'Nothing's going to stop' transition of power in U.S., Biden says

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – President-elect Joe Biden said on Tuesday that nothing would stop the transfer of power in the U.S. government, even as President Donald Trump says without evidence the election was marred by fraud and some of his Republican allies back probes.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has backed Trump’s right to launch a legal challenge to Biden’s victory in several battleground states such as Pennsylvania. Some senior Republicans sought to sow doubt about the outcome.

Biden secured the more than 270 votes in the Electoral College he needs to take the presidency by winning Pennsylvania on Saturday after four tense days of counting, which was delayed by a surge in mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden said in a speech in Delaware that his team was pushing ahead with forming a new administration to take over on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2021, no matter what.

“We’re going to be going, moving along, in a consistent manner, putting together our administration, the White House, and reviewing who we’re going to pick for the Cabinet positions, and nothing’s going to stop that,” he said. Biden said it was an “embarrassment” that Trump has not conceded the election.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo predicted a “second Trump administration,” in comments at odds with congratulatory phone calls between Biden and the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Ireland.

“The whole Republican Party has been put in a position with a few notable exceptions of being mildly intimidated by the sitting president, but there’s only one president at a time,” said Biden, who chuckled when asked about the Pompeo remarks.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a conservative whose blustery style is often likened to Trump’s, said he spoke to Biden on Tuesday by phone about working together.

“I look forward to strengthening the partnership between our countries and to working with him on our shared priorities – from tackling climate change, to promoting democracy and building back better from the pandemic,” Johnson tweeted.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also congratulated Biden, a former vice president now heading to take over the White House after almost five decades in politics.

BIDEN TAKES QUESTIONS

Taking questions from the media for the first time since his victory, Biden was asked what he would say if Trump were watching. He said: “Mr. President, I look forward to speaking with you.”

Judges have tossed out election lawsuits in Michigan and Georgia, and experts say Trump’s legal efforts have little chance of changing the result.

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Trump’s campaign and Republicans have mostly sued over claims of procedural problems with vote counting and have not presented evidence of fraud in their lawsuits.

Attorney-General William Barr, a Trump appointee who heads the Justice Department, on Monday told federal prosecutors to “pursue substantial allegations” of irregularities of voting and the counting of ballots.

It was a break with the department’s previous policy of not carrying out overt investigations into alleged electoral fraud until any recounts have been concluded and results certified.

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Richard Pilger, director of the Election Crimes Branch in the Justice Department, said he was resigning from his post after learning of “the new policy and its ramifications”.

Biden’s campaign said Barr was fueling Trump’s far-fetched allegations of fraud.

“Those are the very kind of claims that the president and his lawyers are making unsuccessfully every day, as their lawsuits are laughed out of one court after another,” said Bob Bauer, a senior adviser to Biden.

A Trump appointee who heads the federal office charged with recognizing election results has yet to do so, preventing the Biden transition team from moving into federal government office space or accessing funds to hire staff.

PENNSYLVANIA FIGHT

In Pennsylvania, one of the hardest-fought states in a deeply divided nation, Republican state lawmakers urged an audit of the election results there.

State Representative Dawn Keefer called for a bipartisan investigation with subpoena powers to see if the “election was conducted fairly and lawfully.” Asked about any evidence of fraud, Keefer told reporters, “We’ve just gotten a lot of allegations,” adding that “they’re too in the weeds” for her to know more without investigating.

The alleged voter irregularities in Pennsylvania that the Justice Department is looking into are related to a report from a whistleblower who has claimed that illegal back-dated postmarks may have been added to some late mail-in ballots. Democrats voted more by mail than Republicans did in much of the country after Trump repeatedly and without evidence called voting by mail unreliable.

McConnell, the Senate majority leader, on Monday carefully backed Trump, saying that he was “100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities.”

But some senior Republican aides in Congress said Trump must soon produce significant evidence or exit the stage.

“I think the goal here is to give the president and his campaign team some space to demonstrate there is real evidence to support any claims of voter fraud. If there is, then they will be litigated quickly. If not, we’ll all move on,” said a senior Senate Republican aide. [L1N2HW1V4]

A second such aide, while noting that most Republican senators support Trump’s right to refuse to concede, added that failing any surprise revelations of fraud, “At some point this has to give. And I give it a week or two.”

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