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From McConnell to Putin to Newsmax, Trump allies peel away

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday. Credit: Pool / AFP via Getty Images / Caroline Brehman

Bringing down the curtain

No one can call it a rush to judgment by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump's most powerful collaborator in Congress, or the Russian autocrat Trump admired and never spoke ill of, President Vladimir Putin. The message Tuesday from both leaders to the 45th president: It's over for you; Joe Biden won.

A day after the Electoral College affirmed the results of the 2020 election, McConnell went to the floor of the Senate and said, "I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden." While "many of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result," the Kentucky Republican said, " … our system of government has the processes to determine who will be sworn in on Jan. 20. The Electoral College has spoken."

From there, the floodgates opened. Several GOP senators confirmed they had spoken with Biden, including Trump ally Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said they have been talking about Biden administration nominees who will require Senate confirmation. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, in a speech following McConnell’s, urged Trump to "end his term with a modicum of grace and dignity."

While the GOP moves to accept Biden won't stop Trump from still trying to undermine confidence in the results with baseless allegations that have been rejected by judges across the political spectrum, McConnell is prepared to stand in Trump's way.

McConnell warned Republican senators Tuesday during a private caucus call to stay out of it if a handful of House GOP die-hards try to mount an objection on Jan. 6, when Congress convenes to formally confirm the election results — the final step before Biden's inauguration. Joining that fight would yield a "terrible vote" for Republicans, McConnell told them. They would have to choose in public whether to back Trump or buck him, antagonizing his most loyal fans.

As for Putin, his silence on the results over the past six weeks was seen by analysts as an attempt to grant legitimacy to Trump’s fraud claims. A Kremlin statement Tuesday said the Russian leader congratulated Biden, "wished the president-elect every success" and voiced confidence that Russia and the United States, "despite their differences," can work toward "solving many problems and meeting challenges that the world is facing today."

The latest developments also brought about a pivot from Newsmax, a right-wing cable news outlet that saw its viewership soar in recent months by staking out a Trumpier-than-Fox position. Newsmax on Nov. 30 gave a platform to a Trump lawyer calling for the execution of a Homeland Security official who was fired for saying the election was secure and honest. "As a result of the Electoral College vote Joe Biden is the president-elect and will be referred to as such on Newsmax," a company statement said. It added: "We also recognize President Donald Trump continues to contest the results and we will cover aspects of that news story." Far-right OAN still appears to be in Trump's lonelier corner.

Not hitched to Mitch

Biden said he had a "good conversation" with McConnell after the Republican leader's remarks, and "I told him although we disagree on a lot of things, there's things we can work together on."

But working with McConnell in a GOP-led Senate would be second choice for Biden, whose first would be to have Schumer as majority leader. Toward that end, Biden went Tuesday to Georgia to headline an Atlanta drive-in rally for Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the two Democrats seeking to oust GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in a Jan. 5 runoff. Both Warnock and Ossoff would have to win for the Democrats to claim a Senate majority.

"I need two senators from this state who want to get something done," Biden said, "not two senators who are just going to get in the way."

Biden mocked Perdue and Loeffler for publicly backing the Texas attorney general's failed lawsuit, which essentially asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the presidential election results in Georgia and other battleground states. "They fully embraced nullifying nearly 5 million Georgia votes," said Biden. "Maybe your senators were just confused. Maybe they think they represent Texas."

Trump's having a Q ball

In search of tweetable material to keep his claims of a "stolen" election alive, Trump is turning to the QAnon wing nuts of his base. One retweet Tuesday was a prediction from far-right lawyer Lin Wood that Georgia's governor, Brian Kemp, and secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, "will soon be going to jail." The two Republicans rebuffed Trump's demands to reject Biden's win in the state.

Wood has claimed that a global plot to rig the election against Trump includes a cast of thousands of Americans, along with Serbia, Canada, Venezuela, Cuba, the CIA, billionaire George Soros, the Clinton Foundation and many state and local officials from both parties.

Also retweeted: Alabama's Rep. Mo Brooks calling fellow Republicans who accept Biden's victory the "Surrender Caucus."

Another Trump zealot, QAnon-adherent Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia tweeted: "Every 'Republican' that isn’t fighting for @realDonaldTrump's 2020 landslide victory is supporting the Chinese Communist Party takeover of America."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday's Electoral College vote affirming Biden's win was merely "one step in the constitutional process" and that Trump is still "involved in ongoing litigation related to the election." Trump tweeted, 42 days after Election Day: "Tremendous evidence pouring in on voter fraud."

Swearing off crowds

Biden's inaugural committee offered a message to Americans who might be thinking of heading to Washington on Jan. 20 to cheer the swearing-in: Please stay home, stay safe and watch it on TV.

"This is a once-in-a-generation moment that we’re in," Maju Varghese, the executive director of the inauguration, told The Washington Post. "What we’re trying to do here is be honest and transparent. We realize the moment that we’re in as it relates to the pandemic, so we’re leaning into doing things very different this time."

Some traditions will be kept. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn in to office on the steps of the west side of the Capitol. Other elected officials will be on the platform, but attendance will be limited. Whether Trump will participate at all is unknown. "I don’t want to talk about that," Trump told Fox News in an interview that aired Sunday, when asked if he would attend Biden’s inauguration.

The parade, if you can call it that, will be more virtual than physical, with remote segments featuring people from across the country, much like the virtual roll call during the Democratic National Convention in August.

Buttigieg is going places

Biden is expected to pick former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg to head the Transportation Department, according to three people familiar with the plans. The second Democratic primary rival to join the administration after Harris, Buttigieg is the first openly LGBTQ Cabinet member put up for a Senate confirmation and at age 38, the youngest chosen so far by Biden.

As head of DOT, Buttigieg would oversee an agency of some 53,000 employees and a budget of almost $90 billion, with oversight of the nation's airline industry, along with railroads, commercial trucking, mass transit and pipelines. It could become a high-visibility post, given Biden's pledges to rebuild the nation's infrastructure and take aggressive steps to tackle climate change.

Biden chose him over other contenders with deeper backgrounds in transportation. As South Bend mayor, Buttigieg was chief executive of a city with a population of just over 100,000, with a relatively small mass-transit footprint. A Biden tweet on his choice called Buttigieg "a leader, patriot, and problem-solver."

Politico reported that Biden will pick former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to run the Energy Department, the agency that would play a key role in helping develop the technologies needed fulfill his pledge to move the country off fossil fuels.

Granholm is experienced in dealing with the auto industry — a potentially big advantage as the new president seeks to speed the rollout of electric vehicles and the network of charging stations needed to power them.

A Trump legacy: No more trickle-down?

Trump never came close to fulfilling his first campaign's promise to rebuild infrastructure, but he is leaving his mark on how America showers.

Trump got plenty of laughs at his rallies with complaints about appliances that have restricted water flows based on decades-old water conservation rules.

"You take a shower, the water doesn’t come out. You want to wash your hands, the water doesn’t come out. So what do you do? You just stand there longer or you take a shower longer? Because my hair — I don’t know about you, but it has to be perfect. Perfect," Trump said at a July event.

The Energy Department took him literally and seriously. A new rule announced Tuesday changes the definition of a showerhead, essentially allowing different components within the device to count as individual fixtures, sidestepping requirements that allow no more than 2.5 gallons to flow through per minute.

Trump also railed against low-pressure toilets, but there's no word whether his final days will lead to revolutionary changes in flushing to remember him by.

Coming soon: Moderna's vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration says a second coronavirus vaccine candidate, from drugmaker Moderna, is highly effective at preventing severe illness.

The new shot is likely to be authorized for emergency use soon if an independent panel meeting Thursday recommends it, and could start being shipped next week, CBS News reported.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • The presidents of Mexico and Brazil, who had strong relationships with Trump, congratulated Biden on Monday, becoming the last major Latin American leaders to do so.
  • Biden’s team plans to bring the U.S. closer to normalized relations with Cuba, reversing many of the sanctions and regulations imposed during the Trump administration, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News. Measures that target Cuba for human rights abuses would remain in place, they said.
  • Trump is considering whether to pressure newly named acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to name special counsels to investigate Hunter Biden and election fraud claims, or perhaps replace him with someone more likely to do so, The Associated Press reported.
  • White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien has cut short a trip to Europe to return to the U.S. to address the suspected Russian hack of U.S. government agencies, The Wall Street Journal reported. The cyberespionage campaign is considered potentially one of the most damaging in years.
  • Trump's next-door neighbors at Mar-a-Lago don't want him to make it his permanent new home, writes The Washington Post. They wrote a letter to the town of Palm Beach, Florida, and the Secret Service asserting that Trump gave up his legal right to live there because of an agreement he signed in the early 1990s, when he converted the storied estate from his private residence to a private club.
  • Between the lines, a new Trump campaign email seems to acknowledge his defeat by saying "the Radical Left STOLE this election" and asking supporters whether he should run again in 2024.
  • A former Houston police captain was arrested and charged with running a man off the road on Oct. 19 and pointing a gun at his head in an attempt to prove claims of a massive voter-fraud scheme in Harris County, Texas. The victim, suspected by the ex-cop of transporting 750,000 phony ballots, was an air conditioning repairman carrying parts and tools in his truck, according to a news release from the Harris County's DA's office. "We are lucky no one was killed," DA Kim Ogg said.

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