to a news release from his office.

“During a routine test yesterday, I tested positive for COVID-19. I have no symptoms and am feeling well,” Wolf said in a statement. “I am following CDC and Department of Health guidelines. “

The 72-year-old Wolf, who is a survivor of prostate cancer, said he had no symptoms of the disease before his test.

Wolf said his wife, Frances, has also been tested, but her results are pending.

– Sam Ruland, York Daily Record

Biden introduces Austin as choice for civilian head of Pentagon despite military background

WILMINGTON, Del. – In officially introducing Lloyd Austin as his nominee to become secretary of the Defense Department, President-elect Joe Biden sought Wednesday to tamp down criticism of picking a retired, four-star Army general as the civilian leader of the armed forces.

“He is the right person for this job, at the right moment leading the Department of Defense at this moment in our nation’s history,” Biden said at The Queen theater. “Through sheer determination and and extraordinary skill, He’s been breaking down barriers and blazing a trail forward in this nation for more than 40 years.”

Biden said Austin led the reduction in troops from Iraq, which represented the biggest logistical challenge to the department in 60 years. One night while meeting at the ambassador’s house in Baghdad, Biden said insurgents launched a rocket attack.

“Of course, for Gen. Austin, it was just another day at the office,” Biden said. “He’s cool under fire, inspiring the same in all those around him.”

Biden also noted that, if confirmed, Austin would be the first African American to head the Pentagon. People of color represent about 30% of military personnel, which Biden said should be better reflected in leadership.

“It’s long past the time that the department’s leadership reflects that diversity,” Biden said.

Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the Biden administrations choice to be secretary of defense, speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020.

Austin thanked Biden for the honor of building upon the history of African Americans in the military, from Buffalo soldiers to the Tuskegee Airmen to Colin Powell, a former general and secretary of State.

“Many people have paved the way for me,” said Austin, who did not mention that the military was segregated until after World War II.

President Donald Trump also chose a retired general as his first defense secretary: Jim Mattis.

But Democrats who are allies of Biden had urged him to avoid the example of Trump and Mattis, who parted acrimoniously.

“I think the preference would be for someone who is not recently retired,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Before Austin can be confirmed, Congress must grant him a waiver from a law that requires active-duty military personnel to wait at least seven years before they can become defense secretary. Austin retired more than four years ago.

Biden said he believes in the importance of civilian leadership over military matters, but that Austin’s experience justifies an exception. He praised Austin’s experience at logistics would help distribute coronavirus vaccine and in rebuilding international relations in Asia, Europe and elsewhere.

“I would not be asking for this exception if I didn’t believe this moment in history didn’t call for it. It does call for it,” Biden said. “He is the person we need at this moment.”

Some Democratic lawmakers say they will oppose a waiver for Austin, citing the issue of civilian control of the military.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who voted against the waiver for Mattis, said a waiver for Austin “would contravene the basic principle that there should be civilian control over a nonpolitical military.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has also said she would oppose a waiver, as she did for Mattis.

But the leaders of seven civil-rights groups, who met Tuesday with Biden to encourage diversity in his cabinet, warned against setting a higher bar for Austin to clear. The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said Austin’s nomination shouldn’t be blocked by the rejection of a waiver because two previous secretaries had been granted waivers: Mattis and George Marshall for former President Harry Truman.

“We should not have double standards,” Sharpton said. “We had two waivers in American history to make a Department of Defense secretary who had been in the military. We will not accept getting to the Black guy and all of a sudden we’re going to change what we’ve already done twice.”

In nominating Austin, Biden chose someone he worked closely as vice president during the Barack Obama administration. Biden lauded Austin’s experience, including his leadership in winding down combat operations in Iraq. Austin also ran the war against the Islamic State as head of the U.S. Central Command.

Biden nearly choked up when he noted that his late son, Beau, was proud to serve in Iraq for a year on Austin’s staff. Biden quoted the advice that Austin learned from his first platoon sergeant: “If you focus on your people, take care of them, get out in front and lead them, they’ll refuse to let you fail.”

Biden said Austin became the 200th general to earn a fourth star, and only the sixth African American.

– David Jackson and Bart Jansen

‘Schizophrenic’: McConnell slams Pelosi and Schumer for rejecting White House stimulus proposal

The stalemate in COVID-19 stimulus negotiations continued Wednesday as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., attacked top Democrats’ rejection of the latest White House offer, while Democrats staked their hopes on a bipartisan group of nine senators negotiating a $908 billion proposal.

On Tuesday, McConnell had offered to drop one of Republicans’ largest priorities in negotiations – liability protections for businesses – if Democrats dropped one of their priorities – aid for state and local governments. Those sticking points could be resolved in another relief bill at the beginning of next year, he said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., rejected McConnell’s approach, urging him to work with the bipartisan group instead and accusing him of “obstruction.”

Adding to the scramble to get a bill done before Congress leaves for Christmas, the White House and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin made their own $916 billion proposal Tuesday evening, an approach Democrats mostly rejected because of the small amount it provided for unemployment funds.

“In a bizarre and schizophrenic press release, the speaker and the leader said the administration was obstructing negotiations by negotiating. Two more brush offs in about two hours. More deflection, more delay, and more suffering for innocent Americans,” McConnell said.

“Cutting unemployment to the extent he has…it’s not going to get much support among any Democrats,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Wednesday, saying the bipartisan negotiations were the “way to go.”

But the provisions of the compromise bill have not been finalized yet. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, one of the senators working on the compromise proposal, told reporters on Capitol Hill the group was still “trying to finalize the language” on their proposal.

– Nicholas Wu

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to the media after a weekly luncheon in the US.. Capitol on Tuesday.

Biden, Harris to select Fudge for HUD, Vilsack for agriculture

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will choose Rep. Marcia Fudge as their nominee for secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Tom Vilsack is their pick for secretary of agriculture.

Fudge is an Ohio Democrat representing the Cleveland area. She would be the second Black woman to lead HUD, which focuses on federal policy surrounding housing.

Vilsack would return to the position he held for eight years during the Obama administration. He also served two terms as Iowa’s governor.

Biden and Harris will introduce their Defense secretary nominee Lloyd Austin on Wednesday in Wilmington, Delaware.

– Sean Rossman, Rebecca Morin, Deborah Barfield Berry and the Associated Press 

Nevada Supreme Court unanimously dismisses Trump lawsuit to overturn Nevada election result

The Nevada Supreme Court on Tuesday night unanimously dismissed a lawsuit filed by President Donald Trump’s campaign that sought to overturn the state’s election result that found President-elect Joe Biden won by 33,596 votes.

In its ruling, the state’s high court said the campaign provided no evidence showing illegal votes were cast or anyone manipulated the results of the election in favor of Biden.

Trump’s campaign has filed dozens of failed lawsuits in battleground states across the country since the election, citing baseless allegations of voter fraud. The ruling in Nevada on Tuesday is just the latest example.

– Reno Gazette Journal and Associated Press

Supreme Court dismisses Trump allies’ challenge to Pennsylvania election

The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to stop Pennsylvania from finalizing President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state despite allegations from allies of President Donald Trump that the expansion of mail-in voting was illegal .

The action by the nation’s highest court, which includes three justices named by Trump, came as states across the country are locking in the results that will lead to next week’s Electoral College vote. It represented the latest in a string of stinging judicial opinions that have left the president defeated both politically and legally.

By their one-sentence denial, the justices left intact a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which said the challenge to a state law passed in 2019 came far too late. New Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett appeared to have participated in the case; no dissents or recusals were noted.

– Richard Wolf

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