In a blistering decision, a Philadelphia appeals court denied on Friday the Trump campaign’s attempt to challenge a lower court loss that had sought to stop — or even reverse — the certification of election results in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania certified its election results on Tuesday, as Gov. Tom Wolf signed off on the slate of 20 electors and solidified President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory there.
The 21-page ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals was a complete repudiation of Mr. Trump’s effort to halt Pennsylvania’s certification process and a full-throated affirmation of a decision last Saturday by Judge Matthew W. Brann of Federal District Court in Williamsport, Penn., who dealt the Trump campaign its initial defeat in the case.
“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy,” Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump appointee, wrote on behalf of the appeals court. “Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”
Moments after the three-judge panel from the Third Circuit ruled, Jenna Ellis, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, wrote on Twitter that she and Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is leading the postelection legal effort, planned to appeal to the United States Supreme Court. In her Twitter post, Ms. Ellis accused “the activist judicial machinery in Pennsylvania” of covering up “allegations of massive fraud” despite the fact that all three judges on the panel were appointed by Republicans.But given the narrow way the Trump campaign structured its appeal, it would not get much even if the U.S. Supreme Court granted its proposed request to reverse the Third Circuit. Mr. Trump’s lawyers had asked the appellate court only for permission to submit a revised version of its original complaint to Judge Brann. If the Supreme Court abided by the strict terms of the appeals, it could do no more than return the case to Judge Brann’s court for further action.
In a letter to the Third Circuit filed earlier this week, lawyers for the Trump campaign had suggested that the appeals court could, on its own, reverse the certification of Pennsylvania’s vote — though they stopped short of formally requesting such a move.
But the appeals court shot down that suggestion too, saying the campaign’s arguments for effectively undoing Pennsylvania’s election had “no merit” and would be “drastic and unprecedented.”
President Trump said on Thursday that he would leave the White House if the Electoral College formalized Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election as president, even as he reiterated baseless claims of fraud that he said would make it “very hard” to concede.
Taking questions from reporters for the first time since Election Day, Mr. Trump also threw himself into the battle for Senate control, saying he would soon travel to Georgia to support Republican candidates in two runoff elections scheduled there on Jan. 5.
When asked whether he would leave office in January after the Electoral College cast its votes for Mr. Biden on Dec. 14 as expected, Mr. Trump replied: “Certainly I will. Certainly I will.”
A day later, Mr. Trump appeared to backtrack somewhat, falsely asserting on Twitter that Mr. Biden “can only enter the White House as President if he can prove that his ridiculous ‘80,000,000 votes’ were not fraudulently or illegally obtained.” Mr. Trump added that Mr. Biden has got “a big unsolvable problem!” But as courts shoot down Mr. Trump’s legal challenges, that statement would seem to more aptly describe his own plight.
Speaking in the Diplomatic Room of the White House after a Thanksgiving video conference with members of the American military, the president insisted that “shocking” new evidence about voting problems would surface before Inauguration Day. “It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede,” he said, “because we know that there was massive fraud.”
But even as he continued to deny the reality of his defeat, Mr. Trump also seemed to acknowledge that his days as president were numbered.
“Time is not on our side,” he said, in a rare admission of weakness. He also complained that what he referred to, prematurely, as “the Biden administration” had declared its intention to scrap his “America First” foreign policy vision.
Asked whether he would attend Mr. Biden’s inauguration, as is customary for a departing president, Mr. Trump was coy.
“I don’t want to say that yet,” the president said, adding, “I know the answer, but I just don’t want to say.”
In his remarks on Thursday, Mr. Trump said he would visit Georgia on Saturday. Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, later clarified that the president meant Saturday, Dec. 5.
The election results left Democrats holding 48 seats in the U.S. Senate. If Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic challengers in Georgia, can both pull off victories over Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, their party will gain de facto control of a Senate divided 50-50 because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would wield a tiebreaking vote.
The president added that he could return to the state to back the Republicans a second time, “depending on how they’re doing.”
Iran’s top nuclear scientist, who American and Israeli intelligence have long charged was behind secret programs to design an atomic warhead, was shot and killed on Friday as he was traveling in a vehicle in northern Iran, Iranian state media reported.
The scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, believed to be 59, has been considered the driving force behind Iran’s nuclear weapons program for two decades, and continued to work after the main part of the effort was quietly disbanded in the early 2000s, according to American intelligence assessments and Iranian nuclear documents stolen by Israel.
Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s killing, whoever was responsible, could have broad implications for the incoming Biden administration. It is bound to set off a sharp reaction in Iran, as did the American attack on Jan. 3 that killed Qassim Suleimani, the Iranian major general who ran the elite Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
A shadowy figure, Mr. Fakhrizadeh had long been the No. 1 target of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, which is widely believed to be behind a series of assassinations of scientists a decade ago that included some of Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s deputies.
The assassination comes at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the Trump administration. Mr. Trump was dissuaded from striking Iran just two weeks ago, after his aides warned it could escalate into a broader conflict during his last weeks in office.
Mr. Trump had asked senior advisers in an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 12 whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site at Natanz in the coming weeks. Days later, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state and former C.I.A. director, visited Israel on what will likely be his last trip there in office.
Attacking Iran to force it to stop expanding its nuclear program would be a significant blow to Mr. Biden, who wants to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. Such a strike on the eve of a new administration could poison relations with Tehran to such an extent that negotiating a restoration of the deal, or toughening its terms, could be impossible.
Since Mr. Trump dismissed the secretary of defense, Mark T. Esper, and other top Pentagon aides last week, Defense Department and other national security officials have privately expressed worries that the president might initiate operations, whether overt or secret, against Iran or other adversaries at the end of his term. Others have speculated that Mr. Netanyahu, who at various moments has been on the edge of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, might seek to act while Mr. Trump is still in office.
While Mr. Trump’s top advisers — including Mr. Pompeo and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — argued against a military strike against Iran, top American officials and commanders still warn of Iran’s malign activities.
“For decades, the Iranian regime has funded and supported terrorism and terrorist organizations,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the military’s Central Command, said last week on a webinar about the Middle East.
American officials would not comment on the assassination on Friday morning, saying they were seeking information. But some American officials argued that the death of Mr. Fakhrizadeh, the latest in a string of such mysterious killings of Iran’s top nuclear scientists, would send a chilling message to the country’s other top scientists working on that program: If we can get him, we can get you, too.
President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rushing to complete one of its last regulatory priorities, aiming to obstruct the creation of air- and water-pollution controls far into the future, when a senior career scientist moved to hobble it.
Thomas Sinks directed the E.P.A.’s science advisory office and later managed the agency’s rules and data around research that involved people. Before his retirement in September, he decided to issue a blistering official opinion that the pending rule — which would require the agency to ignore or downgrade any medical research that does not expose its raw data — will compromise American public health.
“If this rule were to be finalized it would create chaos,” Dr. Sinks said in an interview in which he acknowledged writing the opinion that had been obtained by The New York Times. “I thought this was going to lead to a train crash and that I needed to speak up.”
With two months left of the Trump administration, career E.P.A. employees find themselves where they began, in a bureaucratic battle with the agency’s political leaders. But now, with the Biden administration on the horizon, they are emboldened to stymie Mr. Trump’s goals and to do so more openly.
The filing of a “dissenting scientific opinion” is an unusual move; it signals that Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., and his politically appointed deputies did not listen to the objections of career scientists in developing the regulation. More critically, by entering the critique as part of the official Trump administration record on the new rule, Dr. Sinks’s dissent will offer Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s E.P.A. administrator a powerful weapon to repeal the so-called “secret science” policy.
E.P.A. career employees this month also quietly emailed out the results of a new study concluding that the owners of half a million diesel pickup trucks had illegally removed their emissions control technology, leading to huge increases in air pollution. And some senior E.P.A. staff members have engaged in back-channel conversations with the president-elect’s transition team as they waited for Mr. Trump to formally approve the official start of the presidential transition, two agency employees acknowledged.
Current and former E.P.A. staff and advisers close to the transition said Mr. Biden’s team has focused on preparing a rapid assault on the Trump administration’s deregulatory legacy and re-establishing air and water protections and methane emissions controls.
“They are focused like a laser on what I call the ‘Humpty Dumpty approach,’ which is putting the agency back together again,” said Judith Enck, a former E.P.A. regional administrator who served in the Obama administration.
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, survived the steepest re-election challenge of her career with a comfortable margin and has emerged more powerful than ever, poised for a fifth term in which her brand of bipartisan deal-making will be crucial.
The question is how Ms. Collins, 67, who has long held sway as one of the few swing votes in a narrowly divided Senate, will use that power. She has drawn brutal criticism in the past for courting compromise, only to ultimately side with the Republican Party line. Now with Republicans bent on blocking any policy accomplishments by a Biden administration, Ms. Collins will be under immense pressure from both sides for her pivotal vote.
Ms. Collins has a strong relationship with President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has called her “a woman of incredible character, integrity, and grace.” And now, she has the battle scars and enhanced credibility that comes with having accomplished a feat many Republicans readily concede they never could have: win a resounding victory in a state that President Trump lost.
“We will be able to encourage the president not to be drawn to the far left,” Ms. Collins said in an interview in Washington, calling her election and Mr. Biden’s an endorsement of divided government that vindicated her moderate approach.
“I think that’s a message the American people were sending, that they want more centrist politics pursued, and they don’t want to go to the far left, so that too provides me with an opportunity,” Ms. Collins said.
Come January, whether Mr. Biden oversees a divided government or a narrow Democratic hold on both chambers, she is positioned to play a crucial role in confirming administration nominations, approving spending agreements and negotiating legislative priorities like coronavirus relief or prescription drug legislation.
Ms. Collins said she was open to working with former political foes in order to achieve legislative accomplishments. But having survived a brutal campaign in which Democrats savaged her, Ms. Collins has reason to hold some grudges. She pointedly noted that Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, presented “a challenge” given “the millions of dollars in blatantly false ads he ran against me.”
Though the precise balance of the power in the Senate will remain unknown until two Georgia runoff races are decided in early January, Republicans are favored to win both seats, likely leaving Mr. Biden as the first Democratic president since Grover Cleveland in 1885 to take office without Democrats in control of both congressional chambers.
When Democratic presidential candidates were still jockeying for the nomination last November, Senator Kamala Harris of California appeared before a group of mostly Black women in South Carolina to file officially for the state’s critical primary.
The event was hosted by Higher Heights for America, one of the largest political groups dedicated to helping Black women win elected office, and it was billed as a chance to have an intimate conversation with Ms. Harris in the midst of her historic run for the Democratic nomination.
“Black women decide elections,” Glynda C. Carr, president and co-founder of Higher Heights, said at the South Carolina forum. “We can decide we are going to elect Black women up and down the ballot.”
The moment was engineered, in no small part, by an informal collective of Black women from Brooklyn who call themselves the Olori Sisterhood.
This sisterhood was born a decade ago, made up of about a dozen women who had grown sick of being excluded from politics despite being told how important Black women were to Democratic candidates. They started out as campaign door-knockers and City Council aides, drawn to one another out of the sense that no one else would be able to support them in the hostile world of politics better than another Black woman who was also fighting for respect. A bond was forged in coffee shops and on stoops all over central Brooklyn.
Now the members of the Olori Sisterhood are partners at lobbying firms, and they run their own consultancies; they are political directors for presidential campaigns. Higher Heights was founded by two members of the group.
That Ms. Harris chose Higher Heights to host her event was a symbol of how Black women around the country have methodically used grass-roots organizing and personal networks to gain undeniable political influence.
The numbers cannot be ignored. Black women had among the highest turnout rates in the 2012 presidential election and 2018 midterms, and they played a crucial role in this year’s vote.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Ms. Harris received 91 percent of the vote from Black women, according to exit polls.
After their victory, Ms. Harris wrote on Twitter that Black women were “often overlooked” but “are asked time and again to step up and be the backbone of our democracy.”
An unlikely fight is breaking out over President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s choice for agriculture secretary, pitting a powerful Black lawmaker who wants to refocus the Agriculture Department on hunger against traditionalists who believe the department should be a voice for rural America.
Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking Black member of Congress and perhaps Mr. Biden’s most important supporter in the Democratic primary, is making an all-out case for Representative Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio, an African-American Democrat from Ohio.
Mr. Clyburn, whose endorsement of Mr. Biden before the South Carolina primary helped turn the tide for the former vice president’s nomination, has spoken to him on the phone about Ms. Fudge as recently as this week. The lawmaker has also lobbied for her with two of the president-elect’s closest advisers and discussed the matter with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I feel very strongly,” Mr. Clyburn said in an interview on Wednesday about Ms. Fudge, who leads the nutrition and oversight subcommittee on the House Agriculture Committee.
“It’s time for Democrats to treat the Department of Agriculture as the kind of department it purports to be,” he added, noting that much of the budget “deals with consumer issues and nutrition and things that affect people’s day-to-day lives.”
But there are complications. Two of Mr. Biden’s farm-state allies are also being discussed for the job: Heidi Heitkamp, a former senator from North Dakota, and Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who served as agriculture secretary for President Barack Obama.
The delicate proxy clash over the post, which is usually not as coveted as more high-profile cabinet positions, has pitted Democrats eager to emphasize issues like hunger and nutrition against more traditional members of the party who believe the department should represent rural America. The sprawling agency oversees farm policy, the Forest Service, food safety and animal health, but also the food stamp program, nutrition services, rural housing and rural development.More broadly, the debate illustrates the challenge Mr. Biden faces as he builds his administration. Every appointment he makes interlocks with others, and if he does not select a diverse candidate for one position it becomes more likely he will for other posts.
The Agriculture job specifically is pinching Mr. Biden between two of his central campaign themes, which he repeated in plain terms this month in his victory speech: that he owes a special debt to African-American voters, and that he wants to be a president for all Americans, including those who didn’t vote for him. And nowhere did Mr. Biden fare worse than in rural America, particularly the most heavily white parts of the farm belt.
As soon as Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois learned officially on Monday that there would be a Democratic opening at the top of the Judiciary Committee, he was on the phone to his colleagues trying to nail down their support for the position.
“Never take anything for granted,” Mr. Durbin said of his bid to replace Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who stepped aside as the senior Democrat on the panel under intense pressure from progressive activists who deemed her insufficiently aggressive for the job. “I have been through these contests before.”
One fellow Democrat whom Mr. Durbin did not talk to was Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who made clear by the next afternoon that he was also interested in the job. Some of the same progressive activists who pressed to shove Ms. Feinstein aside said they would be backing him.
The competition set up a rare internal power struggle that reflected broader disputes among Democrats over the direction and approach of their party in a new Congress. As they sort through the results of the election, which handed them control of the White House but left their hopes of taking the Senate hanging by a thread, some are pushing for a new, more combative style and generational change.
The effort to confirm President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has begun in earnest, and yet, President Trump continues to shed doubt on the elections results as though, by some mechanism, he might yet overcome the title of the official loser of the 2020 presidential election.
On Monday, the Trump administration finally authorized a weeks-delayed transition process after Michigan certified Mr. Biden as its winner. Still, Mr. Trump continued to press quixotic lawsuits and tweeted messages of fraud and defiant resolve. His inability to concede the election is the latest reality-denying moment in a career preoccupied with an epithet: Loser.
After Mr. Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in January 2017, his administration asserted that the inauguration’s audience was the largest ever, despite all evidence to the contrary. But any suggestion otherwise would have rendered Mr. Trump a loser in some imagined contest about inaugural crowd sizes.
Now, nearly four years later, the citizens have cast their ballots, baseless lawsuits alleging electoral fraud have been dismissed and states have certified the vote. Still, the loser of the 2020 presidential election continues to see crowds that the rest of the country does not.
Mr. Trump’s career has been filled with moments that required audacious attempts to twist a negative into a positive, often by saying something over and over until it either displaces the truth or exhausts the audience into surrender.
Such behavior by the president reflects a binary-code approach to life that spares no room for nuance or complication. If a person isn’t a one, then that person is a zero.
“You are either a winner or a loser,” Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, said in an interview last week. “Reality is secondary. It is all about perception.”