Republicans urge Trump to allow Biden briefings as U.S. election challenges sputter

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WASHINGTON/WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – More Republican lawmakers said on Thursday the Trump administration should allow Joe Biden to receive intelligence briefings, in a tacit acknowledgement the Democrat will soon occupy the White House despite the president’s refusal to concede.

Most Republican officials and lawmakers have publicly supported President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the election results via a series of lawsuits filed in individual states, following the president’s unfounded claims of widespread voting fraud.

Hand-count audits in more than six counties in the battleground state of Arizona, where Biden continues to lead amid ongoing vote counting, found only minor discrepancies, according to the secretary of state’s office. The audits involve hand counts of a random sampling of ballots.

Biden has been moving ahead with the work of preparing to govern and spoke with Pope Francis as his fellow Democrats in Congress blasted Republican election “shenanigans” and urged action on the coronavirus pandemic.

With a few states still counting ballots, Biden has won enough battleground states to surpass the 270 electoral votes needed in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the next president. Biden is also winning the popular vote by more than 5.2 million votes, or 3.4 percentage points.

A growing number of Republican senators, including John Cornyn, Ron Johnson, James Lankford, Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, urged Trump’s administration to allow Biden access to presidential daily intelligence briefings.

The president-elect traditionally receives such briefings from the intelligence community to learn of threats facing the United States before taking office.

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“I don’t see it as a high-risk proposition. I just think it’s part of the transition. And, if in fact he does win in the end, I think they need to be able to hit the ground running,” Cornyn told reporters. He refused to say, however, that Biden had won.

The top House of Representatives Republican, Kevin McCarthy, opposed the idea.

“He’s not president right now. I don’t know if he’ll be president January 20th,” McCarthy said, refusing to acknowledge Trump’s defeat.

A group of 150 former U.S. officials – including some from the Trump administration – said intelligence briefings were essential to ensuring the continuity of government.

The two top Democrats in Congress – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer – on Thursday decried the Trump administration’s refusal to engage with Biden’s transition team.

The Democratic leaders also urged Republicans to join them in passing legislation to address the pandemic and buttress the battered economy.

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“The Republicans should stop their shenanigans about an election that President Trump has already lost and focus their attention on the immediate issue at hand – providing relief to a country living through the COVID health and economic crisis,” Schumer said.

Biden, who is set to become America’s second Roman Catholic president, after John F. Kennedy in the 1960s, spoke with the pope on Thursday, thanking him for his “blessing and congratulations,” his transition team said.

Biden told the pontiff he wanted to work together on issues including caring for the poor, addressing climate change and welcoming immigrants and refugees.

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PANDEMIC IN FOCUS

Biden has focused on planning his administration, with attention expected to shift to his selections for key Cabinet posts ahead of taking office. He was scheduled to meet in private with transition advisers on Friday, his team said, as he did on Thursday.

He named longtime adviser Ron Klain on Wednesday as White House chief of staff, his first major appointment. Klain, who led the U.S. government’s Ebola response in 2014, is expected to take a leading role in Biden’s approach to the intensifying pandemic that has killed more than 242,000 Americans, with a record 142,000 new COVID-19 cases registered on Wednesday.

Trump, who has flouted public-health recommendations on mask wearing and social distancing, was hospitalized with COVID-19 last month. Many Trump associates have become infected, with close adviser Corey Lewandowski on Thursday becoming the latest.

The Trump campaign has filed multiple lawsuits challenging the vote counts in individual states. Legal experts have said the litigation stands little chance of altering the outcome, and state election officials have said they saw no evidence of serious irregularities or fraud.

In a sign of weakening support for Trump’s efforts to claim widespread election fraud, Ohio’s Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican who endorsed Trump, told CNN on Thursday that “we need to consider the former vice president as the president-elect.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal, owned by major Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, ran an editorial noting there was no evidence of fraud and saying Trump “seeks to delay the inevitable.”

Karl Rove, White House deputy chief of staff to Republican former President George W. Bush, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “once his days in court are over, the president should do his part to unite the country by leading a peaceful transition and letting grievances go.”

Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Doina Chiacu and Simon Lewis; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Patricia Zengerle, Jeff Mason, Andrea Shalal, Lisa Lambert and James Oliphant; Writing by Will Dunham and Joseph Ax; Editing by Ross Colvin and Peter Cooney