Congress will reconvene on Monday for a make-or-break week in the effort to deliver badly needed relief to Americans and an economy hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic before the Christmas holidays.
After months of impasse, lawmakers are now staring down a Friday deadline to complete a must-pass government funding bill to which they hope to attach new money for small businesses, unemployed Americans, the airline and restaurant industries, and schools. Many of the relief programs created this year are set to expire next week, putting millions of Americans at risk of losing government support as the health crisis continues in their communities.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers who have been working for a month on a $908 billion proposal met through the weekend and plan to introduce their final product on Monday, with Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, declaring “we’ve broken the gridlock” in a phone interview on Sunday.
Mr. Manchin said the bill would be offered in what he called “two tranches,” with one part featuring compromises on the two most polarizing provisions — $160 billion to bolster state and local governments and a temporary liability shield to protect businesses, nonprofits, schools and hospitals from lawsuits related to the pandemic.
The second package would include the remaining $748 billion allotted for more widely supported proposals to fund vaccine distribution, schools, unemployment insurance benefits, small businesses and other institutions struggling to stay afloat because of the pandemic.
The decision to present the $908 billion framework in two parts, which was first reported by Politico, reflects in part a push from Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, to approve a narrow measure that excludes both any liability provision and state and local funding. Democrats have been resistant to a liability shield they say could harm worker protections and Republicans have been reluctant to support what they have derided as a “blue state bailout” for state and local governments.
Democrats shot down that idea when Mr. McConnell first floated it last week, but there were signs on Sunday that they may be reconsidering. Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the House majority leader, signaled that Democrats, who have already shaved more than $2 trillion off their own demands, may be willing to set the state and local funding issue aside until after President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office.
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, who spoke for about 30 minutes with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, on Sunday, seemed prepared to fight to keep that money in an agreement.
“The Speaker believes, at a time when the virus is surging, that the need for state and local funding is even more important, especially given the states’ responsibility for distributing and administering the vaccine,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi, in a statement summarizing the conversation.
During the phone call, Ms. Pelosi suggested to Mr. Mnuchin that she was open to a compromise on the liability shield issue, provided that it “does not jeopardize workers’ safety,” Mr. Hammill said.
The Speaker believes, at a time when the virus is surging, that the need for state and local funding is even more important, especially given the states’ responsibility for distributing and administering the vaccine. (2/6)
— Drew Hammill (@Drew_Hammill) December 13, 2020
Mr. Manchin acknowledged that leadership would ultimately make the final decision as to what elements of pandemic relief would be wrapped into an omnibus government funding package.
“They have the final say,” he said. “We’re just showing them that a bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans can produce a piece of legislation that meets the needs of the American people.”
Adding to the complications for a final agreement, leadership will likely have to address a campaign led by Senators Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, and Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, to include another round of direct payments to Americans.
Top lawmakers are also hoping to add a bipartisan deal on surprise medical billing into the year-end spending package, after two years of struggling to reach agreement on how to end a practice that leads to patients unexpectedly being treated by a doctor who does not take their insurance.
While Democrats have publicly said they hope to see the measure included in the package, top Republicans including Mr. McConnell have yet to sign off, senior Republican aides said. Ms. Pelosi, who is expected to speak with Mr. Mnuchin again on Monday, raised the matter with the Treasury secretary during their phone call.
President Trump on Sunday renewed his threat to veto a sweeping military policy bill, courting what may be the final legislative fight of his presidency with Congress after lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the measure last week.
Mr. Trump’s opposition to the annual bill is not new. Citing a rotating set of rationales, he has been threatening to veto it since the summer. But lawmakers had hoped that the bill’s passage by veto-proof majorities in the House and the Senate would force him to back down, rather than set up the first veto override of his presidency.
Evidently it did not.
“THE BIGGEST WINNER OF OUR NEW DEFENSE BILL IS CHINA!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday morning. “I WILL VETO!”
His defiance now puts Republicans on Capitol Hill in the difficult spot of choosing between overriding Mr. Trump’s objections or abandoning a bill that has passed each of the last 60 years and includes a pay raise for troops.
Mr. Trump’s initial objections to the bill were focused on a provision that would strip the names of Confederate leaders from military bases. More recently, he has demanded that the bill include a provision repealing a legal shield for social media companies that has drawn his ire.
It was not immediately evident what provision Mr. Trump was referring to on Sunday, when he claimed the bill would help China. Congressional officials involved in its drafting said Mr. Trump could have been talking about the decision not to include various provisions related to China in the final bill, including a ban on Chinese-made drones.
However, the final $741 billion bill does include more than $2 billion for a deterrence initiative in the Pacific aimed at countering China and requires the Pentagon to establish a plan to wean itself off Chinese goods, especially electronics.
The bill also includes new benefits to Vietnam-era veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and impediments to Mr. Trump’s planned troop withdrawal from Germany and Afghanistan.
A frustrated Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, fired back in a statement that Mr. Trump was being petulant and called on Congress to override a “senseless veto” when it comes.
“President Trump clearly hasn’t read the bill, nor does he understand what’s in it,” he said. “There are several bipartisan provisions in here that get tougher on China than the Trump Administration has ever been.”
The members of the Electoral College will gather in their respective states on Monday to cast their official ballots for president. Here’s more on how the voting will work, and on the next steps in the process:
Can I watch the Electoral College vote?
Yes — most states offer livestreams to watch the proceedings, including crucial battlegrounds won by President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. Here are links for four of them: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
The electors don’t meet in one place or at one time; some start at 10 a.m. Eastern, and most vote in the afternoon.
How does the Electoral College voting work?
The electors cast their ballots for president and vice president via paper ballot. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia legally require their electors to choose whoever won the state’s popular vote, so there should be no surprises there. The other 17 states don’t “bind” their electors, meaning they can vote for whomever they choose. But the likelihood of “faithless electors” switching sides and handing the election to President Trump is essentially zero.
After the votes are counted, the electors sign certificates showing the results. These are paired with certificates from the governor’s office showing the state’s vote totals. The certificates are sent to Vice President Mike Pence, in his capacity as president of the Senate; the Office of the Federal Register; the secretary of state of the respective state; and the chief judge of the Federal District Court where the electors meet.
What happens next?
Congress officially counts the votes in a joint session held in the House chamber on Jan. 6, with Mr. Pence presiding. When Mr. Biden reaches a majority with 270 votes, Mr. Pence announces the result.
The session cannot be ended until the count is complete and the result publicly declared. At this point, the election is officially decided. The only remaining task is the inauguration on Jan. 20.
Can members of Congress block the results?
There is no debate permitted during the counting of the electoral votes. But after the result is read, members of Congress get one opportunity to lodge their concerns.
Any objection to a state’s results must be made in writing and be signed by at least one senator and one member of the House. The two chambers would then separate to debate the objection. Each member of Congress can speak only once — for five minutes — and after two hours the debate is cut off. Each body then votes on whether to reject the state’s results.
What’s the likelihood of Congress changing the outcome?
Stopping Mr. Biden from assuming office remains a long-shot strategy for Republicans.
For an objection to stand, it must pass both houses of Congress by a simple majority. If the vote followed party lines, Republicans could not block Mr. Biden’s victory.
Despite recently suffering the most consequential in a string of defeats in his quest to subvert the results of November’s election, President Trump continued to insist that his plans to challenge his loss were “not over.”
“It’s not over. We keep going,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Fox News that aired on Sunday and was taped on Saturday at the Army-Navy football game. “And we’re going to continue to go forward.”
The president’s vow to press on came the day after the Supreme Court rejected a Texas lawsuit against four battleground states, effectively ending his attempt to overturn the results. Mr. Trump’s allies have also lost dozens of times in lower courts. The Electoral College meets on Monday to cement President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s win.
Many top Republicans in Congress continued to stand by Mr. Trump in refusing to recognize Mr. Biden as the president-elect. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, did so again on Sunday, arguing on “Fox News Sunday” that the legal process was not over despite the Supreme Court ruling.
“There will be a president sworn in on Jan. 20, but let this process play out,” he said.
Some party elders, though, have begun to say more than a month after Election Day that it is time to move on.
“The courts have resolved the disputes. It looks very much like the electors will vote for Joe Biden,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, in a prerecorded interview aired Sunday by NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And when they do, I hope that he puts the country first — I mean, the president — that he takes pride in his considerable accomplishments, that he congratulates the president-elect and he helps him get off to a good start, especially in the middle of this pandemic.”
Mr. Alexander, who will retire at the end of the year, said Mr. Trump had lost the election because of “the president’s conduct, his behavior” and his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Trump has made baseless claim after baseless claim of election fraud in his attempt to deny Mr. Biden’s victory. Some states “got rigged and robbed from us,” he falsely claimed in the interview. “But we won every one of them.”
When the interviewer, Brian Kilmeade, tried to ask if Mr. Trump would attend Mr. Biden’s inauguration, Mr. Trump interrupted. “I don’t want to talk about that,” he said. “I want to talk about this. We’ve done a great job.”
He also tore into Attorney General William P. Barr again for not violating Justice Department guidelines against publicly discussing open cases and trying to keep information from leaking out about an investigation into the finances of Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, during the presidential campaign.
Mr. Trump, who spent months denouncing the work of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, used Mr. Mueller as a positive example when compared with Mr. Barr.
The president noted that Mr. Mueller had said that an article by BuzzFeed News claiming that Mr. Trump had directed his lawyer to lie to Congress was flawed. He argued that Mr. Barr should have contradicted Mr. Biden’s statements in one of the presidential debates minimizing questions about his son.
“Bill Barr, I believe — not believe, I know — had an obligation to set the record straight, just like Robert Mueller set the record straight,” Mr. Trump said, saying that Mr. Mueller “stood up” against a false report.
The Electoral College will formally cast a majority of its votes for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Monday, after President Trump’s barrage of lawsuits claiming widespread voting fraud has been almost universally dismissed by courts.
But as the president continues to refuse to concede, a small group of his most loyal backers in Congress are plotting a final-stage challenge on the floor of the House of Representatives in early January to try to reverse Mr. Biden’s victory.
Constitutional scholars and even members of the president’s own party say the effort is all but certain to fail. But the looming battle on Jan. 6 is likely to culminate in a messy and deeply divisive spectacle that could thrust Vice President Mike Pence into the excruciating position of having to declare once and for all that Mr. Trump has indeed lost the election.
The fight promises to shape how Mr. Trump’s base views the election for years to come, and to pose yet another awkward test of allegiance for Republicans who have privately hoped that the Electoral College vote this week will be the final word on the election result.
For the vice president, whom the Constitution assigns the task of tallying the results and declaring a winner, the episode could be particularly torturous, forcing him to balance his loyalty to Mr. Trump with his constitutional duties and considerations about his own political future.
The effort is being led by Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, a backbench conservative. Along with a group of allies in the House, he is eyeing challenges to the election results in five different states: Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia and Wisconsin.
Under rules laid out in the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act of 1887, their challenges must be submitted in writing with a senator’s signature also affixed. No Republican senator has yet stepped forward to say he or she will back such an effort, though a handful of reliable allies of Mr. Trump, including Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have signaled they would be open to doing so.
Even if a senator did agree, constitutional scholars say the process is intended to be an arduous one. And several Senate Republicans — including Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah — have forcefully rejected the idea of overturning the results, and their votes would be enough for Mr. Biden to prevail with the support of Democrats.
If even one Republican senator backed the effort, it could ensure that the partisan cloud hanging over the election would darken Mr. Biden’s presidency for years to come. If none did, it could send a definitive message to the country that despite Mr. Trump’s bluster, the party trusted the results of the electoral process and was finally ready to recognize Mr. Biden as the rightful winner.
White House staff members who work in close quarters with President Trump have been told they are scheduled to receive injections of the coronavirus vaccine soon, at a time when the first doses of the vaccine are being distributed only to high-risk health care workers, according to two sources familiar with the distribution plans.
The goal of distributing the vaccine inside the West Wing is to prevent additional government officials from falling ill in the final weeks of the Trump administration. The hope is to eventually distribute the vaccine to everyone who works in the White House, but will begin with some of the most senior people who work around the president, one of the people said.
It is not clear how many doses are being allocated to the White House or how many are needed, since many staff members have already tested positive for the virus and recovered. While many Trump officials said they were eager to receive the vaccine and would take it if it were offered, others said they were concerned it would send the wrong message by making it appear as if Trump staff members were hopping the line to protect a president who has already recovered from the virus and bragged that he is now “immune.”
The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine left a facility in Michigan early Sunday, with UPS and FedEx teaming up to ship them to all 50 states for distribution. A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
The White House has seen multiple waves of coronavirus cases. Mr. Trump, the first lady and a half-dozen advisers tested positive at the end of September and early October. A few weeks later, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, and a handful of other Pence staff members and advisers got sick.
And a third wave hit the West Wing after the president’s election night party at the White House. The White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, got sick around that time, as did a number of other Trump advisers.
After months during which Mr. Trump and his senior advisers played down the virus, hosting campaign rallies and holiday parties where face masks were encouraged but never required, the news of White House officials suddenly taking the virus seriously enough to claim early doses of a vaccine was greeted by outrage from Democrats as well as the president’s longtime critics.
Tim Hogan, a Democratic consultant and a former top aide to Senator Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign, said that Washington “will not come close to covering every health care worker with its first allotment of the vaccine, but a White House that downplayed the virus and held a half-year nationwide super spreader tour gets to cut the line.”
He called the White House vaccinations “a final middle finger to the nurses and doctors on the front lines from the Trump administration.”
John Ullyot, a spokesman for the National Security Council, would not say whether White House officials who had already recovered would still receive the vaccine, or whether Mr. Trump himself would get one.
It is the Electoral College, not the direct vote of the American people, that will decide the next president on Monday, when its 538 electors, chosen mostly during state party gatherings earlier this year, sign their ballots and send them to Washington.
For generations, the body was viewed as a rubber stump to the will of the voters — but as with many things, scrutiny came only when things seemed to go wrong. The 2000 contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush showed that a mere 537 popular ballots could tip Florida’s Electoral College votes, and with it, the presidency. The 2016 election proved that a president could lose by millions of popular votes, yet be handed the White House anyway.
Yet it’s hard to think of a time before this year that dragged the Electoral College, and American democracy with it, into such dangerous territory.
The election, where it was clear by evening on Election Day that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had won the popular vote, turned into a nail-biter that stretched on for days — largely because of the high volume of mail ballots in a few states rich in Electoral College votes. President Trump used the delay to make false claims from the White House that fraud was underway and that he had actually won.
Mr. Trump then turned to the courts to swing the Electoral College his way, backing lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin.
As judges dismissed his suits, the president urged Republican state lawmakers to send delegations to the Electoral College who would vote for him anyway.
That has left electors like Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, a conservative Oklahoma activist who will cast her vote for Mr. Trump on Monday, believing the president will stay in office.
“I’m going to be quite honest with you, I think Donald Trump will be president for a second term,” she said, citing continued attempts to overturn the results.
Yet for other electors, the frantic moves by a sitting president — indeed, most of the election itself — has led to soul-searching, not just on who should be president, but also on how the president should be chosen.
On Monday evening, after electors in every state have voted, Mr. Biden plans to deliver a speech from Wilmington, Del. The topic, according to a statement from his transition team, will be “the Electoral College vote certification and the strength and resilience of our democracy.”
WASHINGTON — Incensed by a Supreme Court ruling that further dashed President Trump’s hopes of invalidating his November electoral defeat, thousands of his supporters marched in Washington and several state capitals on Saturday to protest what they contended, against all evidence, was a stolen election.
In some places, angry confrontations between protesters and counterprotesters escalated into violence. There were a number of scuffles in the national capital, where four people were stabbed, and the police declared a riot in Olympia, Wash., where one person was shot.
The authorities in Washington, D.C., said on Sunday that they had arrested a man in connection with the four stabbings, which took place outside a bar.
Chris Loftis, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, said that two people were in custody in connection with the episode in Olympia but that specific details about the shooting were not yet clear, including the condition of the person who was shot.
State and federal courts have rejected dozens of lawsuits by Mr. Trump’s allies seeking to challenge the election results, but the pointed refusal by the Supreme Court on Friday to hear a case filed by the attorney general of Texas loomed the largest yet.
Trump flags dotted the air above Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., where demonstrators — including many members of the far-right Proud Boys group — chanted “four more years!” and vowed not to recognize Mr. Biden as the president-elect.
In a video posted on Twitter by a journalist at The Daily Caller, protesters burned what appeared to be a Black Lives Matter sign from a Black church, Asbury United Methodist, while cursing antifa. The Rev. Dr. Ianther M. Mills, the senior pastor at the church, likened the display to “cross burnings.”
“Sadly, we must point out that if this was a marauding group of men of color going through the city, and destroying property, they would have been followed and arrested,” she said in a statement. “We are especially alarmed that this violence is not being denounced at the highest levels of our nation.”
Another video posted by an independent journalist appeared to show protesters destroying a Black Lives Matter sign at a second Black church, this time at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.
At Georgia’s Statehouse in Atlanta, speakers used megaphones to cast doubt on the election as American flags and Make America Great Again hats bobbed in the crowd. Across the street, a few dozen anti-Trump activists — many dressed all in black — heckled the president’s supporters.
Pro-Trump rallies were mounted in a number of other communities around the country. More than 100 people gathered at a rally in St. Paul, Minn., to display Trump flags and call on the state’s Democratic governor to loosen coronavirus restrictions in the state. In Spanish Fort, Ala., a suburb of Mobile, about 100 people demonstrated, according to footage posted by WKRG-TV. “We want to be part of the ‘Stop the Steal’ national movement,” one speaker there said. “That’s why we’re here.”
WASHINGTON — Since President Trump took office, the Justice Department has been under sustained attack as he questioned whether the lawyers and investigators who serve the country were loyalists who supported his personal agenda or traitors who should be rooted out and fired.
But under President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., the department’s former and current employees hope that his pick for attorney general will shield the agency from partisan battles and political concerns.
More than 40 current and former department employees shared with The New York Times who they thought should run the Justice Department. They all wanted someone who would stand up for the employees and protect them from undue political influence, something that they say Mr. Trump’s attorneys general have largely been unable or unwilling to do.
They said that restoring the department’s independence from the White House, repairing morale and engaging both racial justice advocates and law enforcement officials on matters of race and criminal justice were the biggest issues facing the incoming leader.
While Democratic administrations often prioritize the work of the civil rights division, the protests prompted by the death of George Floyd this spring have made such work an urgent priority, regardless of which party is in office, most interviewees said. To that end, they hoped for an attorney general who had the strong support of civil rights groups. But many acknowledged that for that to be consequential, on issues including complicated ones like policing, that person should be able to work with groups like the Fraternal Order of Police.
WASHINGTON — The head of the N.A.A.C.P. had a blunt warning for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. when Mr. Biden met with civil rights leaders in Wilmington last week.
Nominating Tom Vilsack, an agriculture secretary in the Obama administration, to run the department again would enrage Black farmers and threaten Democratic hopes of winning two Senate runoffs in Georgia, the N.A.A.C.P. chief, Derrick Johnson, told Mr. Biden.
Mr. Biden promptly ignored the warning. Within hours, his decision to nominate Mr. Vilsack to lead the Agriculture Department had leaked, angering the very activists he had met with.
The episode was only one piece of a concerted campaign by activists to demand the president-elect make good on his promise that his administration will “look like America.”
The pressure on the Democratic president-elect is intense, even as his efforts to ensure ethnic and gender diversity already go far beyond those of President Trump. And it is coming from all sides.
When Mr. Biden nominated the first Black man to run the Pentagon last week, women cried foul. L.G.B.T.Q. advocates are disappointed that Mr. Biden has not yet named a prominent member of their community to his cabinet. Latino and Asian groups are angling for some of the same jobs.
Allies of the president-elect note that he has already made history. In addition to nominating retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III to be the first Black secretary of defense, he has chosen a Cuban immigrant to run the Department of Homeland Security, the first female Treasury secretary, a Black woman at the Housing and Urban Development Department and the son of Mexican immigrants to serve as the secretary of health and human services.
But the rollout of Mr. Biden’s cabinet and White House picks has created angst among many elements of the party. While some say he appears hamstrung by interest groups, others point out that his earliest choices included four white men who are close confidants, leaving the impression that for the administration’s most critical jobs Mr. Biden planned to rely on the same cadre of aides he has had for years.
President Trump on Saturday excoriated Attorney General William P. Barr, castigating him on Twitter for not violating Justice Department policy to publicly reveal an investigation into President-Elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son.
The critical tweets about Mr. Barr, who has largely been a close confidant to the president since he was appointed two years ago, came a day after the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit seeking to subvert the results of the election. With the Electoral College set to meet on Monday and Congress to formally tally the results in January, the prospects for Mr. Trump to change the outcome are all but gone.
The president’s statements undermining faith in the electoral process — and his assaults on institutions — have escalated since the election on Nov. 3. Privately, he has railed against Mr. Barr for not bolstering his false claims of widespread fraud in the election and instead affirming Mr. Biden’s victory.
His messages on Saturday echoed his attacks on his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whom he blamed for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation into whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russian officials in the 2016 election. For months, Mr. Trump publicly berated Mr. Sessions before firing him in November 2018, a day after the midterm races.
In his tweets, Mr. Trump called the attorney general a “big disappointment” and denounced him for not disclosing the existence of an investigation into Hunter Biden for possible tax evasion, which he said would have given Republicans an edge in the election. Doing so would have violated department guidelines about publicly discussing ongoing cases. Mr. Trump benefited from that policy himself in 2016, when officials kept quiet the inquiry into possible conspiracy between his campaign and Russian officials.
“Why didn’t Bill Barr reveal the truth to the public, before the Election, about Hunter Biden,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Joe was lying on the debate stage that nothing was wrong, or going on – Press confirmed. Big disadvantage for Republicans at the polls!”