President Trump’s chances to challenge the election are quickly running out.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The presidential election was more than a month ago. But as this year’s seemingly never-ending election season trundles on, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is moving one step closer to the White House.

By the end of today, the nation will reach the so-called safe-harbor deadline, which is generally accepted as the date by which all state-level election challenges — such as recounts and audits — are supposed to be completed.

What does that all mean? Broadly, it means that President Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election are nearing the end of the line.

Could the Trump campaign still file a lawsuit challenging results certified by the safe harbor deadline? Sure, anything is possible, and Mr. Trump’s legal team seems to have a knack for finding creative ways to cast doubt on the election results. But after Tuesday, the courts — state courts — would most likely have to throw out any new lawsuit challenging the election.

Currently, there are only a few state-level lawsuits left unresolved, including some in Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. There is also a petition before the United States Supreme Court involving an appeal of a state lawsuit in Pennsylvania.

One open question is whether federal lawsuits can continue after the safe harbor deadline, though it is likely that they can — and will. Even so, there are now only three federal lawsuits remaining — two in Wisconsin and one in Arizona — and they will almost certainly wrap up soon.

Of course, nearly every state has already certified its results, and following California’s certification on Friday, Mr. Biden has officially secured more than the 270 Electoral College votes needed to become president.

But in this extraordinary election year, where it seems anything can happen, the safe harbor deadline feels especially notable. And on Dec. 14, the Electoral College will cast its votes.

Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III during a Senate hearing on military operations to counter the Islamic State in 2015.
Credit…Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to nominate retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, a former commander of the American military effort in Iraq, to be the next secretary of defense, according to two people with knowledge of the selection.

If confirmed by the Senate, General Austin would make history as the first African-American to lead the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops and the enormous bureaucracy that backs them up.

General Austin, 67, was for years a formidable figure at the Pentagon, and is the only African-American to have headed U.S. Central Command, the military’s marquee combat command, with responsibility for Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria — most of the places where the United States is at war.

General Austin is known as a strong battlefield commander but is less known for his political instincts. He has sometimes stumbled in congressional hearings, including a session in 2015 when he acknowledged, under testy questioning, that the Defense Department’s $500 million program to raise an army of Syrian fighters had gone nowhere.

Still, General Austin, who retired as a four-star general in 2016 after 41 years in the military, is respected in the Army, especially among African-American officers and enlisted soldiers, as one of the rare Black men to crack the glass ceiling that has kept the upper ranks of the military largely the domain of white men.

Supporters of General Austin say he broke through that barrier because of his intellect, his command experience and the mentorship of a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who plucked him to run the staff of the Joint Chiefs’ office.

Shortly after the election, General Austin took part in an online session that Mr. Biden had with former national security officials. His selection was reported earlier by Politico.

In choosing General Austin, Mr. Biden bypassed Michèle A. Flournoy, a former top Obama administration Defense Department official, who would have been the first woman in the job.

Like Jim Mattis, who was President Trump’s first defense secretary, General Austin would have to get a congressional waiver to serve, since he has been out of the military for only four years and American law requires a seven-year waiting period between active duty and becoming Pentagon chief.

General Austin is a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He and his wife, Charlene, have been married for 40 years.

Xavier Becerra served 12 terms in Congress, representing Los Angeles, before becoming the attorney general of California in 2017.
Credit…Alex Brandon/Associated Press

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to formally name members of his health team today, led by Xavier Becerra, a former congressman who is now the California attorney general, as his nominee for secretary of health and human services.

The senior officials Mr. Biden will appoint will face the immediate challenge of slowing the spread of the coronavirus, which has already killed more than 281,000 people in the United States and has taken a particularly devastating toll on people of color.

Mr. Biden’s announcement, in Wilmington, Del., will coincide with a “virus summit” hosted by President Trump at the White House, featuring government and industry leaders who have been working on producing a vaccine.

Mr. Becerra, 62, a Democrat who had carved out a profile more on the issues of criminal justice, immigration and tax policy, was long thought to be a candidate for attorney general, and he emerged as Mr. Biden’s clear choice for health and human services secretary only over the past few days, according to people familiar with the transition’s deliberations. It was a surprise ending to a politically delicate search that brought complaints from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about a lack of Latinos in the incoming cabinet.

Other health officials expected to be introduced today include:

  • Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, replacing Dr. Robert R. Redfield

  • Dr. Vivek Murthy as the surgeon general

  • Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith to lead the Covid-19 equity task force

  • Jeff Zients as coordinator of the Covid-19 response.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, whom Mr. Biden has recruited to be his chief medical adviser in addition to continuing in his role as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is not expected to appear in-person at the event, though he is expected to make an appearance via video.

Mr. Trump’s “vaccine summit” at the White House comes just two days before a committee of outside experts will meet to make recommendations to the F.D.A. about whether to grant emergency approval to Pfizer’s vaccine.

Pennsylvania’s House majority leader, Bryan Cutler, center, was pressed by President Trump on how Republicans planned to reverse the results of the election.
Credit…Dan Gleiter/The Patriot-News, via Associated Press

Intensifying his efforts to undo his loss to Joseph R. Biden Jr., President Trump twice called the Republican speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in recent days to encourage challenges to the official results in the state.

Mr. Trump pressed the speaker, Bryan Cutler, on how Republicans planned to reverse the results of an election that Mr. Biden was certified to have won by more than 80,000 votes, a spokesman for Mr. Cutler, Michael Straub, said Monday night.

“He did ask what options were available to the legislature,” Mr. Straub said, referring to the president. “Cutler made it very clear what power the legislature has and does not have,” added Mr. Straub, who characterized the president’s calls as seeking information rather than pressuring the speaker. The calls were reported earlier by The Washington Post.

Pennsylvania is the third state in which Mr. Trump is known to have reached out to top elected Republicans to try to reverse the will of voters. He earlier summoned Michigan legislative leaders to the White House, and over the weekend he pressed Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia to call upon that state’s legislature to reverse the election.

A series of lawsuits by the Trump campaign and its allies claiming widespread voting fraud in Pennsylvania have been tossed out of state and federal courts.

Supporters of Mr. Trump’s baseless fraud claims have called on Republican-led legislatures in several states to overturn the results, although Pennsylvania’s General Assembly is out of session and cannot be called back except by Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat.

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