President Trump asked Senator Ted Cruz on Tuesday night if he would be willing to argue a case filed by the Texas attorney general seeking to invalidate the election results in states like Pennsylvania in the event that it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a person familiar with the discussion.
The long-shot suit from Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas is seeking to challenge the Electoral College outcomes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia, and describes the votes as “tainted.”
Mr. Trump asked Mr. Cruz, Republican of Texas, if he would be willing to make oral arguments in the case should it reach the Supreme Court. Mr. Cruz agreed.
The call was the latest example of Mr. Trump’s continuing efforts to try to upend the results of the election with claims of widespread fraud that his lawyers have yet to demonstrate in court. Dozens of legal challenges by the Trump campaign and Republican proxies related to the election have been tossed out by judges, including judges appointed by Mr. Trump.
Before he joined the Senate in 2013, Mr. Cruz argued before the Supreme Court nine times, representing Texas in most of those cases in his role as the state’s solicitor general.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to select Katherine Tai, the chief trade lawyer for the House Ways and Means Committee, as the United States trade representative, a key post that will bear responsibility for enforcing America’s trade rules and negotiating new trading terms with China and other countries, according to people familiar with the plans.
Ms. Tai has garnered strong support from colleagues in Congress, who credit her with helping to wrangle an unruly collection of politicians and interest groups in negotiations to pass the revised North American Free Trade Agreement. From 2007 to 2014, Ms. Tai worked for the Office of the United States Trade Representative, where she successfully prosecuted several cases on Chinese trade practices at the World Trade Organization.
If confirmed, Ms. Tai, who is Asian-American, would be the first woman of color to serve as the U.S. trade representative, a cabinet-level official who carries the rank of ambassador.
Although Mr. Biden has said he does not intend to begin negotiating new free-trade agreements until he has made “major investments here at home and in our workers,” his trade representative will still have plenty to do. Those tasks are likely to include ensuring that American trade rules are adequately enforced and that they promote rather than impede other parts of Mr. Biden’s agenda, including fighting climate change and encouraging domestic investment, for example through augmenting Buy American programs.
Thomas Kaplan and Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.
Republican attorneys general from 17 states declared their support on Wednesday for a brazen effort by the state of Texas to delay the certification of the presidential election in four states that President Trump lost.
The Texas suit, filed on Tuesday by the pro-Trump state attorney general, Ken Paxton, claims that voting irregularities in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin should be investigated by the state legislatures before those states formally certify President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. the winner.
The lawsuit was ridiculed by legal experts as a publicity stunt with little chance of success. But that did not deter 17 of the country’s 25 Republican attorneys general from publicly signaling their allegiance to the president by signing on to an amicus brief in support of Texas filed on Wednesday.
The attorneys general all represent states that Mr. Trump won, including Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana and South Dakota. In their brief, they argued that “serious concerns relating to election integrity and public confidence in elections” had surfaced.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. formally named on Wednesday Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, a retired four-star Army general, as his choice to lead the Department of Defense.
“He’s loved by the men and women of the armed forces. Feared by our adversaries, known and respected by our allies,” Mr. Biden said at an event in Wilmington, Del. “And he shares my deeply held belief in the values of America’s alliances.”
In his remarks, General Austin, the former top American commander in the Middle East, said that he and Mr. Biden had “gotten to know each other under some intense and high-pressure situations” and pledged to give Mr. Biden “the same direct and unvarnished counsel that I did back then.” And he stressed that he would work closely with American diplomats and allies.
The general also recalled a foundational part of his relationship with Mr. Biden: His connection to the president-elect’s late son, Beau Biden, who served as a military lawyer on General Austin’s staff and with whom the general stayed in touch after the younger Mr. Biden returned home.
General Austin, who retired in 2016, would become the first Black Pentagon chief. He will need a congressional waiver for the position because of a requirement that military veterans be retired from active duty for at least seven years before leading the Defense Department. Civilian control of the military has been a priority in the country since the nation’s founding, and his announcement drew some immediate opposition on Capitol Hill for breaking with the tradition.
Mr. Biden said he put great value on the civilian-military divide but added that he “would not be asking for this exception if I did not believe this moment in our history didn’t call for it.” (Congress approved a similar measure for President Trump’s choice four years ago, Jim Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general.)
At 67, General Austin has been a respected presence at the Pentagon for years and is the only African-American to have headed U.S. Central Command, the military’s marquee combat command, with responsibility for Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. After retiring, General Austin joined the board of the defense contractor Raytheon Technologies, a position that has also garnered some criticism.
Mr. Biden said that General Austin, who maintains a low public profile, had not campaigned for the job.
“This is not a post that he sought, but I sought him,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Biden’s incoming national security team will face immediate challenges in rebuilding international relationships that deteriorated during the Trump administration, and in a statement on Wednesday, the Biden transition team said that General Austin would also be involved with “executing the logistics associated with Covid-19 vaccine distribution.”
The president-elect also suggested that the choice of a general who had long served in the Middle East did not signal hawkish impulses.
“We need his firsthand knowledge of the immeasurable cost of war — and the burden it places on our service members and their families — to help bring to an end the forever wars and ensure that the use of force is the last tool in our toolbox,” Mr. Biden said. “Not the first.”
Robert M. Gates, a former secretary of defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, praised General Austin, calling him an “extraordinary leader.” And Colin L. Powell, the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and first Black secretary of state, urged Congress to approve a waiver allowing the general to serve. In a statement on his Facebook page, Mr. Powell said that he had been a mentor to General Austin.
“General Austin has served splendidly at all combat and civilian levels in the armed forces,” Mr. Powell said. “He has demonstrated his warfighting skills and his bureaucratic, diplomatic and political acumen.”
Zach Montague contributed reporting.
The Justice Department is investigating the tax affairs of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son Hunter, he disclosed in a statement on Wednesday.
The investigation is being led by the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware. It was opened in late 2018 and has included inquiries into potential criminal violations of tax and money laundering laws, according to people familiar with the inquiry. The money laundering aspect of the case failed to gain traction after F.B.I. agents were unable to gather enough evidence for a prosecution, the people said.
“I learned yesterday for the first time that the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware advised my legal counsel, also yesterday, that they are investigating my tax affairs,” Hunter Biden said in a statement. “I take this matter very seriously, but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisers.”
The inquiry was focused on Hunter Biden and some of his associates, not the president-elect or other family members, two people familiar with it said.
The disclosure of the federal investigation seems certain to aggravate the politically tense relationship between the departing Trump White House and the incoming Biden administration. The timing means it is possible that one of the last decisions of the Trump Justice Department could be about a potential case against the son of the incoming president, if investigators uncover enough evidence to go forward.
It also means that Mr. Biden will most likely come into office as the Justice Department is actively investigating his son, a case his political opponents are certain to seize on to try to damage the early days of his presidency.
The investigation could also complicate Mr. Biden’s efforts to instill public confidence that the department can operate independent of the personal interests of the president after it became deeply politicized under President Trump. Last week, Mr. Biden said that establishing separation between the department and the White House was a top priority.
“I’m not going to be telling them what they have to do and don’t have to do. I’m not going to be saying go prosecute A, B or C,” Mr. Biden said in an interview with CNN. “It’s not my Justice Department. It’s the people’s Justice Department.”
Spokeswomen for the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware declined to comment on the investigation. Hunter Biden’s lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.
A bipartisan group of moderate lawmakers circulated details about their $908 billion stimulus compromise but was still struggling to reach agreement on crucial details, as congressional leaders remained at odds on an economic relief plan to address the pandemic.
The moderates’ six-page framework, which was obtained by The New York Times, said the group had an “agreement in principle” for providing $160 billion to state and local governments and offering liability protections to businesses “as the basis for good faith negotiations,” but it omitted any substantive details about how to address the thorniest impediments to their agreement.
The lack of specifics underscored the remaining hurdles for the group — led by Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia — as it works to strike a deal in the coming days. Yet there is no guarantee that their plan will advance. Democratic leaders have called it a starting point for negotiations, but Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has not endorsed it. And the Trump administration presented its own $916 billion proposal on Tuesday with notable differences.
Mr. McConnell had suggested earlier Tuesday that Democrats drop their demand for funding for state and local governments in exchange for Republicans dropping their insistence on including a liability shield for businesses, but his idea was immediately rejected by Democrats. And the administration proposal offered by Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, contained both.
The moderates’ framework would revive a lapsed weekly federal unemployment benefit at $300 a week for 16 weeks, from the end of December to April, and extend a series of unemployment programs set to expire at the end of the month.
It notably does not include another round of stimulus checks, which some lawmakers — including Senators Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, and Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri — have lobbied for in recent days. Mr. Mnuchin’s proposal would include a $600 stimulus check for each American, but would not revive the supplemental unemployment benefit.
The original $2.2 trillion stimulus law enacted in March distributed $1,200 stimulus checks and established the enhanced unemployment benefits at $600 a week through July, which President Trump later extended unilaterally at $300 a week for most workers.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, urged Republicans to allow bipartisan talks to move forward, calling them the best opportunity for compromise.
In response, Mr. McConnell slammed the two Democrats for rejecting both the White House offer and his overture on Tuesday, his first major concession since efforts to reach agreement on another coronavirus relief deal began.
“At every turn, they have delayed, deflected, moved the goal posts, and made the huge number of places where Congress agrees into a hostage of the few places we do not,” Mr. McConnell said.
The moderates’ plan would repurpose money Mr. Mnuchin clawed back from the Federal Reserve and leftover funds in the expired Paycheck Protection Program and allow small businesses to receive another loan from the popular small-business program. It would provide $10 billion to child care providers, $25 billion in rental assistance, $82 billion for education providers, $6 billion for vaccine development and distribution and $7 billion for state, local and tribal governments to conduct testing and tracing.
To give negotiators additional time to reach an agreement both on a stimulus deal and the dozen annual spending bills, lawmakers in the House overwhelmingly passed a stopgap measure extending the government funding deadline to Dec. 18 from Friday.
Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania announced on Twitter on Wednesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I have no symptoms and am feeling well and I am in isolation at home,” he wrote. “I am following CDC and Department of Health guidelines.” Referring to his wife, he wrote, “Frances has been tested and, as we await the result, is quarantining at home with me.”
The governor added that he was performing his duties remotely, “as many are doing during the pandemic.”
“As this virus rages, my positive test is a reminder that no one is immune from COVID,” Mr. Wolf said. “Following all precautions as I have done is not a guarantee, but it is what we know to be vital to stopping the spread of the disease.”
Mr. Wolf, a Democrat, is at least the ninth U.S. governor to report receiving a positive test result, though in the case of Mike DeWine of Ohio, the result was almost immediately contradicted by another test and is thought to have been a false positive. Several other governors have quarantined when a family member, staff member or close associate tested positive.
So far, none of the governors have reported experiencing severe illness. The first governor known to have tested positive was Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, a Republican, in mid-July.
Loyalists to President Trump have blocked transition meetings at some government agencies and are sitting in on discussions at other agencies between career civil servants and President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s transition teams, sometimes chilling conversations, several federal officials said.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, political appointees have joined virtually every discussion between career staff members and Mr. Biden’s team, monitoring conversations on climate change, scientific research and other areas that have been hot topics during Mr. Trump’s time in office.
At the Department of Education, one official said Trump appointees had not crashed briefings but said the written briefing materials given to Mr. Biden’s teams “gloss over anything controversial” and described the briefings as “politically influenced.”
At the State Department, Mr. Trump’s appointees have insisted that they attend some, but not all, meetings of Mr. Biden’s transition team with career employees, according to an official familiar with the process.
Presidential transition experts said the presence of political officials at agency handoff meetings was not unheard-of and could even be seen as helpful. President George W. Bush, for example, worked closely in late 2008 with Barack Obama’s incoming team to help calm volatile financial markets.
But against a backdrop of Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede the election, and the initial delay by the General Services Administration to formally give Mr. Biden’s transition team access to coordinate with Trump administration officials, the actions of Trump appointees appeared to be a pernicious effort to slow the transition, some experts said.
Though the Biden transition team declined to comment, several people close to the president-elect’s team said that after the initial delays, the Trump administration’s handover has been fairly smooth and that Mr. Biden is loath to disrupt that process by remarking on tensions.
Under the Presidential Transition Act, nonpolitical career employees play the primary role in managing the agency transitions, largely because they bring an institutional knowledge about the government functions.
Reporting was contributed by Erica L. Green, Lara Jakes, Julian E. Barnes, Eric Schmitt, Michael D. Shear and Katie Benner.
The Republican speaker of Arizona’s House did what he thought was right after Rudolph W. Giuliani rolled through Phoenix for maskless meetings with Republican legislators and then tested positive for the coronavirus: He shut the chamber down for a week in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
But that decision is adding fuel to the open conflict within Arizona’s Republican Party, positioning Trump loyalists intent on overturning the state’s election results against relatively moderate figures including the speaker, Rusty Bowers, and Gov. Doug Ducey, who have each made clear the results will stand.
The party this week publicly urged people to fight to the death to overturn the election in which President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. defeated President Trump by fewer than 11,000 votes, about 0.3 percentage points. That entreaty came after 28 current and incoming Republican lawmakers called for the decertification of the election as requested by Mr. Giuliani, the personal and campaign lawyer for Mr. Trump.
The quarreling, which has powerful state Republicans openly insulting one another, is bringing attention to the challenges the party faces as Arizona shifts from a Republican bastion to a battleground state.
“There’s been a civil war boiling in the Republican Party for a couple of years,” said Marcus Dell’Artino, a Republican strategist in Phoenix. “Now we’re seeing the public part of it.”
The infighting has flared after Mr. Giuliani visited Phoenix last week as part of his traveling legal battle contending, without providing evidence, that the election was altered by widespread fraud. Mr. Giuliani spent about 11 hours with several Republican lawmakers in a hotel ballroom, and also met with at least eight during a visit to the Arizona Capitol.
Neither Mr. Ducey’s office nor Zachery Henry, a spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party, responded to requests for comment on the public discord. After the party asked its followers on Twitter if they were prepared to die for the cause of overturning the election, Mr. Ducey asserted that the Republican Party was “the party of the Constitution and the rule of law.”
“We prioritize public safety, law & order, and we respect the law enforcement officers who keep us safe,” Mr. Ducey said on Twitter. “We don’t burn stuff down. We build things up.”
America’s policy toward Turkey, a strategic but unreliable ally, is starting to shift in the waning days of the Trump administration, setting the groundwork for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to try to carefully draw Turkey back into the West’s embrace instead of pushing it closer to Russia.
Congress is poised this week to approve economic sanctions against Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, for buying Russian missile defense systems early in President Trump’s term, potentially exposing to Moscow the alliance’s military technology.
Mr. Trump stalled the sanctions last year after the defense systems were delivered to Turkey. White House officials have recently informed Turkish diplomats that the Trump administration will not oppose the congressional sanctions, according to two people involved in the discussions.
“We are concerned about some of the Turkish behavior,” Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, told reporters last week ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers from NATO nations. “The idea that you could put a Russian-made missile defense system in the middle of our alliance is out of bounds.”
Since nearly the beginning of Mr. Trump’s term, Turkey has vexed officials across Trump administration. That has been as much Mr. Trump’s doing — in part because of his admiration for its authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan — as that of actions by the government in Ankara, which has abused human rights, imprisoned Americans and journalists, and muscled into confrontations from Syria to Libya to the Caucasus to the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
YouTube on Wednesday announced changes to how it handles videos about the 2020 presidential election, saying it would remove new videos that mislead people by claiming that widespread fraud or errors influenced the outcome of the election.
The company said it was making the change because Tuesday was the so-called safe harbor deadline — the date by which all state-level election challenges, such as recounts and audits, are supposed to be completed. YouTube said that enough states have certified their election results to determine that Joseph R. Biden Jr. is the president-elect.
YouTube’s announcement is a reversal of a much-criticized company policy on election videos. Throughout the election cycle, YouTube, which is owned by Google, has allowed videos spreading false claims of widespread election fraud under a policy that permits videos that comment on the outcome of an election. Under the new policy, videos about the election uploaded before the safe harbor deadline would remain on the platform, with YouTube appending an information panel linking to the Office of the Federal Register’s election results certification notice.
In a blog post on Wednesday, YouTube pushed back on the idea that it had allowed harmful and misleading elections-related videos to spread unfettered on its site. The company said that since September, it had shut down over 8,000 channels and “thousands” of election videos that violated its policies. Since Election Day, the company said, it had also shown fact-check panels over 200,000 times above relevant election-related search results on voter fraud narratives such as “Dominion voting machines” and “Michigan recount.”
The Senate on Wednesday confirmed a trio of new members to the Federal Election Commission, restoring a working quorum to an agency that has been legally unable to function for much of the last year, even as the campaign spending it regulates ballooned.
With just days left in Congress’s term, lawmakers voted mostly along party lines to install two Republicans, Allen Dickerson and Sean J. Cooksey. A Democrat, Shana M. Broussard, won near-unanimous support.
For much of the 2020 campaign cycle, the commission — which has six seats, half of them designated for Democrats and half for Republicans — lacked the minimum four members it required to conduct business. Though staff members continued to process and publish candidates’ financial disclosures, the agency was unable to open or close investigations, issue penalties, defend itself against lawsuits or advise campaigns on how to comply with the law.
With the three new commissioners in place, the agency will have its full powers restored and all six seats filled for the first time since 2017. Awaiting the newly empowered body are some 400 pending enforcement cases.
“We weren’t completely dysfunctional during that period of time, but obviously we could not make most of the major decisions the commission is charged with making,” said Ellen L. Weintraub, a current Democratic commissioner.
Even with a full complement of members, some elections officials and outside advocates have raised concern that the sharp ideological divides on the commission will lead to continued paralysis.
Caroline C. Hunter, a former Republican commissioner who left the agency over the summer, called the frequent stalemates among commissioners of different parties a function of the bipartisan structure. But others, including Ms. Weintraub and former Republican commissioner Trevor Potter, have criticized what they have called broad disinterest among some Republicans in applying election law and investigating potential violations, regardless of the political party of a candidate.
The new commissioners are unlikely to change that dynamic.
Mr. Dickerson is the legal director for the Washington-based Institute for Free Speech, a group that argues for further deregulating elections. Mr. Cooksey is the general counsel to Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri.
Ms. Broussard, who will be the first woman of color to serve on the commission, currently serves as a legal aide to Commissioner Steven T. Walther, an independent who has largely aligned with Democrats.
Meredith McGehee, the executive director of Issue One, a group that pushes for campaign-finance transparency, said the new slate of Republican commissioners were “likely to put their own personal ideologies over their responsibilities to enforce the letter — and the spirit — of the law.”
Republicans have defended their approach, insisting on a conservative interpretation of the law that favors a hands-off posture and less vigorous enforcement, delivering a de facto win to those who support campaign finance deregulation.
Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, who shepherded the nominations as chairman of the Rules Committee, conceded on Wednesday that Democrats and Republicans had struggled for months to reach an agreement on who and when to confirm.
“It’s a great step in the right direction,” he said.