ATLANTA — The Georgia Senate runoffs will draw firepower from the highest levels of politics on Monday with visits by President Trump and President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., underscoring the urgency of an election to determine control of the Senate and held in the shadow of Mr. Trump’s persistent attacks on Republican state officials over his baseless claims of voter fraud.
Mr. Trump is scheduled to hold a rally in the northwest city of Dalton, where he is expected to encourage his supporters to go to the polls on Tuesday in support of the two incumbent Republicans in the races, Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Northwest Georgia is a crucial base of Republican support, but turnout in early voting has been disappointing in many counties there.
Mr. Trump upended the final weekend of campaigning in Georgia with an hourlong call to its secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, on Saturday, in which the president embraced conspiracy theories and demanded that state election officials “find” him the votes that would give him Georgia’s 16 electoral votes from November’s presidential election.
The conversation with Mr. Raffensperger, which was recorded, could further damage Republican hopes for winning the races — races that will determine which party controls the Senate. Some Republicans were already worried that Mr. Trump’s focus on his own electoral loss — and his incessant and baseless argument that the loss was because of electoral fraud — is being taken literally by his supporters, who could end up staying home rather than voting in what they believe to be a “rigged” electoral system.
In an interview on Fox News late Sunday, Mr. Perdue said he did not think that Mr. Trump’s call would have an impact on the election, but said he was shocked that a fellow Republican would “tape a sitting president and then leak that.” Mr. Perdue had called for Mr. Raffensperger’s resignation in November.
Mr. Raffensperger, a Republican, has maintained that Georgia’s results from the November race are valid — a point he made personally to Mr. Trump during the phone call Saturday and in subsequent interviews.
“For the last two months, we’ve been fighting the rumor whack-a-mole,” Mr. Raffensperger said Monday on Good Morning America. “And it was pretty obvious very early on that we’ve debunked every one of those theories that have been out there, but that President Trump continues to believe them.” He added, “The data that he has is just plain wrong.”
Before his travel to Georgia, Mr. Trump’s daily guidance to reporters about his schedule said he would “work from early in the morning until late in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings.” Typically his schedule gives logistical details about specific meetings, not generalities about his day.
Mr. Biden will travel to Atlanta on Monday to campaign for the Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock. It is likely that Mr. Biden will bring up the president’s phone call with Mr. Raffensperger at his rally in the Atlanta area on Monday.
Vice President Mike Pence is also scheduled to be in the state, with a visit to Rock Springs Church in Milner. The church’s pastor is a close friend and spiritual mentor to Mr. Perdue, who has been quarantining in recent days after his possible exposure to the coronavirus.
After four years of enabling and appeasing President Trump, Republicans find themselves at the end of his tenure in exactly the place they had so desperately tried to avoid: a toxic internecine brawl over his conduct and character that could badly damage their party.
The challenge to President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s decisive victory in the Electoral College, undertaken by dozens of Republicans in the House and Senate, has no chance of succeeding. But many of Mr. Trump’s supporters — the voters who will decide the fate of Republican members of Congress in the coming years — believe it can, egged on by his allies on social media and in the far-right press.
Late Sunday, one of Mr. Trump’s most dogged Republican defenders, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, tried to tamp down those expectations, announcing in a statement that he “will not oppose the counting of certified electoral votes on Jan. 6.” Mr. Cotton invoked the nation’s founders, saying they “entrusted the election of our president to the people, acting through the Electoral College — not Congress.”
Even though he went out of his way to praise Mr. Trump personally, the president warned Mr. Cotton on Twitter that Republican voters “NEVER FORGET!”
The extraordinary conflict among congressional Republicans has significant implications in the short and long term. With their Senate power on the line in Georgia in two days, Republicans entered the new Congress on Sunday bitterly divided.
Top party officials quietly pushed back against what all sides conceded would be a futile effort to reject the election results. Most Republicans were publicly mum on Sunday, but some were becoming more alarmed and more outspoken.
“It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans,” Paul D. Ryan, the former House speaker and Republican from Wisconsin, said in a statement on Sunday.
Representative Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican, circulated a lengthy memo calling the move “exceptionally dangerous.”
As the clash unfolded, newly disclosed recordings of Mr. Trump trying to pressure state officials in Georgia to reverse his loss there reflected how intent he was on finding enough votes to cling to power and what little regard he had for the fortunes of his party, whose Senate majority hangs on the outcome of two runoffs in the state on Tuesday.
In an interview on Monday, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican who plans to challenge the results, termed Mr. Trump’s brazen effort to “find” enough votes to win “not a helpful call.”
WASHINGTON — Democrats returned Representative Nancy Pelosi of California to the House speakership on Sunday for what may be her final term, handing a tested leader control of the slimmest majority in almost two decades as Washington prepares for a new Democratic president.
The nearly party-line vote punctuated an opening day marked more by precaution than pomp, as the 117th Congress convened under the threat of a deadly pandemic and awaited a pair of Senate runoffs in Georgia that will determine control of that chamber. Several House members sick with Covid-19 missed the session altogether and others cast their votes from behind a plexiglass enclosure specially constructed in a gallery overlooking the chamber.
Her victory means that after two years as President Trump’s most outspoken antagonist, Ms. Pelosi will now be responsible for trying to shepherd through Congress as much of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s agenda as possible.
“Scripture tells us that to everything, there is a season: a time for every purpose under the heavens; a time to build, a time to sow, a time to heal,” she said in a speech after winning the speakership. “Now is certainly a time for our nation to heal. Our most urgent priority will continue to be defeating the coronavirus. And defeat it, we will.”
It will be no easy task. With her party in control of just 222 of 435 seats, Ms. Pelosi can afford to lose only a handful of Democrats on any given vote. Emboldened Republicans are gunning to retake the majority in next year’s midterm elections and are in no mood to extend an olive branch.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, used his own remarks before presenting Ms. Pelosi the gavel to torch Democrats’ record in the majority and effectively declare the beginning of the campaign to wrest power from them.
“It has been said that a house divided cannot stand,” he said. “Well, if there is any lesson Americans have learned in the last two years, it’s this: A House distracted cannot govern.”
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s incoming national security adviser said on Sunday that the new administration would move quickly to renew the last remaining major nuclear arms treaty with Russia, even while seeking to make President Vladimir V. Putin pay for what appeared to be the largest-ever hacking of U.S. government networks.
In an interview on “GPS” on CNN, Jake Sullivan, who at 44 will become the youngest national security adviser in more than a half century, also said that as soon as Iran re-entered compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal — which he helped negotiate under President Barack Obama — there would be a “follow-on negotiation” over its missile capabilities.
“In that broader negotiation, we can ultimately secure limits on Iran’s ballistic missile technology,” Mr. Sullivan said, “and that is what we intend to try to pursue through diplomacy.”
He did not mention that missiles were not covered in the previous accord because the Iranians refused to commit to any limitations on their development or testing. To bridge the impasse, the United Nations passed a weakly worded resolution that called on Tehran to show restraint; the Iranians say it is not binding, and they have ignored it.
Taken together, Mr. Sullivan’s two statements indicated how quickly the new administration would be immersed in two complex arms control issues, even as Mr. Biden seeks to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and the economic shocks it has caused.
President Trump plans to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the coming days to two of his most outspoken Republican defenders in the House, Representatives Devin Nunes of California and Jim Jordan of Ohio, two officials familiar with his plans said.
The award is the nation’s highest civilian honor, meant to recognize “exceptional contributions” to national security, world peace or cultural and other “significant” endeavors. While presidents have bestowed the honor on members of Congress in the past, it has typically been granted at the end of a lawmaker’s time in public service or in recognition for an unrelated achievement.
In the case of Mr. Nunes and Mr. Jordan, however, Mr. Trump wants to honor the lawmakers for their leading roles in personally defending him against the F.B.I.’s investigation of Russian election interference and the House’s impeachment inquiry, according to the officials, who requested anonymity to discuss plans not yet made public.
Both investigations uncovered wrongdoing by the president and his advisers, but Mr. Trump viewed them as partisan “witch hunts,” demanding his party rally around him to fend them off. Mr. Nunes and Mr. Jordan enthusiastically answered the call, working in public and in private to dig up unflattering information about those investigating the president, including his own Justice Department, which they would then publicize, often with the help of the White House.
The two took a similar approach when Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump based on his attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Mr. Jordan, a pugnacious force in congressional hearings, became the face of Mr. Trump’s defense on Capitol Hill, ultimately helping to win his acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The work infuriated Democrats, but it made Mr. Nunes and Mr. Jordan heroes on the right and persuaded many in their party to follow suit. In 2018, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Nunes, then the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, ought to be awarded the Medal of Freedom or the Medal of Honor, which is reserved for military valor, based on his attempts to discredit the Russia investigation.
That Mr. Trump is doing so now, even as he refuses to concede his election defeat, suggests that he recognizes his time in office is limited.
Mr. Nunes will receive the honor in a ceremony on Monday, and Mr. Trump is likely to bestow it upon Mr. Jordan next week. The Washington Post first reported the awards.
Vice President Mike Pence planned to visit a church in Milner, Ga., around noon on Monday, kicking off a final push by Republican leaders to urge voters to turn out for Tuesday’s highly consequential runoff elections that will determine which political party controls the Senate.
Democrats in Georgia believe that an influx of new voters and a fractured Republican electorate could pave the way to victory for their Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who won the state in November, will campaign with the two men on Monday in the largely Democratic Atlanta area.
The Republican incumbents, Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, are turning to President Trump to shore up the vote and motivate the Georgians who supported him in November, even as the president continues to challenge the validity of the state’s results. Mr. Trump is holding a rally on Monday evening with the two candidates in Dalton, a city in northwest Georgia in a region where early voting turnout has been relatively light.
Some Republicans worry that the president’s two-month campaign against the election outcome could keep Trump supporters home on Tuesday because of a loss of faith in the system. There are also concerns about the potential for Mr. Trump to use Monday’s appearance to mostly talk about himself, particularly after the release of a recording of a call between Mr. Trump and the state’s top elections official.
During the call, the president warned of a “criminal offense” if the state could not find the votes to would hand him the state’s 16 Electoral College votes.
Mr. Perdue was confident on Sunday that Mr. Trump would focus on the senators in his appearance “because he knows what’s at stake.” During an interview on Fox News, Mr. Perdue said if the two Democrats won, Georgians would see a “radical socialist and very dangerous agenda” out of Washington.
If the Republican candidates win, Mr. Biden will face gridlock in the Senate and struggle to pass legislation.
The call by President Trump on Saturday to Georgia’s secretary of state raised the prospect that Mr. Trump may have violated laws that prohibit interference in federal or state elections, but lawyers said on Sunday that it would be difficult to pursue such a charge.
The recording of the conversation between Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of Georgia, first reported by The Washington Post, led a number of election and criminal defense lawyers to conclude that by pressuring Mr. Raffensperger to “find” the votes he would need to reverse the election outcome in the state, Mr. Trump either broke the law or came close to it.
“It seems to me like what he did clearly violates Georgia statutes,” said Leigh Ann Webster, an Atlanta criminal defense lawyer, citing a state law that makes it illegal for anyone who “solicits, requests, commands, importunes or otherwise attempts to cause the other person to engage” in election fraud.
At the federal level, anyone who “knowingly and willfully deprives, defrauds or attempts to deprive or defraud the residents of a state of a fair and impartially conducted election process” is breaking the law.
Matthew T. Sanderson, a Republican election lawyer who has worked on several presidential campaigns — including those of Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rick Perry, the former Texas governor — said that while it did appear that Mr. Trump was trying to intimidate Mr. Raffensperger, it was not clear that he violated the law.
That is because while Mr. Trump clearly implied that Mr. Raffensperger might suffer legal consequences if he did not find additional votes for the president in Georgia, Mr. Trump stopped short of saying he would deliver on the threat himself against Mr. Raffensperger and his legal counsel, Ryan Germany, Mr. Sanderson said.
Two high-stakes Senate runoffs in Georgia are concluding with a test of how much the politics have shifted in a state that no longer resembles its Deep South neighbors.
Should the two challengers win Tuesday and hand Democrats control of the Senate, it will be with the same multiracial and heavily metropolitan support that propelled President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to victory in Georgia and nationally. And if the Republican incumbents prevail, it will be because they pile up margins in conservative regions, just as President Trump did.
That is a marked change from the 2000 election, when George W. Bush won decisively in the Atlanta suburbs to take the state and Democrats still ran competitively with right-of-center voters in much of rural North and South Georgia.
After resisting the tide of Republicanism longer than in other parts of the South — it did not elect its first governor from the party until 2002 — Georgia became a reliably red state in the nearly two decades since. But now, it is fast turning into a political microcosm of the country.
Although Georgia still skews slightly to the right of America’s political center, it has become politically competitive for the same demographic reasons the country is closely divided: Democrats have become dominant in big cities and suburban areas but they suffer steep losses in the lightly populated regions that once elected governors, senators and, in Georgia, a native-born president, Jimmy Carter.
“Georgia is now a reflection of the country,” said Keith Mason, a former chief of staff to Zell Miller, a Democratic governor and U.S. senator from a small town in North Georgia.
ATLANTA — As hundreds of millions of dollars have been pumped into Georgia for a runoff election that will determine which party controls the Senate, few groups have been as vigorously pursued as young voters.
Voter registration efforts and political campaigns have tried to reach them through TikTok videos, poetry readings and drive-in events with celebrities. College Republicans have had phone-banking competitions, while other volunteer groups have approached young voters on dating apps, such as Tinder.
The work has paid off. More than 75,000 new voters registered ahead of the runoffs, more than half of them under the age of 35. Campaigns put an intense focus on 23,000 young people who were not old enough to vote in November but are qualified to do so in the runoffs.
Early voting began in mid-December, and so far, more than three million people have cast their ballots — about 75 percent of the early votes cast in November’s general election, which set turnout records. Over 360,000 early voters in the runoffs were between the ages of 18 and 29, according to data maintained by GeorgiaVotes.com.
The intense interest surrounding the Senate races has reached across party lines.
“I think that young voters have felt so disconnected from politics, and their voice was not heard,” said Bryson Henriott, a sophomore at the University of Georgia and the political director for the College Republicans chapter. “They’re the ones door-knocking for these campaigns, they are the ones on social media. Now that young people feel like they have a voice in politics, they’re going to stay focused.”