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Nov. 11 highlights: Presidential transition stonewalled by Trump administration

The president-elect called Donald Trump's failure to concede the election "an embarrassment" as he readies to tackle Covid and health care.
Image: Donald Trump and Joe Biden on a background of red and blue ripples with white stars.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

President-elect Joe Biden pushed forward with his transition planning Wednesday amid resistance from President Donald Trump, whose administration is stonewalling the former vice president as the president pursues legal challenges to the election results.

Biden has been unable to receive intelligence reports because of the Trump administration's unwillingness to acknowledge his victory. On Tuesday, the Democratic president-elect called Trump's refusal to concede "an embarrassment" and said his transition was "well underway" despite the efforts to stymie his plans. Those include the General Service Administration head's refusal to recognize his incoming administration, which is delaying millions of dollars in transition funds and access to current government officials.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department's election crimes chief resigned in protest this week after Attorney General William Barr directed federal prosecutors to investigate "substantial allegations" of voter fraud before the presidential race results are certified — a change to Justice Department policy. And Senate Republicans got a victory in North Carolina's Senate race, raising the stakes in the two outstanding Georgia races, which appear likely to determine control of the chamber.

This live coverage has ended. Continue reading election news from Nov. 12, 2020.

Ex-Bush, Obama Homeland Security chiefs call on Trump admin to begin transition

A bipartisan group of former Homeland Security chiefs are calling on the Trump administration to allow the transition process to begin, saying for "the good of the nation, we must start now."

The four secretaries — Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, who served under George W. Bush, and Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson, who served under Barack Obama — said in a joint statement that the process cannot be delayed while the Trump campaign pursues legal challenges in some states.  

"President Trump is assured the benefit of a fair process and the right to file legal challenges and request recounts in certain states, but his legal claims cannot and must not prevent the transition process from beginning. The Presidential Transition Act requires a transition to run concurrently with any election challenges and is intended to ensure the incoming administration is prepared to handle any challenge on Day 1," they said in a statement issued through Citizens for a Strong Democracy, a nonprofit that they founded to educate voters on the safety and security of U.S. voting systems.

The administration's unwillingness to allow the transition to begin is preventing President-elect Joe Biden from accessing classified information and blocking his campaign from interacting with government agencies. 

The group noted, "A peaceful transfer of power was defined as essential to national security by the 9/11 Commission." They added, "Our country is in the middle of twin crises: a global pandemic and a severe economic downturn. The pandemic will make any transition more complicated. At this period of heightened risk for our nation, we do not have a single day to spare to begin the transition. For the good of the nation, we must start now."

Trump and Biden mark Veterans Day in solemn, but contrasting, wreath-laying ceremonies

President Donald Trump walks in the rain as he arrives to attend a Veterans Day observance in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on Nov. 11, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters

President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden both marked Veterans Day by paying tribute to the nation's fallen military heroes at somber wreath-laying ceremonies on Wednesday.

Trump, making his first public appearance in days, participated in the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a rainy Arlington National Cemetery. Trump made no remarks, but touched the wreath and saluted as "Taps" was played.

Despite several aides and top officials recently testing positive for coronavirus, which followed a crowded election night party at the White House last week, the president, Vice President Mike Pence, their spouses and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie did not wear masks at the ceremony, ignoring signs at the entrance that they were required.

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Pentagon adds another Trump loyalists to top post

Doug MacGregor, a retired Army Colonel, Fox News regular and Trump administration nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, is coming to the Pentagon as a senior adviser to Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller.

A Defense Department official said in a statement, "I can confirm that Mr. MacGregor will be serving as a Senior Advisor to the Acting Secretary of Defense. Mr. MacGregor’s decades of military experience will be used to assist in the continued implementation of the President’s national security priorities." 

Axios was first to report this move. In the past, MacGregor has advocated for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria. 

He was up for a policy job at the Pentagon earlier this year but didn’t end up getting the nomination because of his history of controversial remarks. Anthony Tata got the nomination instead, but his name was withdrawn (also for making controversial comments.)

Steve Kornacki bids farewell to his election tie

Sadly, it's time to say goodbye to Steve Kornacki's tie. 

Kornacki tweeted a photo of the tie he wore throughout the election — perhaps, with the article of clothing holding by a thread but for a few staples, a metaphor for the contest itself — saying it was time to put the striped strip of cloth into retirement. 

The veteran journalist and election map man received praise and offers of help from his colleagues; MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell told Kornacki to "grab a dozen" from his office closet. 

Others took the opportunity to suggest that the Smithsonian should take the tie — the subject of at least one farcical Twitter account — to commemorate his historic coverage, and Kornacki's new status as a viral sensation and "national treasure." 

Even with Georgia runoff, Facebook and Google are still banning political ads

Facebook and Google have decided to keep political ads off their platforms for now, with no exceptions, even for at least one runoff election in Georgia that could help determine control of the Senate. 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee quickly criticized the decisions Wednesday, saying the bans “amount to unacceptable voter suppression.” 

The campaigns of Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock said in separate statements that the bans will block voters from learning how to register to vote, how to request absentee ballots and how to ensure their vote is counted. 

The two tech companies, which dominate online advertising, are enforcing a quiet period in political ads out of concern they could inflame tensions and lead to civil unrest while the presidential election results are being certified. 

“The temporary pause for ads about politics and social issues in the U.S. continues to be in place as part of our ongoing efforts to protect the election,” Facebook said in a blog post Wednesday. 

Read the full story here.

Biden places wreath at war memorial in Philadelphia on Veterans Day

President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden place a memorial wreath during a Veterans Day stop at the Korean War Memorial Park in Philadelphia, Pa., on Nov. 11, 2020.Angela Weiss / AFP - Getty Images

Joe Biden on Wednesday laid a wreath at Philadelphia's Korean War Memorial in honor of Veterans Day. Biden was accompanied by his wife Jill Biden and did not speak at the brief ceremony.

Earlier Wednesday, Biden tweeted to veterans that he’d be a president who “respects your sacrifice, understands your service, and will never betray the values you fought so bravely to defend.”

Pompeo calls for respecting elections abroad while ignoring Biden victory

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a media briefing at the State Department in Washington, on Nov. 10, 2020.Jacquelyn Martin / Pool via Reuters

After years of preaching that world leaders must swiftly abide the verdicts of voters, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has settled on the opposite message at home.

Pompeo has called for a peaceful transition of power and free and fair elections in countless foreign countries, including just this week in Myanmar. Yet the secretary is now also suggesting President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. election could be reversed through legal action to award President Donald Trump another four years.

“There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” Pompeo said with a grin Tuesday from the same podium at the State Department where he and others have urged others to step aside after election defeats. He added: “The world is watching what's taking place.”

Pompeo’s suggestion that Biden may not have won drew immediate backlash from U.S. diplomats, several of whom told NBC News the assertion undermined U.S. efforts to promote democracy, as well as critics who said Pompeo was doing precisely what he himself has repeatedly condemned in foreign countries.

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Boris Johnson calls Trump the 'previous president'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson referred to President Trump as the "previous president" on Wednesday during his weekly question-and-answer session with Parliament.

Angela Eagle, a member of Parliament, asked the Prime Minister if he had any advice for his "erstwhile best friend," in response to Trump's refusal to concede last week's election. Eagle called Trump's behavior "both embarrassing for him and dangerous for American democracy."

Johnson responded, saying "I had — and have — a good relationship with the previous president." He continued, saying it is the prime minister's duty to "have a good relationship with the White House."

Eagle highlighted the exchange on Twitter, telling Trump "it's over."

Johnson spoke with President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday to congratulate him on his projected win, saying he looked forward to "strengthening the partnership between our countries and to working with him on our shared priorities."

Georgia secretary of state says officials will conduct hand recount in presidential race

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Wednesday that officials will conduct a full hand recount of votes in the presidential race. 

At a press conference in Atlanta, Raffensperger, a Republican, said officials would recount every paper ballot by hand in each county and aim to complete the audit by Nov. 20, the certification deadline for the election. 

Raffensperger said that with 97 percent of the vote reported, Biden leads Trump by more than 14,000 votes in the state. He said officials will investigate any case of illegal voting. 

When asked, the secretary of state denied his office was doing the recount at the direction of the Trump campaign, saying the audit would go forward because it makes the most sense because of the "national significance of this race and the closeness of this race."

Raffensperger also said that he would be moving the Dec. 1 state runoffs to Jan. 5, when Georgia is holding a Senate runoff election. NBC News has projected that the race between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock will go to a runoff, but the race between GOP Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff is still too close to call, with neither candidate currently receiving 50 percent of the vote.

Blue and red states cite smooth election, contrary to Trump's baseless claims

ATLANTA — The 2020 election unfolded smoothly across the country and without any widespread irregularities, according to state officials and election experts, a stark contrast to the baseless claims of fraud being leveled by President Donald Trump following his defeat.

Election experts said the large increase in advance voting — 107 million people voting early in person and by mail — helped take pressure off Election Day operations. There were also no incidents of violence at the polls or voter intimidation.

“The 2020 general election was one of the smoothest and most well-run elections that we have ever seen, and that is remarkable considering all the challenges,” said Ben Hovland, a Democrat appointed by Trump to serve on the Election Assistance Commission.

Errors seemed to have occurred at lower rates than in most elections, University of Iowa computer scientist Doug Jones said.

“The practical consequence of Trump’s call to vigilance to prevent fraud was increased scrutiny from both sides, and this increased scrutiny seems to have worked,” Jones said. “Election officials have been more careful, and election procedures have been followed more scrupulously than usual.”

The federal agency charged with leading efforts to secure U.S. elections has said there were no significant problems aside from small, ordinary glitches.

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