Biden begins transition plans as Trump refuses to concede

By Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 8:09 a.m. ET, November 20, 2020
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1:44 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Biden

From CNN’s Oren Liebermann

Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP/Getty Images/FILE
Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with President-elect Joe Biden Tuesday, marking the first time the two have spoken since Biden was projected to win the presidential election.

In a readout provided by the prime minister’s office, Biden said he remains deeply committed to the state of Israel and to its security, while Netanyahu stressed the special bond between the US and Israel.

“The two agreed to meet soon in order to discuss the many issues on the agenda and reiterated the need to continue bolstering the steadfast alliance between the US and Israel,” the readout said.

The phone call is noteworthy because Netanyahu — one of President Trump’s most ardent supporters — had noticeably delayed congratulating Biden on his victory, and he struggled to find the right words when he did finally offer congratulations. In a statement last Sunday, Netanyahu said he had a warm personal connection with Biden, but made no reference to him as the President-elect and made no mention of any elections at all.

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin also spoke with Biden on Tuesday for the first time since the elections.

“As a long-standing friend of the State of Israel, you know that our friendship is based on values that are beyond partisan politics and that we have no doubt that, under your leadership, the United States is committed to Israel’s security and success,” Rivlin said to a Biden, according to a readout provided by the President’s office.

Read up here on the world leaders who have congratulated Biden.

1:28 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Georgia recount on track to finish tomorrow and affirm Biden win, official says

From CNN's Amara Walker, Carly Ryan, Wes Bruer, Kevin Conlon and Jason Morris

Gwinnett County election workers handle ballots as part of the recount for the 2020 presidential election at the Beauty P. Baldwin Voter Registrations and Elections Building on November 16 in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Gwinnett County election workers handle ballots as part of the recount for the 2020 presidential election at the Beauty P. Baldwin Voter Registrations and Elections Building on November 16 in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Megan Varner/Getty Images

There are only about 300,000 ballots left to be hand-counted in Georgia out of the nearly 5 million cast in the 2020 presidential election, and the vast majority of counties are reporting results that are “spot on” to the initial tallies, or finding only minor discrepancies, according to Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting systems implementation manager. 

Election officials from 29 counties across Georgia told CNN that they already completed their audits and found no discrepancies with the results – further discrediting President Trump’s lies about widespread fraud in the state.

Regarding the 2,600 uncounted ballots that were found in Floyd County, Sterling says the election county board will rescan all early votes along with provisional votes that were found to be mismanaged. 

The updated results will give Trump a net pickup of 778 votes, slightly narrowing President-elect Joe Biden’s statewide lead, which is more than 13,000 votes.

The state is on a “good schedule right now” to finish the audit by Wednesday, which puts the state on track to certify its presidential results by Friday, as required by state law. If this timeline holds, it would thwart longshot efforts by Trump to delay certification and potentially overturn the results of the election through the Electoral College.

“The whole point of the audit is to prove the (initial) outcome was correct” and to “verify the winners,” Sterling said.

What comes next: After the results are certified the Trump campaign can request an official recount. Sterling said that the state of Georgia has already procured high-speed ballot scanners for all 159 counties to use, in the event a recount is requested. 

The following Georgia counties told CNN that they finished their audits without finding any discrepancies: Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Baker, Baldwin, Barrow, Ben Hill, Berrien, Brantley, Brooks, Butts, Calhoun, Candler, Carroll, Charlton, Chattooga, Clay, Coffee, Cook, Crawford, Crisp, Dade, Dawson, Decatur, Dooly, Early, Meriwether, Murray, Oconee.

There were minor adjustments in a few counties, officials told CNN.

  • In Catoosa County, one Biden vote was reclassified as a Trump vote after the audit.
  • In Coweta County, a write-in vote for “Biden Harris” was officially added to Biden’s count.
  • In Effingham County, Trump lost one vote and Biden lost seven votes after the audit.
  • In Oglethorpe County, there was a one-vote discrepancy, but officials wouldn’t give details. 
1:24 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Trump campaign hasn't made final decision on Wisconsin recount — which would cost nearly $8 million

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House on November 13 in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House on November 13 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

With the deadline fast approaching, President Trump's campaign has not made a final decision about whether to ask for a recount in Wisconsin that would cost nearly $8 million, CNN has learned.

The deadline to file for a recount and submit payment by 5 p.m. CT Wednesday.

Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin's chief elections official, said Monday that the estimated price tag is $7.9 million, which must be paid upfront.

When asked if the campaign has decided whether to request the recount, Jenna Ellis, Trump 2020 legal adviser, told CNN, “The legal team continues to examine the issues with irregularities in Wisconsin and are leaving all legal options open, including a recount and an audit.”

Remember: Trump has launched a series of legal challenges to the election results and has not yet conceded to President-elect Joe Biden.

There has been no evidence of widespread voting fraud despite Trump's claims.

3:45 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Trump campaign appeals case it lost regarding 600 ballots in Pennsylvania

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz

The Trump campaign is appealing a case they lost on Friday in a Pennsylvania state court over 600 ballots. 

The President’s campaign sought for the Montgomery County Board of Elections to throw out 592 mail-in ballots where voters hadn't filled out their addresses on the outside envelopes. They weren’t alleging fraud — the campaign said it was merely seeking to enforce the rules.

Judge Richard Haaz of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas ruled Friday that those ballots will be counted.

Haaz found that state law didn't require voters to fill out the address sections on the envelopes, and the instructions on the ballots didn't tell voters they must fill them out.

"Voters should not be disenfranchised by reasonably relying upon voting instructions provided by election officials," Haaz wrote.

12:53 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

American Medical Association president urges Trump to share Covid-19 information with Biden transition team

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt


The American Medical Association is calling for the Trump administration to coordinate with the Biden transition team to share information about the coronavirus pandemic.

“There just isn't a moment to waste. We are in a critical portion of the pandemic where hospitalizations are beginning to skyrocket again,” AMA President Dr. Susan Bailey said in an interview with CNN’s Kate Bolduan.

“We are already in a surge, and if we don't stop that quickly, we will see unnecessary deaths. It's important that all information be shared. Doctors, nurses, other health care workers are putting their lives on the line every day to try to save lives. And we need our leaders to work together, regardless of party affiliation, to make sure that we're doing everything we can to stop this virus now,” Bailey said.

Biden said Monday that Trump’s continued challenge of the election results could hamper the incoming administration’s ability to distribute a potential vaccine and lead to more deaths.

Bailey said that health care workers are fighting “a war on two fronts:” the virus and misinformation

“We all need to be working together to fight the coronavirus. We don't need to be fighting against ourselves,” she said. 


8:09 a.m. ET, November 20, 2020

Witness corroborates claim that Lindsey Graham asked about tossing ballots in Georgia

From Wes Bruer and Marshall Cohen

Sen. Lindsey Graham arrives for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on November 10 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Sen. Lindsey Graham arrives for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on November 10 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Susan Walsh/Pool/Getty Images

A staffer for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Tuesday that he participated in a controversial phone call with Sen. Lindsey Graham and said he heard Graham ask if state officials could throw out ballots. 

The comments from the staffer, election implementation manager Gabriel Sterling, corroborate Raffensperger recent claims about the phone call with Graham, who is one of President Donald Trump’s most outspoken allies. 

Earlier this week, Raffensperger accused Graham of asking him to “look hard and see how many ballots you could throw out,” referring to absentee ballots that skewed heavily in favor of President-elect Joe Biden. Graham denied the claim, saying that it was “ridiculous” that he tried to pressure Raffensperger to throw out legally cast ballots. 

In response to a question from CNN about the incident, Sterling said on Tuesday, “What I heard was basically discussions about absentee ballots and if a potentially … if there was a percentage of signatures that weren’t really, truly matching, is there some point we could get to, we could say somebody went to a courtroom could say well, let’s throw (out) all these ballots because we have no way of knowing because the ballots are separated.” 

“There is no physical ability for this office to do anything along those lines,” Sterling continued, referring to throwing out absentee ballots that have already been deemed legal by local election officials. “If somebody wanted to go that route, they could go the court route.”

Graham’s comments “might have gone a little to the edge of” what people deem acceptable, Sterling said, but added that he understands why Raffensperger and Graham might have interpreted the conversation differently. 

“The President is going to continue to fight, his supporters continue to fight,” Sterling said. “Our job is to continue to follow the law, and we were answering process questions… that’s what we were doing on the call.”

12:23 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Rep. Cedric Richmond reflects on what it means to join the Biden-Harris administration 

From CNN’s Sarah Mucha

Rep. Cedric Richmond speaks during a press conference in New Orleans on November 17.
Rep. Cedric Richmond speaks during a press conference in New Orleans on November 17. WVUE-DT

Rep. Cedric Richmond, who the Biden-Harris transition just formally announced will take a role in the White House as a senior adviser and director of public engagement, spoke about his new position in a news conference in New Orleans Tuesday.  

Calling it “one of the hardest decisions” of his life, Richmond said, “I am not leaving the people of Louisiana. I am not leaving the people of the second Congressional District. I am New Orleans through and through. I bleed black and gold.” 

The former Black Caucus Chair called it a “sad day” to announce that he is leaving something that he “fought so hard to get,” and to say that he’s leaving something that “means so much” to him but said he believes he will better serve Louisiana in his new role, citing as one example his ability to advise cabinet secretaries, particularly on the subject of education. 

"And so this new role will allow me to offer advice to the President when he wants it, maybe sometimes when he doesn't want it. I will also be in an office in the West Wing. And when you talk about the needs of Louisiana, you want someone in the West Wing,” he assured. 

Richmond said that he will play an “active role” in finding his Congressional replacement and intends to talk to candidates to learn their impression of Congress. He said that candidates’ views of constituent services and "playing well with others," are important factors. 

On Trump’s refusal to concede, Richmond argued, “I fully expect it to be an orderly transition."

“I think that he is having a hard time coming to grasp with the real facts and not alternative facts that the election is over. Joe Biden won in a landslide. The people have spoken,” Richmond said. 

12:21 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Biden will participate in a coronavirus call with a group of bipartisan governors Thursday

From CNN's Betsy Klein and Dan Merica

President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks during a press briefing at the Queen Theater on November 16 in Wilmington, Delaware.
President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks during a press briefing at the Queen Theater on November 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to participate in a call on the coronavirus pandemic with a bipartisan group of the nation’s governors on Thursday. 

The call between Biden and members of the National Governors’ Association (NGA) executive committee will be facilitated by the NGA in conjunction with the Biden transition team, an NGA spokesperson and Biden transition official said. 

“Joe Biden is going to be talking to the governors on Thursday. We're arranging a call. The governors are the ones who have been handling this war, frankly. Joe Biden wants to engage with them right away and I think that's smart,” NGA chairman and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday during an appearance on MSNBC. 

The call is expected to be closed to press and details on an agenda were not immediately available.

The executive committee group is made up of: Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama, Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah.

The call comes as the Trump administration continues to block the Biden transition, with the Biden team, public health, and national security experts sounding the alarm on the potential consequences.

White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci stressed the need for a smooth transition during an appearance on CNN Tuesday morning, specifically noting the importance of “communication with health groups in different states” and “getting interaction at a formal level with the governors.”

Vice President Mike Pence, who has hosted 41 conference calls with governors since the onset of the pandemic, led a briefing call on Monday, the first such call he participated in since Sept. 29. 

While Monday’s call addressed granular detail of vaccine deployment, officials also discussed the worsening pandemic. There was, however, no mention of the transition.

1:22 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

House Republicans will hold leadership votes today

From CNN's Phil Mattingly, Daniella Diaz and Kristin Wilson

House Republicans will meet in-person at a hotel near Capitol Hill — with a waiver from the DC government amid an uptick in Covid-19 cases — to hold their leadership votes. 

The top tier of the leadership is expected to be re-elected, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, his top deputy Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the GOP conference chair, on a glide path to hold onto their roles.

The leadership team, on the heels of an election performance that surprised even some if the conference’s own members, is newly ascendant in its power, both inside the conference and in the chamber writ large.

McCarthy, who has to this point successfully bridged the gap between restive hardline conservatives inside the conference and more traditional GOP members, heads a unified operation that has already started turning its attention toward winning back the majority in 2022.

House Democrats, even with races are still outstanding, are on track to hold the slimmest majority for either party in nearly two decades. Republicans leaders can already point to an incoming freshman class that is more diverse than any in recent memory for the party, after a recruiting emphasis on women, minority candidates and veterans led to at least nine pickups for the party.

That number is expected to grow in the days and weeks ahead, with GOP challengers in position to pick up a handful of outstanding seats.

Rep. Tom Emmer is also set to be reelected to lead another two-year term as the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

GOP leaders will hold a news conference at 5 p.m. ET after the election to discuss the outcome.