President-elect Joe Biden gave a taste of what one might expect from his inaugural address in less than two months. Where President Donald Trump took office in 2017 proclaiming a bleak American landscape, Biden on Wednesday delivered a pre-Thanksgiving message evoking hope and faith. Biden linked healing and uniting the body politic to the nation's ability to realistically confront the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden's popular-vote totals proved to have surpassed 80 million, the most ever for any U.S. presidential candidate. That's a massive 6 million more than Trump garnered, giving the incumbent the second-highest total ever. "Let’s be thankful for democracy itself," Biden said, describing the voter-turnout rate of 66.5%, the highest in over 100 years, amid a pandemic as "simply extraordinary."
"Our democracy was tested this year, and what we learned is this: The people of America are up to the task," said the president-elect. He added that COVID-19 "brought us pain and loss and frustration and cost many lives. It's divided us, angered us, set us against one another. I know the country's grown weary of the fight, but we need to remember — we're at war with the virus, not one another ..."
The president called in to a Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, meeting of GOP state lawmakers after his planned trip there was canceled Wednesday, a day after the Keystone State certified its election results. He launched into a particularly unhinged 10-minute rant repeating vague and unfounded claims of dead people voting, illegal ballots and corruption. (Trump's election lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis attended the meeting after a member of the legal team tested positive for COVID-19.)
"We have to turn the election over, because there's no doubt we have all the evidence, we have all the affidavits, we have everything," Trump said, as usual offering no evidence. "All we need is to have some judge listen to it properly without having a political opinion or having another kind of a problem, because we have everything and, by the way, the evidence is pouring in now as we speak."
Fix in for Flynn
One way or another, Trump was determined to get his first national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, off the hook for lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation. Even before Flynn's indictment — but after Flynn resigned purportedly for lying to Vice President Mike Pence — Trump tried to intervene, according to his first FBI director, James Comey, by asking Comey to "see your way clear to letting this go."
Fast-forward to this year. Attorney General William Barr triggered a controversy by trying to drop the Justice Department's case well after Flynn had reached a plea deal and then tried to withdraw it. But U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan resisted, leaving the prosecution still alive.
Mitch is mum
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's continued clout depends on two Georgia runoff elections to be held Jan. 5. These contests have become entangled with the Trump camp's false fraud claims. For now, McConnell (R-Ky.) seems to be avoiding embroilment by refusing to publicly acknowledge that Biden is the president-elect.
If McConnell retains the majority, his conference will control confirmations of key picks for Biden's Cabinet. McConnell hasn't commented on the election outcome since Nov. 17, when he said: "What we all say about it is frankly irrelevant. All of it will happen right on time, and we’ll swear in the next administration on Jan. 20."
'Thrown under the bus'
Brad Raffensperger, Georgia's Republican secretary of state, has been set upon by the Trump camp for doing his job without catering to its baseless fraud theories. The state had a successful and smooth election, the longtime conservative said.
"This should be something for Georgians to celebrate," Raffensperger wrote in a commentary published Wednesday by USA Today, "whether their favored presidential candidate won or lost. For those wondering, mine lost — my family voted for him, donated to him and are now being thrown under the bus by him."
He continued: "I have fought to uphold the integrity of elections in Georgia. It doesn't matter if the attacks come from the guy I voted for or not."
Trump, of course, never apologizes, even when he smears the reputation of someone in the GOP without good cause.
Racing the clock
The Justice Department is fast-tracking a rule that could reintroduce firing squads and electrocutions to federal executions, ProPublica reports. That's just one of the more eye-catching eleventh-hour policy changes in the works before Trump & Co. clear out.
The impact could be nil. The Trump administration executed a federal prisoner in Indiana on Nov. 19 and plans five more executions before Jan. 20, all with lethal injections. Biden has signaled he won’t allow federal executions and would push to eliminate capital punishment for federal crimes.
Dozens of other proposed changes would affect standards as varied as chicken processing, smokestack emissions and asylum rules, as well as water pressure, which seems to be an obsession for the departing incumbent.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond, written by Newsday's Bart Jones and Rachelle Blidner. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Michèle Flournoy, a defense expert, is still considered to be on an inside track for Biden's choice of defense secretary.
- The Supreme Court late Wednesday signaled a shift in its approach to pandemic restrictions, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett casting the decisive vote, Politico reports. In a 5-4 emergency ruling, the top court temporarily lifted New York State's coronavirus-related capacity limits for houses of worship, the Daily News reports.
- One of Trump's earliest boosters in Pennsylvania in his first campaign was a sheriff named Carolyn Welsh, who spoke at rallies and visited the White House. Now she's charged in an unrelated matter with ripping off taxpayers.
- Biden is leaning toward naming former Obama national security adviser Tom Donilon as his CIA director, Politico reports.
- Giuliani's efforts to undo Biden's Pennsylvania win in the Electoral College are getting even more incoherent.
- Federal officials denied a key permit for a massive gold mine in Alaska. Opponents of the Pebble Mine project included Donald Trump Jr.
- Asian American voters are emerging as a political force in Georgia.
- Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' family Thanksgiving recipe for cornbread dressing has gone viral, along with her how-to for brining turkey.
- The 1600 will be taking a Thanksgiving holiday hiatus. We'll be back on newsday.com on Sunday night and in subscribers' inboxes on Monday morning. Not signed up? It's easy — just go to newsday.com/the1600.