WASHINGTON — As President Trump refuses to allow President-elect Joe Biden to receive intelligence briefings — even those he was getting during the campaign — an increasing number of Trump’s allies are calling for Biden to have access to the information.

“I just don’t know of any justification for withholding the briefing,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said Thursday.

“I see no problem with that,” said Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican Party’s longest-serving senator.

“I think so, yes,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s closest confidants, when asked if Biden should be briefed.

The Senate Republicans advocated for Biden to receive the classified national security information even as they refused to acknowledge that the Democrat has won the presidential election, citing Trump’s baseless claims of fraudulent votes.

The GOP pile-on supporting the intelligence briefings amounted to miniscule cracks in support for Trump as he refuses to concede the race, but was also in line with Republicans’ occasional, carefully worded answers about his actions during his presidency. While only a handful of Republicans have called Biden the president-elect, most were comfortable Thursday challenging the Trump administration on withholding intelligence information, which could constitute a national security risk when Biden assumes office.

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Pope Francis calls Biden, who pledges to work with him to promote human dignity

It’s not exactly divine intervention, but even the pope considers the U.S. presidential race over.

Pope Francis, Joe Biden, John Boehner

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress in 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so. Listening behind the pope are then Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. Now president-elect, Biden, a lifelong Roman Catholic, spoke to the pontiff on Thursday. Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

President-elect Joe Biden, a lifelong Roman Catholic, spoke to Pope Francis on Thursday, despite President Trump refusing to concede. Trump claims — without evidence — that the election was stolen from him through massive but unspecified acts of fraud.

Biden’s transition team said in a statement that the president-elect thanked Francis for “extending blessings and congratulations and noted his appreciation.” He also saluted the pontiff’s “leadership in promoting peace, reconciliation, and the common bonds of humanity around the world.”

Biden said he hopes to work with Francis on issues such as climate change, poverty and immigration.

News of the call came even as some Catholic bishops in the U.S. decline to acknowledge Biden’s victory and argue that the faithful should not back him because of his support for abortion rights.

On Tuesday, for example, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, tweeted that Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris support “the slaughter of innocents” at any point during pregnancy.

Biden has said he accepts church doctrine about abortion on a personal level, but does not want to impose that belief on everyone.

Biden has had several phone calls this week with foreign leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They have congratulated him on winning and consider the election settled.

Having the pope on board, too, likely has special significance for Biden.

He is just the second Catholic to be elected president in U.S. history, and the first since John F. Kennedy. Biden speaks frequently and openly about the importance of faith in his life and attends Mass near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, nearly every week.

No matter their faith, American politicians are often eager to meet with the pope when traveling near Rome, though Francis declined to meet with Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in September, citing rules against such sit-downs during election periods. Francis last visited the U.S. in 2015.

Known for advocating for openness on issues like gay rights, the environment and religious tolerance, Francis has been embraced by some liberals as furthering their causes.

In its statement, the Biden transition team said the president-elect told the pontiff he would like to work together to further “a shared belief in the dignity and equality of all humankind on issues such as caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants.”

The Vatican issued no statement confirming the call.

The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See is Callista Gingrich, whose husband, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has been among the vocal supporters of Trump as he refuses acknowledge Biden’s victory.

In the election, 50 percent of Catholic voters backed Trump and 49 percent favored Biden, according to VoteCast, a survey of more than 110,000 voters nationwide conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

Grassley, Graham say Biden should be given access to classified briefings

Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Thursday that they believe Biden should be granted access to classified briefings during the presidential transition, becoming the latest Republicans to part ways with the Trump administration on the issue.

“I would think — especially on classified briefings — the answer is yes,” Grassley told CNN.

Graham, one of Trump’s most vocal allies in the Senate, told a reporter Thursday, “I think so,” when asked about the president-elect’s access to briefings.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, puts on a face mask during a Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington in June. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, Pool, File

Their comments come after Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who sits on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the chamber’s main oversight committee, said Wednesday that he is prepared to intervene if Biden is not granted access by Friday.

In the days since the race was called for Biden, General Services Administration head Emily Murphy has refused to declare the winner of the presidential election, holding up access to computer systems and money for salaries and administrative support for the mammoth undertaking of setting up a new government.

Trump also is not allowing Biden to receive the classified Presidential Daily Brief that is typically offered to presidents-elect so they are up to speed on major threats and ongoing operations.

Biden said this week that access to classified information would be “nice to have, but it’s not critical.”

“Access to classified information is useful, but I won’t make any decisions on those issues anyway. As I said, there’s one president at a time,” he said in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) referred to those comments by Biden when asked Thursday whether he believes the president-elect should be granted access.

“I think I kind of stand with Joe Biden,” McCarthy said. “I’ll trust the intel community. He’s not president right now; don’t know if he’ll be president January 20th. But whoever is can get the information.”

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Post-election warfare dims the chances for a COVID relief bill

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden’s top allies on Capitol Hill adopted a combative posture on COVID-19 relief on Thursday, accusing Washington Republicans of dragging their feet in acknowledging Biden’s victory while doubling down on a $2 trillion-plus relief bill that’s a nonstarter with congressional Republicans.

The message from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — both of whom witnessed disappointing outcomes in House and Senate races last week — was that Republicans should concede the presidential election was won by Biden and immediately return to negotiations on COVID relief, with the Democrats’ $2.4 trillion “HEROES Act” as the starting point.

“It’s most unfortunate that the Republicans have decided that they will not respect the will of the people,” Pelosi told reporters. “It’s like the house is burning down, and they just refuse to throw water on it.”

Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, meet with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 12. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy of California, speaking just minutes later from the same podium, accused Pelosi of playing politics with COVID, deliberately dragging out pre-election talks on new relief to deny President Donald Trump a victory that could have helped him in the election.

The continued battling comes as caseloads are spiking across the country in a third wave of the pandemic that is threatening a dangerous winter, despite advances in vaccine development and treatments to fight it the disease. The rebound of the economy has been relatively strong so far, but both sides agree more help is needed — even as they spar over specifics like jobless assistance and the means to distribute treatments and vaccines.

Congress virtually unanimously passed a $1.8 trillion COVID rescue bill in March, but top leaders and the administration have fought for months over what another installment of relief should entail. Before the election, with Democrats riding high in the polls, Pelosi took a hard line in the talks, even as the administration made numerous concessions. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, shied away from concessions made by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as well.

“She sacrificed our economy and people who were hurting,” McCarthy said.

The combative postures all around don’t appear to bode well for a quick resolution or the smooth resumption of the serious talks that flamed out before Election Day. Capitol Hill is in limbo, frozen by the refusal of Trump and Republicans like McCarthy to accept Biden’s victory and by two Senate runoff elections in Georgia that Republicans are favored to win to maintain control of the chamber.

Pelosi and Schumer, meanwhile, continue to press COVID relief proposals like more than $400 billion in aid to state and local governments that powerful Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., simply won’t accept.

“What Joe Biden got in this election was a mandate, a mandate to address the challenges that our country faces,” Pelosi said. “And in order to do that, we must address the COVID, the pandemic.”

Biden taps transgender veteran to join Department of Defense transition team

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen a transgender veteran to be part of the transition team at the Department of Defense.

Shawn Skelly previously worked in the Obama administration in multiple defense and transportation roles, and became the first transgender veteran to be appointed by a president in 2013.

Joe Biden

President-elect Joe Biden wavs as he leaves The Queen theater, Tuesday, Nov. 10, in Wilmington, Del. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Skelly’s appointment comes as the Trump administration has banned transgender people from serving in the military under their self-identified gender.

The ban is still being battled in court, but Biden has signaled that he plans to overturn the executive order after he’s sworn in as president on Jan. 20.

Skelly has worked as an acquisition analyst at CACI International, Inc., an international IT consultancy firm, for the past two years, according to a LinkedIn bio.

The U.S. Navy veteran joined the Obama administration in 2013, first as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics at the Department of Defense, then as the Director of the Office of the Executive Secretariat at the Department of Transportation, according to a LinkedIn bio.

Skelly is also vice president at Out in National Security, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ+ national security professionals, according to their website.

Trump rails against ‘medical deep state’ on timing of Pfizer vaccine news

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is lashing out at the Food and Drug Administration following a disclosure Monday that an experimental coronavirus vaccine from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is more than 90% effective, convinced the timing – six days after Election Day – proves the “medical deep state” deliberately tried to sabotage his electoral prospects by delaying the results.

Shortly after Trump heard the news Monday, he demanded Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar “get to the bottom” of what happened with Pfizer, according to a senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the president’s actions.

A few hours later, the issue was front and center at a meeting of the White House coronavirus task force when FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn briefed members about the vaccine data.

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump listens as Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, speaks during a media briefing in the James Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington in August. AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File

The meeting agenda that day had been drafted so Hahn could walk members through the vaccine approval process, a senior administration official said. Hahn said the timing was the sole result of independent decisions made by Pfizer on collecting and reviewing the information, according to three senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal affairs.

Azar, Hahn’s boss, pointedly contradicted Hahn in front of Vice President Mike Pence, asserting that the FDA’s actions had in fact contributed to a delay in Pfizer’s announcement. He also asked questions that some officials thought suggested Azar believed Pfizer’s timing was affected by political motivations.

Trump weighed in Monday night, tweeting without evidence that the FDA and Pfizer intentionally withheld the news until after the election.

Trump’s anger at the FDA raises fresh questions about whether Hahn will hang on to his job until Jan. 20 – when Trump leaves office – in an administration intent on purging officials deemed insufficiently loyal. Trump called Hahn shortly before he tweeted Monday and was “screaming at him” about the Pfizer announcement, in the words of one senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive matters. The accusations against the FDA may further fuel baseless conspiracy theories that the election was stolen from Trump.

The FDA and HHS declined to comment.

Although there is no evidence that Pfizer withheld data or did not report it as soon as it was available, a White House official said without evidence that Pfizer “either knew the data and sat on it, or intentionally did not review it as originally planned, in order to push it beyond the election for political purposes.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

But Pfizer did not have access to the data until the Sunday after the election and could not have known the results before then. Neither the trial participants nor the company knew who was getting the vaccine, and the company did not know how many cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, there were on Election Day. An independent monitoring committee analyzed the data Sunday and informed Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla, who learned of the results at 2 p.m. that day. The company announced the news the next morning.

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Graham giving $1M to help Georgia’s GOP senators

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was just reelected in South Carolina, says he’s donating $1 million of his campaign money to help two GOP senators win runoff races in neighboring Georgia.

Lindsey Graham

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., arrives for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 10, on a probe of the FBI’s Russia investigation. AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool

Graham told Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” on Thursday that Republicans need to counter a “tsunami of liberal money” flowing into Georgia ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff elections, which will determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the Senate. Democrats already control the House, and Democrat Joe Biden is the president-elect after beating President Donald Trump in their White House contest.

In the Georgia runoffs, Democrat Jon Ossoff is looking to unseat Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Raphael Warnock is facing off against Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

Biden moves forward without help from Trump’s intel team

WASHINGTON — The presidential race was hovering in limbo in 2000 when outgoing President Bill Clinton decided to let then-Gov. George W. Bush read the ultra-secret daily brief of the nation’s most sensitive intelligence.

Clinton was a Democrat and his vice president, Al Gore, was running against Republican Bush. Gore had been reading the so-called President’s Daily Brief for eight years; Clinton decided to bring Bush into the fold in case he won – and he did.

President Trump has not followed Clinton’s lead. As he contests this year’s election results, Trump has not authorized President-elect Joe Biden to lay eyes on the brief.

National security and intelligence experts hope Trump changes his mind, citing the need for an incoming president to be fully prepared to confront any national security issues on Day One.

“Our adversaries aren’t waiting for the transition to take place,” says former Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, who was chairman of the House intelligence committee. “Joe Biden should receive the President’s Daily Brief starting today. He needs to know what the latest threats are and begin to plan accordingly. This isn’t about politics; this is about national security.”

U.S. adversaries can take advantage of the country during an American presidential transition and key foreign issues will be bearing down on Biden the moment he steps into the Oval Office.

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Biden pleads for cooperation, but deal-makers are hard to find in this Congress

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden feels at home on Capitol Hill, but the place sure has changed since he left.

The clubby atmosphere that Biden knew so well during his 36-year Senate career is gone, probably forever. Deal-makers are hard to find. And the election results haven’t dealt him a strong hand to pursue his legislative agenda, with Democrats’ poor performance in down-ballot races likely leaving them without control of Congress.

The dynamic leaves Biden with little choice but to try to govern from the vanishing middle of a Washington that’s been badly ruptured by the tumult of the last decade. With the forces of partisanship and gridlock entrenched, ending what Biden called the “grim era of demonization” could be the central challenge of his presidency — and one that could prove vexing if forces on the left and right refuse to go along.

“There is a certain opportunity for bipartisanship, but it is all going to be deals in the middle,” said Rohit Kumar, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “What I don’t know is whether the (Democratic and Republican) parties will allow them to do that because the parties have gotten a lot more polarized.”

While it is not settled, Biden faces a high likelihood of becoming the first Democrat in modern history to assume office without his party controlling Congress. Republicans are favored to retain control of the Senate heading into two runoff elections in Georgia in January. Democrats have already won the House.

Republican control of the Senate would force Biden to curtail his ambitions, all but guaranteeing that big issues like climate change, immigration and expanding “Obamacare” remain mostly unaddressed.

But it would also create space for a different kind of legislative agenda — one founded on bipartisanship and consensus that would seem to play to Biden’s strengths. And some lawmakers say voters made clear in the election that governance from the middle is exactly what they want.

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Trump, Republicans drop a Nevada court appeal of ballot count; 2 cases remain

LAS VEGAS — A state court legal fight to stop the counting of mail ballots in the Las Vegas area has ended after the Nevada Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the Donald Trump campaign and the state Republican party, at their request.

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A county election worker scans mail-in ballots at a tabulating area as an observer watches at the Clark County Election Department on Nov. 5 in Las Vegas. John Locher/Associated Press

The dismissal leaves two active legal cases in Nevada relating to the 2020 presidential election, as a small number of remaining ballots are counted.

The campaign and the Republican Party had tried to withdraw the appeal in the state case, submitting a document last week telling the seven-member court that it had reached a settlement calling for Clark County election officials to allow more observers at a ballot processing facility.

However, not all the parties in the lawsuit signed the agreement. The case also involved the national and state Democratic parties, the Nevada secretary of state and the Clark County registrar of voters.

Trump Nevada campaign official Adam Laxalt did not immediately respond Wednesday to messages about the action by the state high court.

The appeal had challenged Judge James Wilson Jr.’s ruling Nov. 2 in Carson City that neither the state nor Clark County had done anything to give one vote preference over another.

Meanwhile, an active lawsuit filed in federal court alleging ineligible votes were cast in the Las Vegas area has a Nov. 19 deadline for filings but no immediate hearing date.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon declined after a hearing Friday to issue an order immediately halting the count of mail-in ballots from Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County — a Democratic stronghold in an otherwise Republican state.

The judge noted what was then the pending Nevada Supreme Court appeal and said he didn’t want to become involved in “an issue of significant state concern, involving state laws (that) should be interpreted by state courts.”

Plaintiffs in that case include a woman who said she tried to vote in person but was told a mailed ballot with her signature had already been received, and a political strategist and TV commentator who said he was denied an opportunity to observe ballot counting late on election night.

Separately, a public records lawsuit in state court led a judge to set a Nov. 20 deadline for the Clark County registrar of voters to turn over to the Trump campaign and the state Republican Party the names, party affiliations, work schedules and job responsibilities of more than 300 people who were hired to count ballots.

Vote counting in Nevada ends Thursday. State elections officials report more than 1.3 million ballots were cast.

Biden to embed climate-change action throughout federal agencies

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden is poised to embed action on climate change across the breadth of the federal government, from the departments of Agriculture to Treasury to State – expanding it beyond environmental agencies to speed up U.S. efforts to mitigate global warming and to acknowledge that the problem touches many aspects of American life.

The far-reaching strategy is aimed at making significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions even without congressional action, by maximizing executive authority.

“From the very beginning of the campaign, when President-elect Biden rolled out his climate plan, he made it clear he sees this as an all-of-government agenda, domestic, economic, foreign policy,” said Stef Feldman, campaign policy director for Biden, a Democrat. “From the very beginning, when he talked about infrastructure, he talked about making sure that it built in climate change, that we are making our communities more resilient to the effects of climate change.”

The vast majority of scientists agree that carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases released when humans burn fossil fuels is helping warm the Earth. On the campaign trail, Biden proposed the most aggressive plan of any major party nominee to try to slow that warming.

In a sign of how Biden has already elevated the issue, he discussed the topic with every European head of state with whom he spoke on Tuesday, including the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Ireland. Biden has started frequently referring to the climate “crisis,” suggesting a heightened level of urgency.

A team of former Obama administration officials and experts have created a 300-page blueprint laying out a holistic approach to climate while avoiding some of the pitfalls that hampered President Obama, who shared some of the same goals but was unable to enact all of them. Dubbed the Climate 21 Project, it took a year and a half to develop and was delivered recently to Biden’s transition team. The document outlines how the incoming administration could restructure aspects of the government to move faster on global warming.

It specifies dozens of changes the new administration could take to reduce greenhouse gases, beyond just reversing the slew of Trump administration policies that have boosted oil and gas drilling and relaxed pollution controls. While Republicans are likely to fight many of Biden’s most ambitious renewable energy investments and could challenge new federal rules in court, the report highlights a range of structural shifts that could move the needle on climate.

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In a sign of how President-elect Joe Biden has already elevated the issue of climate change, he discussed the topic with every European head of state with whom he spoke on Tuesday, including the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Ireland. Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

The recommendations include creating a White House National Climate Council that is “co-equal” to the Domestic Policy Council and National Economic Council; establish a “carbon bank” under the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation that could pay farmers and forest owners to store carbon in their soils and lands; push to electrify cars and trucks through the Transportation Department; and develop a climate policy at the Treasury Department that promotes carbon reductions through tax, budget and regulatory policies.

Tim Profeta, who directs Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and co-chaired the Climate 21 Project, said in an interview that Biden “doesn’t have to wait for congressional action. He can act immediately, across a range of the federal government.”

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