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Senate Republicans Continue Backing Trump's Refusal To Concede The Election

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President-elect Joe Biden insists President Trump's refusal to concede the election hasn't yet hindered the transition process. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are largely sticking with Trump on his reluctance to concede. They're supporting his efforts to pursue legal remedies based on false allegations of widespread voter fraud. To tell us more, we're joined by NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid and congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.

Now, Asma, I'm going to start with you because Joe Biden delivered remarks today on protecting the Affordable Care Act. After that, he took some questions, which ended up not really having much to do with health care, right? Everyone was asking about the transition process. How did he respond?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: That's right, Audie. And, you know, I think before getting into exactly what he said, it's worth noting his tone, you know, how he was speaking. It was really upbeat. I mean, he seemed fairly nonchalant about Republican obstacles. Biden has said all throughout his campaign that he wanted to lower the temperature as president, and today that is what he was trying to do. You know, he was minimizing the president's refusal to concede. He was clearly confident, at one point even laughing off remarks made by a Trump official. Biden did say that he feels like his team is well underway on the transition process. And while it would certainly be useful or helpful to have cooperation from the Trump administration, you know, for instance, for example, to get daily intelligence briefings that normally the president-elect gets, which they are not getting, or funding - all of the things that he thinks would be helpful, but he says they are not necessary.

Right after the remarks, his team released this long list of people who are reviewing federal agencies. And yesterday, he unveiled a COVID task force. So they are moving along in the transition process, they say. That all being said, though, Audie, you know, he did have this to say about President Trump when he was directly asked about how the president has responded and the president's refusal to concede.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: I just think it's an embarrassment, quite frankly.

KHALID: He added that he thought it would reflect poorly, eventually, on President Trump's legacy as well.

CORNISH: Claudia, I want to turn to you because there's been some focus on the response in the Senate, right? What are Republicans saying there?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: They are walking largely lockstep with President Trump on his pursuit of these false claims of widespread voter fraud, though none can point to any specific examples. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also touched on this today. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: I think we ought to quit all the hand-wringing and not act like this is extraordinary. We're going to get through this period, and we'll swear in the winner on January the 20, 2021, just like we have every four years since 1793.

GRISALES: So they're giving the president cover to pursue these legal complaints, and they're making some audacious claims along the way. Just today Vice President Mike Pence met with GOP Republicans during their luncheon to detail Trump's various allegations in his lawsuits, and members left the meeting largely in support of the plans. There's just a small group - four Senate Republicans, mostly moderates - who, so far, have congratulated President-elect Biden. So it's a bit of an alternate universe here at the Capitol right now.

CORNISH: For the majority supporting the president, are they pointing to any evidence for why they say Trump should exhaust these legal challenges?

GRISALES: No, none; that said, there's a few calculations going on here. Republicans are in the midst of rallying their base. They don't know if they're going to be in the majority come next year, and it's coming down to two Georgia Senate runoff races in January to decide who will control the chamber. And they want Republican voters to turn out in Georgia. And they don't want to get crosswise with their base, so they want to make a show of support for President Trump, especially now. And while McConnell says he's focused on the lame duck session and perhaps another wave of coronavirus relief aid, that will be difficult if they're stuck in this debate who - over who won the presidency.

CORNISH: Asma, Joe Biden was once in the Senate, right? He campaigned on this ability to work across the aisle. But has the reluctance of Republicans to acknowledge his win changed his mind?

KHALID: Well, a couple of reporters asked him that very question today, and he tried to rationalize the reluctance from Republicans this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: I think that the whole Republican Party has been put in a position with a few notable exceptions of being mildly intimidated by the sitting president.

KHALID: You know, he said that he intends - he hopes that he could speak with Mitch McConnell soon. They have not spoken yet. He also insisted that Republicans will acknowledge him eventually as president-elect. But, you know, Audie, I will say I don't think a lot of this comes as a big surprise to Biden's team, particularly Trump's behavior. Way back in April, Joe Biden made these comments at a fundraiser, where he said that he certainly hopes that the transition process would be as smooth as it was for him and Obama dealing with the Bush administration, but he doubted it. He said he hoped that it would be, but he doubted it.

CORNISH: Asma, can you tell us if Biden addressed this idea that there might be some kind of legal action he could take going forward?

KHALID: You know, he minimized this idea, which was notable in part because we did hear from transition officials that nothing was off the table, including legal action. Though, he was, again, explicitly asked this, and he said he did not foresee that there would be legal action necessary.

CORNISH: That's NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid. Thank you.

KHALID: You're welcome.

CORNISH: And congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, thank you.

GRISALES: Thanks much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.