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Biden says transition is underway, even as Trump repeats unfounded claims

President-elect Joe Biden is reassuring Americans about the transition of power -- even if President Trump never admits he lost. Biden has 290 electoral votes, 20 more than he needed to win. On Tuesday, he held his first news conference since Election Day, promising that his team is continuing to make progress. Yamiche Alcindor reports and joins Judy Woodruff and Lisa Desjardins to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President-elect Joe Biden is counseling calm about the transition tonight, even if President Trump never concedes he lost.

    Mr. Biden already has 290 electoral votes in an Associated Press tally, with three states not yet called, and a lead of almost five million popular votes, pushing him over the 50 percent mark.

    Today, he held his first news conference since Election Day. White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    An embarrassment — that's the way president-elect Joe Biden described President Trump's refusal to concede the election. And Mr. Biden insisted it will have no effect on the handover of power.

  • President-elect Joe Biden:

    We are already beginning the transition. We're well under way. And the ability for the administration in any way by failure to recognize our win does not change the dynamic at all in what we're able to do.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For his part, President Trump had no public events again today. But he did take to Twitter. He repeated unfounded claims of widespread fraud, saying — quote — "Watch for massive ballot counting abuse and just like the early vaccine. Remember, I told you so."

    And, overnight, his Justice Department provoked new rancor. Democrats at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing blasted Attorney General William Barr for telling federal prosecutors to investigate any substantial allegations of voter fraud.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.:

    They have no evidence whatsoever of election fraud. If they did, they would certainly bring it forward.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Last night, in response to Barr's action, the head of the Justice Department's election crimes branch resigned in protest.

    Today, there is still no indication that the General Services Administration will formally acknowledge the Biden victory and free up funding for transition work.

    At the State Department, Secretary Mike Pompeo was questioned about whether he is ready to engage with the Biden transition team.

  • Secretary Mike Pompeo:

    There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.

    We're ready. The world is watching what's taking place. We're going to count all the votes.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On another front, Democratic committee chairs in the House released a statement today directing the White House and more than 50 other federal agencies to preserve documents related to congressional subpoenas and investigations.

    Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed concerns that most GOP lawmakers are refusing to publicly acknowledge Joe Biden as president-elect.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    At some point here, we will find out, finally, who was certified in each of these states, and the Electoral College will determine the winner, and that person will be sworn in on January 20. No reason for alarm.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On the Senate floor, the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, denounced the GOP for refusing to take a stand.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    The extent to which the Republican Party is legitimizing the president's assault on our democracy is infuriating and deeply, deeply wrong. The president is not merely bring forward well-founded legal challenges.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And Democratic Senator Chris Coons from Biden's home state of Delaware said Republicans have been calling him to privately congratulate the president-elect.

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    My job here, I think, is to continue to urge them privately to do the right thing and to help the president accept reality and to help their caucus stand up publicly.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    All the while, time is ticking. Electors from all 50 states and D.C. will meet to vote on December 14, 2020. The vote count is then finalized on January 6, 2021, leading up to the presidential inauguration on January 20.

    But between now and then, the president's false claims are echoing with many of his supporters.

  • Michelle Gregoire:

    Biden has not won the election. All of the legal ballots have not been counted. There's been multiple cases of voter fraud happening throughout the entire state of Michigan.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    There has been no evidence of widespread voting irregularities. Trump supporters are now planning what they call a million MAGA March in Washington on Saturday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche is at the White House tonight, while our Lisa Desjardins joins us from Wilmington, Delaware.

    And, Lisa, to you first.

    You were in the room when the president-elect spoke to reporters today. His team is proceeding work on the transition. Tell us what we know about that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, you don't see a lot of this, of course, in public, not only because it is transition, but because of the coronavirus, but I have a lot of reporting.

    Judy, today, the president-elect announced his agency transition teams, review teams. This is 540 people, volunteers, who are tasked with getting together with the agencies running government and to form plans and get ready for the handover of government.

    Judy, essentially, what is going on here is, the Biden campaign has been running a parallel system since June to get ready for transition, to begin thinking about hiring up to 4,000 positions that any new president has to fill.

    And the Biden transition team is full-steam ahead in operating and moving towards getting governments to operate. So, when you think about the former vice president, now president-elect today, when I looked at him in that room today, I saw a man who was comfortable in his stance, hand in his pocket, did not seem in a hurry, but spoke about the issues, which is what he says is leading his plan for transition.

    And the first issue he talked about today, along with vice president-elect Harris, was health care.

  • President-elect Joe Biden:

    Beginning on January 20, the vice president-elect, Harris, and I, we're going to do everything in our power to ease the burden of health care on you and your families. I promise you that.

    As I said, I will protect your health care like I protect — like as my own family. And we've been, unfortunately, significant consumers of health care. That starts by building on the Affordable Care Act, with the dramatic expansion of health care coverage and bold steps to lower health care costs.

    My transition team will soon be starting its work to flesh out the details, so that we can hit the ground running.

    Come January, we're going to work quickly with the Congress to dramatically ramp up health care protections, get Americans universal coverage, lower health care costs as soon as humanly possible. That's the promise I make to you.

  • Vice President-elect Kamala Harris:

    We just had an election in America, an election where health care was very much on the ballot.

    Our country had a clear choice in this election. Each and every vote for Joe Biden was a statement. And Joe Biden won the election decisively with more votes than have ever been cast in American history.

    It amounts to 75 million voices and counting calling on the Supreme Court to see this case for what it is: a blatant attempt to overturn the will of the people.

    And the president-elect and I cannot let that happen.

  • President-elect Joe Biden:

    I've had the opportunity to speak with now six world leaders, and the response has been very fulsome, energetic.

    I know from my discussions with foreign leaders thus far that they are hopeful that United States' democratic institutions are viewed once again as being strong and enduring.

    And — but I think, at the end of the day, it's all going to come to fruition on January 20. And between now and then, my hope and expectation is that the American people do know and do understand that there has been a transition.

    Even among Republicans who are people who voted for the president, I understand the sense of loss. I get that. But I think the majority of the people who voted for the president — a lot voted for him, a significantly smaller number, but a lot voted for him — I think they understand that we have to come together.

    I think they're ready to unite, and I believe we can pull the country out of this bitter politics that we've seen for the last five, six, seven years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, staying with you, we know the president-elect has yet to hear from a large majority, from most of the Republicans in the Congress, with whom he will have to work as president.

    A number of them, he knows from having served in the Senate. How is this going to affect his agenda?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    President-elect Biden today said he has not heard from Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, but he said he expects to soon.

    There are two issues here, Judy, one, Republicans still not saying that President Biden has won the election. I had many phone calls with sources today, Republican Senate sources, who said to me: "Lisa, the election has not been called"

    And I was in the unusual position of saying back to them, the election has been called. In their mind, they think, until this process is completed to President Trump's satisfaction, it's not over.

    They also point out that, whenever it's completed — and they believe it will be, as you have heard Mitch McConnell say — it might not change what faces president-elect Biden, which is a closely divided Senate and a Republican Senate, especially, that has been running very aggressively against any kind of Democratic agenda, including his.

    One other note, Judy. I asked these Republican sources, when do they think? Do they think we have to — going to wait until January 20 before Republicans will say that president-elect Biden is actually our leader? They all say no. They think it will be sooner, perhaps in the next week-and-a-half, they hope. But they don't know.

    It rests with President Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meantime, Yamiche, the president and the people around him are not cooperating with the transition. They are continuing to push these lawsuits.

    What is your sense from them? What is the attitude that you see there, and what is their strategy?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Trump is indignant.

    He is getting angrier and angrier as he watches president-elect Joe Biden pivot away from campaigning and full on into transition mode. Of course, the president is not in transition mode. And he's really running a public and private operation to try to pressure GOP lawmakers — GOP lawmakers and elected officials across the country to back him, holding the line.

    The vice president went to the Senate Republican lunch today on Capitol Hill with one clear message: Keep on fighting.

    They are absolutely focused on this idea that the president has to be defended, that his ways and his false claims have to be continued to be echoed with — by Republicans all across the country.

    Now, when it comes to the legal strategy, they're continuing to file lawsuit after lawsuit. The head of the legal strategy for the Trump campaign, David Bossie, he remains fighting the coronavirus, but I'm told that he's doing well, that he's working remotely.

    What we're seeing, though, is cases being tossed out again and again in Pennsylvania, in Georgia, in Michigan, in Nevada. The Biden campaign held a briefing today to talk about their legal strategy. They say that their legal strategy is to continue to push back and show that the president does not have any evidence for his legal claims.

    They were also quoting several judges from saying things like, there's — the Biden campaign was saying that the Trump campaign has no evidence and that they were being — essentially presenting evidence that was utterly unsupported and fiction.

    One other thing, Judy. I pushed the Biden campaign and said, well, are you looking for evidence? Are you having to defend yourself? What is your strategy? They said that their evidence is the 75 million votes that president-elect Joe Biden got.

    They also said that all of the things that they're seeing in the Trump campaign, the legal lawsuits, the press conferences, the tweets, the e-mails, that none of that is really law. They said it's all noise. They also said that this is theatrics, not really lawsuits.

    So, what we're seeing from the Biden campaign is a strategy to message and a strategy to defend themselves, while the Trump campaign is continuing to file lawsuits. They say, at some point, this might all end up in the Supreme Court, but both sides think that they might win that.

    But the Biden campaign and the Trump campaign feel very, very indignant and solid on their sides. So, the Trump campaign continues to be angry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it is just extraordinary, certainly not your typical transition.

    Yamiche Alcindor at the White House, Lisa Desjardins in Wilmington, thank you both.

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