Live politics updates: Arizona, Wisconsin certify Biden win; GOP Senate majority to shrink by one Wednesday – 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. 

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.

Atlas steps down from Trump’s coronavirus task force

Scott Atlas, a controversial member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, has resigned from his post at a time when COVID-19 is once again surging across the country.

Atlas confirmed the decision in a tweet late Monday. Atlas, a neuroradiologist and conservative health care policy adviser, drew criticism for assertions that lockdowns imposed in several states intended to halt the spread of the disease were overly strict.

He also prompted criticism following reports that he had advocated for a “herd immunity” response to the virus. Atlas, whose resignation was first reported by Fox News, had denied those reports.

“We also identified and illuminated early on the harms of prolonged lockdowns,” Atlas wrote in his resignation, which he posted on Twitter. 

Atlas joined the administration in August and served as a special adviser to Trump on the virus.

Other members of the task force, notably Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have distanced themselves from Atlas. Speaking on NBC this month, Fauci said that he didn’t “want to say anything against Dr. Atlas as a person, but I totally disagree with the stand he takes. I just do, period.”

John Fritze and David Jackson

Arizona, Wisconsin certify Biden election win

Arizona and Wisconsin certified their election results Monday, showing President-elect Biden as the winner and further closing the door on President Donald Trump’s legal battles challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs on Monday certified the state’s results, with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel serving as witnesses.

“Despite the unprecedented challenges, Arizonans showed up for our democracy, every Arizona voter has my thanks and should know that they can stand proud that this election was conducted with transparency, accuracy and fairness, in accordance with Arizona’s laws and elections procedures, despite numerous unfounded claims to the contrary,” Hobbs said at the certification ceremony.

Ann Jacobs, the chairwoman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, confirmed Biden’s win by about 20,700 votes a day after the completion of a partial recount that found dozens more votes for Biden. 

– Rebecca Morin 

Democratic Sen.-elect Mark Kelly of Arizona to join Senate Wednesday 

Democrat Mark Kelly, who defeated Republican Sen. Martha McSally on Nov. 3, will be sworn in at 2 p.m. EST on Wednesday, his office said Monday. 

With Arizona certifying its election results Monday, Kelly becomes eligible to take office ahead of the new group of senators-elect from across the nation. 

After winning Arizona’s special election, Kelly will serve the final two years of the six-year term won in 2016 by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who died in 2018. 

Kelly is on Capitol Hill as the Senate weighs the nomination of a federal judge for the Southern District of Mississippi and amid stalled talks for a financial stimulus package to help American families, businesses and communities struggling from the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Once again, Arizona’s working families and small business owners are looking for ways to get through this crisis with little leadership from Washington,” Kelly wrote in an opinion piece published Monday on The Arizona Republic’s website.

– Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Arizona Republic

Grassley, 87, returns to the Senate after COVID diagnosis 

Sen. Chuck Grassley returned to work at his Washington office Monday after completing a quarantine period caused by a positive coronavirus test on Nov. 17.

Grassley, 87, has remained symptom-free in the days since his diagnosis, he said.  Grassley’s spokesperson, Michael Zona, said his doctors cleared him to return to the office at the end of last week.

In a statement, Grassley said he was glad to return to the office after working remotely from home during his isolation.

“During my quarantine, I heard from so many Iowans and Americans across the country. I’m thankful for their prayers and well wishes,” Grassley said in the statement. “This disease affects people differently. I did not experience symptoms, but more than a thousand Americans are dying every day and many more are hospitalized. That means we all have to do our part to help protect our friends, family and fellow Americans. I will continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing.”

– Stephen Gruber-Miller, Des Moines Register

Kushner heads to Middle East amid tensions over Iranian nuclear scientist’s killing

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner will travel to the Middle East this week amid heightened tensions over the assassination of a top Iranian scientist, who had been credited with overseeing Tehran’s now defunct covert nuclear program. 

Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, will travel to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, a source familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to comment publicly, told USA TODAY. The trip was first reported by Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal. This official said Kushner’s trip will be focused on healing a long-standing rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

But Kushner’s visit to the two Middle East allies comes just days after the targeted killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist who Israeli officials referred to as the “father” of Iran’s nuclear program. He led Iran’s “Amad” program, which Israel alleged was a covert military operation to probe the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon.

Israeli officials have refused to comment on the attack; U.S. officials have also been mum. But experts say the incident has the hallmarks of an assassination orchestrated by Israeli’s Mossad spy agency. 

– Deirdre Shesgreen

Biden announces economic team with Janet Yellen at Treasury

President-elect Joe Biden unveiled his economic team Monday as the incoming administration prepares to navigate a recession resulting from the coronavirus pandemic at a time when congressional Republicans have become more reluctant to fuel record deficit spending.

The key figure is Janet Yellen, Biden’s choice to become Treasury secretary after previously leading the Federal Reserve. Other appointees include Neera Tanden, the chief executive of the progressive think tank Center for American Progress, to head the Office of Management and Budget, and Cecilia Rouse, dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, to lead the Council of Economic Advisers.

But while Yellen is recognized for being one of the most experienced people ever considered for her post, Tanden could have trouble winning confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate because of her political history and fiery posts on Twitter.

Biden is scheduled to introduce the team Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware, at 12:30 p.m. EST. 

– Bart Jansen 

Biden launches Presidential Inaugural Committee

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have taken a step toward their inauguration ceremonies with the formation of a Presidential Inaugural Committee.

The committee, which will be headed by Delaware State University President Tony Allen, will work with a joint congressional committee to coordinate all activities surrounding the 59th inaugural ceremonies, including the swearing-in traditionally held on the Capitol’s West Front on Jan. 20.

Biden’s inauguration is expected to be smaller than previous inaugural ceremonies because of the health risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Several health and safety precautions, including mandatory face masks and social distancing, are under consideration to protect attendees.

More details about inaugural events will be announced in the coming days and weeks, the committee said.

Besides Allen, other senior members of the inaugural committee include Maju Varghese, who served as chief operating officer of the Biden-Harris campaign; Erin Wilson, who served as the campaign’s national political director; and Nevada state Sen. Yvanna Cancelea, who was one of Biden’s earliest elected supporters.

The committee also has launched its website (BidenInaugural.org) and its social media presence on Instagram and Twitter under the handle @BidenInaugural, where Americans can visit for the latest news and information about the inauguration.

– Michael Collins

Biden OMB pick Tanden draws opposition from left and right 

President-elect Joe Biden announced Neera Tanden as his pick to head the White House Office of Management and Budget on Monday, drawing angry reactions from progressives and conservatives alike. 

In response to a New York Times article about Tanden’s expected nomination, the communications director for Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Tanden, who heads the left-leaning Center for American Progress, “stands zero chance of being confirmed.” 

Drew Brandewie tweeted that Tanden “has an endless stream of disparaging comments about the Republican Senators whose vote she’ll need.” 

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., called Tanden “a big-government, big-spending radical liberal” whose selection was “more proof that @JoeBiden and the Democrats will continue to move further and further to the Left.” 

Tanden’s reported selection also sparked angry reactions from the left, such as Brianna Joy Gray, the former press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, who called Tanden “a woman who is openly disdainful of Bernie Sanders and his coalition, but who is friendly with extreme bigots online.” Gray was particularly critical of Tanden’s views on Social Security 

“Everything toxic about the corporate Democratic Party is embodied in Neera Tanden,” Gray tweeted. 

Not all progressive figures objected to Tanden. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said Tanden, along with Biden’s other picks for his economic team, is “committed to full employment, boosting wages, reducing inequality” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, called Tanden “smart, experienced, and qualified” and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., called her a “great choice” to “bring the experience and humanity urgently needed in this position.” 

Many of those opposed to Tanden’s appointment, including Brandewie and Gray, cited past tweets from Tanden who has been a prolific presence on the social media platform, posting more than 87,000 tweets – including numerous caustic criticisms or replies to criticisms – since joining Twitter in March 2010. By comparison, President Donald Trump has posted nearly 59,000 tweets since joining Twitter a year before Tanden. 

– William Cummings 

Biden names all women to his communications team 

President-elect Joe Biden on Sunday named his White House senior communications staff, choosing a team of all women led by Jen Psaki, a veteran of President Barack Obama’s administration, as his first press secretary. 

Psaki, who wore many hats under Obama including White House communications director, has overseen the confirmations team for Biden’s transition team.

Biden also tapped top campaign aides Kate Bedingfield as White House communications director and Symone Sanders as senior adviser and chief spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris. Bedingfield worked as deputy campaign manager and communications director for the Biden-Harris Campaign. Sanders served as a campaign senior advisor.

Other communications hires are: Elizabeth Alexander, communications director for first lady Jill Biden; Ashley Etienne, communications director for Harris; Karine Jean-Pierre, principal deputy press secretary; and Pili Tobar, deputy White House communications director.

“I am proud to announce today the first senior White House communications team comprised entirely of women. These qualified, experienced communicators bring diverse perspectives to their work and a shared commitment to building this country back better,” Biden said in a statement. 

– Joey Garrison and Bart Jansen 

Trump tweets ‘get well soon’ after Biden fractures foot 

President Donald Trump tweeted, “Get well soon!” Sunday after President-elect Joe Biden fractured his foot the day before after slipping while playing with his dog. 

Biden’s team said he was examined by an orthopedist “out of an abundance of caution.” A CT scan found a hairline fracture in Biden’s foot, which Biden’s doctor, Kevin O’Connor, said would require him to wear a boot for several weeks. 

The president’s tweet wishing his former Democratic opponent well came amid a flurry of posts claiming that the election had been “rigged” or stolen for Biden.

– Matthew Brown and William Cummings 

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