Presidential Transition Live Updates – The New York Times

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that a $908 billion framework being circulated should be used as a foundation for negotiations.
Credit…Oliver Contreras for The New York Times

The top Democrats in Congress on Wednesday endorsed a $908 billion compromise stimulus plan proposed by a bipartisan group of moderate senators, calling on Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, to revive negotiations using the framework as the baseline.

The move represented a significant concession by Democratic leaders who have pressed for a federal aid package of more than twice the size, but it offered no guarantee of a swift deal with Mr. McConnell, who has previously ruled out a measure anywhere near its scale.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. offered a blessing of sorts for the effort in a virtual event with laid-off workers and a small-business owner struggling in the pandemic. Mr. Biden said the bipartisan package “wouldn’t be the answer, but it would be immediate help for a lot of things, quickly.”

Later, he said he had been “urging our congressional Republicans to work on a bipartisan emergency package now,” though he stressed that such a package, “at best, is only going to be a down payment.”

In a statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said that while they had privately made their own offer to Republicans on Monday evening, they believed the $908 billion framework “should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations.”

“Of course, we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement,” the two leaders said.

The pair has long held out for at least $2 trillion in new funding for coronavirus relief, even amid mounting pressure from rank and file lawmakers eager for a deal. In their statement on Wednesday, they cited the need for additional money to support distribution of a vaccine in the coming weeks as one reason they were willing to drop those demands and use the compromise plan as a basis for resuming talks.

Intended as a stopgap measure to last until March, the framework was compiled by a bipartisan group including Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Mitt Romney of Utah and Mark Warner of Virginia in a flurry of conversations over the Thanksgiving holiday. It would revive lapsed federal unemployment benefits at $300 a week, provide $288 billion for small businesses and $160 billion for state and local governments, and create a liability shield for businesses operating during the pandemic.

Mr. McConnell quickly threw cold water on it on Tuesday, instead circulating a scaled-back proposal that would repurpose unspent funds from the $2.2 trillion stimulus law enacted in March. It omits the federal jobless payments and would include about $300 billion for small businesses, restaurants and theaters, as well as billions of dollars for vaccines, schools and the United States Postal Service. That plan also contains liability protection for businesses.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said on Wednesday that President Trump would sign Mr. McConnell’s plan, telling reporters, “We look forward to making progress on that.”

But the proposal is unlikely to get that far given that it is a nonstarter for Democrats, leaving out many of their top priorities, including jobless aid and funds for state and local governments as well as transit agencies.

The Democrats’ endorsement of the Senate moderates’ plan was a stark departure from September, when Ms. Pelosi and top House Democrats quickly dismissed a similar attempt at a bipartisan compromise. But with the pandemic continuing to ravage the United States and funding desperately needed to prop up the American economy, their statement on Wednesday amounted to an acknowledgment that they would have to scale back their demands to get anything done by Dec. 11, when Congress is scheduled to leave for the year.

Party leaders are redoubling their efforts to pass a stimulus bill before Mr. Biden takes office in January. Mr. Biden said Wednesday that his transition team was already working on legislation to help bolster the economy, which he would push Congress to approve upon taking office.

President Trump posted a video on social media that he said “may be the most important speech I’ve ever made.”
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Increasingly isolated in the White House, President Trump on Wednesday released a 46-minute videotaped speech filled with lies in which he spoke angrily about a “rigged” election even though his own attorney general and election officials across the country have attested to his loss.

Mr. Trump posted a short, two-minute version of the speech on Twitter, recorded in the Diplomatic Room of the White House and delivered behind a lectern bearing the presidential seal, with a link to the full version on his Facebook page.

Saying that his remarks “may be the most important speech I’ve ever made,” the president once again refused to concede defeat in his bid for re-election almost one month after Election Day. Instead, he repeated a long series of false assertions about voter fraud, accusing Democrats of a conspiracy to steal the presidency.

Twitter quickly labeled the post as “disputed.” Facebook added a note that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who received almost 81 million votes and 306 electoral votes, is the projected winner of the election.

The video, which a White House official said was recorded last week, was the in-person embodiment of Mr. Trump’s staccato tweets during the past three weeks: one falsehood after another about voting irregularities in swing states, Democratic conspiracies, attacks on state officials and signature verifications.

The president’s rambling assertions in the video were drastically undercut on Tuesday, when Attorney General William P. Barr told The Associated Press that despite inquiries by the Justice Department and the F.B.I., “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

Mr. Trump continued to rage about voting irregularities in the video, a day after a Republican elections official in Georgia lashed out at him, saying the president was inspiring violence and was to blame for a wave of death threats.

“Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language,” said Gabriel Sterling, a voting systems manager in Georgia. “Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.”

At the end of the video, Mr. Trump improbably described himself as the defender of America’s election system, saying he had been told that the single most important accomplishment of his presidency would be protecting the integrity of the voting system.

It was unclear why Mr. Trump waited until Wednesday to release the video. But he made it public after a series of rebukes by members of his own party who have increasingly abandoned him as he clings to power by making baseless assertions about voter fraud that have been roundly rejected.

The president’s legal team, led by his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, has lost dozens of lawsuits in courts across the country while making wild allegations without any proof to back them up.

Some of the president’s key Republican allies on Capitol Hill and elsewhere have urged him to move on in recent days. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, referred this week to the “new administration” that would be taking over next year, a clear signal to Mr. Trump that his time in office was coming to an end.

Lawmakers in both parties have also signaled that they may be willing to defy his threat to veto the military spending bill unless Congress eliminates a legal provision that provides liability protection for social media companies.

Those social media platforms remain the president’s favorite method for disseminating false and misleading information. Within a few hours, his tweet had been “liked” by almost 134,000 Twitter users, and his Facebook video had been shared 93,000 times.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. speaking in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday.
Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. met on Wednesday with workers and owners of small businesses to discuss the economic hardship caused by the pandemic as lawmakers continue to try to break a stalemate over virus relief.

In a virtual round-table discussion that at times grew emotional, participants — whose professional backgrounds included a school crossing guard and a restaurant owner — told Mr. Biden about their struggles with health, finances and the staggering uncertainties of the moment. Karen Coffey, who worked at Comerica Park in Detroit, according to the transition, sounded tearful as she described herself as feeling “hopeless.”

“I believe that with the right policies, we can fundamentally change things,” Mr. Biden said as he opened the event. “And my hope is that we’ll be able to help in a short order, but that depends a lot on our friends in Congress and the other side.”

Mr. Biden is generally a deeply empathetic politician, one known to spend considerable time during campaign events seeking to connect with struggling Americans. But on Wednesday, he often appeared more businesslike, as he asked participants questions and detailed his agenda.

“To state the obvious, my ability to get you help immediately does not exist,” he said. “I’m not even in office for another 50 days. And then I have to get legislation passed through the United States Congress.”

Mr. Biden, who anchored his campaign message in the importance of defeating the coronavirus, also issued a stark warning about the toll the virus may take on Americans this winter.

“With all the trouble you’re going through, you cannot be traveling during these holidays,” he said. “I don’t want to scare anybody here, but understand the facts: we’re likely to lose another 250,000 people, dead, between now and January, you hear me? Because people aren’t paying attention.”

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that the coming months may “be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

Though Mr. Biden has said his top priority is getting a generous stimulus package through Congress before Jan. 20, the likelihood remains tenuous despite the many Americans that need immediate assistance, even with a flurry of new proposals circulating on Capitol Hill this week.

Congressional leaders continue to agree that another boost of funding is needed to bolster the economy — at least until the distribution of a vaccine — but there remain a number of stark policy divides about restoring lapsed federal unemployment benefits, providing funds to state and local governments and a Republican push for a liability shield. More than 10 million Americans remain out of work and the pace of job growth has slowed.

Lawmakers are also staring down a more concrete deadline to prevent a government shutdown by Dec. 11. But lawmakers and aides say they tentatively expect to avoid a shutdown and reach an agreement on an omnibus package in time, and that legislation could carry some extension of coronavirus relief.

“Hang on, we’re going to get through this,” Mr. Biden encouraged the participants. “You’re going to get through this.”

“It’s going to be hard as hell for the next 50 to 70 days unless the House acts in some way, the Senate acts and passes some of this material,” he added.

Mr. Biden described any package that passed before he took office as “a down payment on what’s going to happen early next year.”

In an interview with Thomas L. Friedman, an opinion columnist for The New York Times, Mr. Biden addressed the depth of the economic crisis. The longer people are out of work, he said, the harder it is for them to re-enter the work force. And when children miss significant periods of school, he said, they will also suffer and could fall years behind.

One of the biggest impediments to the incoming president’s ability to achieve these goals is his former colleague across the aisle, Mr. McConnell, who could work to block much of Mr. Biden’s agenda if Republicans maintain control of the upper chamber.

Mr. Biden, however, said he had a history of compromise with Mr. McConnell.

“I think there are trade-offs, that not all compromise is walking away from principle,” Mr. Biden said. “He knows me. I know him. I don’t ask him to embarrass himself to make a deal.”

But he added if Republicans clearly “let all this go down the drain” just so a Biden administration will not get a win, that “may have an impact on the prospect of Republicans running for re-election in 2022.”

“Our investigators have seen no widespread fraud either,” said Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state.
Credit…Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

As a second recount wrapped up in Georgia on Wednesday, Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state, said that the results thus far showed “no substantial changes” to the tally showing President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory over President Trump in the state.

In a news conference, Mr. Raffensperger said that about 110 of Georgia’s 159 counties had completed their machine recounts. “It doesn’t look like our guy has won the election,” said Mr. Raffensperger, a lifelong Republican. “And it looks like Vice President Biden will be carrying Georgia, and he is our president-elect.”

The counties must complete the new recount by midnight. A slight change to the final tally is expected, which will mean that the state will have to recertify the figure.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly argued, without offering substantial evidence, that the Georgia election was rigged against him.

On Wednesday, Mr. Raffensperger noted that Mr. Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr, had said on Tuesday that the Justice Department had found no widespread fraud that would have tipped the presidential race.

“Our investigators have seen no widespread fraud either,” Mr. Raffensperger said.

Georgia has already recounted about five million ballots once, by hand, following a request by the Trump campaign. A few thousand uncounted ballots were found, slightly reducing Mr. Biden’s lead, to about 12,300 votes. The second recount, also requested by the Trump campaign, is being handled by high-speed scanners.

Mr. Raffensperger opened his news conference with words of support for Gabriel Sterling, a top lieutenant in his office, who spoke out emotionally yesterday, condemning Mr. Trump for not dialing back conspiratorial rhetoric that Mr. Sterling, who is also a Republican, said was fomenting an atmosphere that has led to violent threats against Mr. Raffensperger’s wife and rank-and-file election workers.

“He spoke with passion and he spoke the truth,” Mr. Raffensperger said.

While Georgia’s election officials were defending the integrity of the general election on Wednesday, some Trump allies continued to cast doubt and questioned whether the outcome of the state’s two crucial Senate runoffs next month could be trusted.

At a park on Wednesday in the upscale Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, hundreds of Trump supporters gathered to cheer Sidney Powell and L. Lin Wood Jr., two lawyers who have challenged the state’s election results in federal court.

“You’re here because we the people will not let them steal our vote!” Mr. Wood, a prominent right-wing lawyer, told the cheering crowd. “We will not let them steal our freedom. Every lie will be revealed! And on January the 20th of 2021, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as president of the United States of America.”

Mr. Wood later addressed state officials while making the case that Georgia’s elections were too corrupt to participate in.

“We’re not going to vote on your damned machines made in China,” he said.

Ms. Powell, who has been disavowed by Mr. Trump’s legal team but continues to press legal challenges on his behalf, echoed Mr. Lin’s warning. “I would encourage all Georgians to make it known that you will not vote at all unless your vote is secure,” she said.

President Trump appointed Christopher Wray, a Republican who served in President George W. Bush’s administration, to succeed James Comey as F.B.I. director.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has no plans to remove Christopher Wray, the F.B.I. director installed by President Trump if he is still in the job when the new administration comes in, according to a senior adviser to Mr. Biden with knowledge of the process.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said Mr. Biden’s team was “not removing the F.B.I. director unless Trump fired him” — signaling a return to pre-Trump norms of continuity at a core domestic law enforcement agency that is supposed to operate without political meddling.

Another key position on Mr. Biden’s national security team, director of the C.I.A., is also expected to be filled soon, with David S. Cohen, a former deputy C.I.A. director, emerging as the leading choice, according to people familiar with the process.

Mr. Biden has made no final decision on Mr. Cohen, and his selection depends in part on the mix of people he wants to lead the Pentagon and other agencies.

No formal announcement is expected on the C.I.A. until at least next week.

Aides to Mr. Biden did not comment publicly on either position.

Mr. Biden’s decision to leave Mr. Wray in place would be a return to the norms around F.B.I. directors, who are confirmed by the Senate and are supposed to have 10-year terms, and are rarely fired. Dismissing them requires an explanation about why such an extraordinary measure would be taken.

But Mr. Trump fired James B. Comey, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, in May 2017, roiling Washington and triggering the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to investigate possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian officials in 2016.

Mr. Trump appointed Mr. Wray, a Republican who served in President George W. Bush’s administration, to succeed Mr. Comey. But the president soured on Mr. Wray soon after he assumed the job, complaining that he wasn’t moving fast enough to rid the bureau of officials installed by Mr. Comey.

The president’s anger at Mr. Wray has grown since then, reaching new heights during the summer, when he wanted to dismiss Mr. Wray once documents related to the case of the former national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, were declassified by other officials. Mr. Trump believed that Mr. Wray had delayed declassifying documents related to the Russia investigation.

At the time, as Mr. Trump railed about firing Mr. Wray, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, intervened by reaching out to Attorney General William P. Barr, who came to the White House to dissuade Mr. Trump from taking such action.

But Mr. Trump’s view of Mr. Wray never improved, and he told advisers before the election that Mr. Wray would be dismissed soon after, but he has yet to dismiss him.

There is little such drama surrounding Mr. Biden’s search for a C.I.A. director.

Mr. Biden has always thought highly of Mr. Cohen, and Avril D. Haines, Mr. Biden’s choice to serve as director of national intelligence, supports the potential appointment, top Biden aides said.

Mr. Cohen, who succeeded Ms. Haines as the deputy C.I.A. chief, worked closely with her on the National Security Council’s “deputies committee” — composed of the No. 2 leaders of national security departments and agencies — during the Obama administration. Ensuring an easy partnership between Ms. Haines and the C.I.A. director is a priority of the new administration, according to people who have spoken with transition officials,

“We just had an honest disagreement, very friendly,” said Senator Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Senate Republicans said on Wednesday that they would press ahead in advancing the annual military policy bill without adding a repeal demanded by President Trump of a legal shield for social media companies, defying his threat to veto the legislation over the unrelated issue.

Republicans’ determination to advance the measure over Mr. Trump’s objections amounted to a rare refusal by his allies in Congress to accommodate the president’s hard-line stance, which has threatened to imperil the bill that authorizes pay raises for American troops. And it raised the prospect of a possible veto showdown in the final weeks of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

“I don’t want it on this bill, because we can’t have a bill if that language is on it,” said Senator Jim Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, describing what he told the president about the legal liability provision. “We just had an honest disagreement, very friendly.”

Mr. Trump threatened in July to veto the legislation over a provision requiring the removal of Confederate leaders’ names from military bases, a measure that drew broad bipartisan support and was included in both the House and Senate versions of the bill. But with his time in office winding down, the president has become increasingly fixated on the idea of using the popular, must-pass legislation to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, and the White House had quietly floated the idea that he might drop his objection to renaming military bases if lawmakers would go along. The notion met with swift opposition from members of both parties.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to warn that he would veto the bill if it did not include the repeal.

It is not yet clear whether Mr. Trump will make good on his threat, and less clear still whether lawmakers could muster the two-thirds supermajority necessary in both chambers to accomplish the first veto override of his presidency.

But in an interview on Wednesday, Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, hinted that such an outcome was possible.

“Lane No. 1, at this point, is the president comes to his senses,” Mr. Smith said. “Lane No. 2 is, we get as strong a vote as possible and we override. My sense is this is a strong bill.”

President Barack Obama campaigning for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Miami last month.
Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

President Obama has trodden a tricky political path during a recent online book tour promoting his new memoir, “The Promised Land” — as a durable darling of the youthful left who doubles as a gray-templed critic.

Case in point: During an appearance on Snapchat’s “Good Luck America” show, the former president called on progressives to ditch catchphrases like “defund the police” — while, moments later, chiding party elders for not spotlighting young stars like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

“If you believe, as I do, that we should be able to reform the criminal justice system so that it’s not biased and treats everybody fairly, I guess you can use a snappy slogan, like ‘defund the police’,” Mr. Obama told the show’s host Peter Hamby in the episode, which was posted Monday.

“But, you know, you lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done,” he added.

Many Democrats, including Mr. Obama, have suggested Republicans were able to weaponize the “defund” slogan during the election by falsely accusing Democrats of pushing to abolish entire departments when most of the party’s candidates advocated restructuring existing agencies to reduce police violence.

But the “snappy” quip drew instant criticism — polite but pointed — from several prominent progressives, including Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, who tweeted: “We lose people in the hands of police. It’s not a slogan but a policy demand.”

Mr. Obama struck a markedly different note when the discussion moved on to this summer’s Democratic National Convention, which featured a blink-and-miss-it appearance by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.

The freshman lawmaker supported President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., often in less than enthusiastic terms, after backing Senator Bernie Sanders in the primary. (Democrats close to Mr. Biden said at the time that the brevity of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s appearance was not a slight, but they conceded that Mr. Biden’s more enthusiastic supporters had been given more airtime.)

“The Democratic National Convention I thought was really successful considering the pandemic, and really used technology wisely,” Mr. Obama said in the interview.

“But, you know, the fact that an A.O.C. only got, what? Three minutes or five minutes? When she speaks to a broad section of young people who are interested in what she has to say, even if they don’t agree with everything she says,” he added.

“You give her a platform, just like there may be some other young Democrats who come from more conservative areas who have a different point of view. But new blood is always good,” Mr. Obama said.

Kwanza Hall defeated Robert M. Franklin Jr. in a runoff to finish the term of Representative John Lewis, who died in July.
Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

Kwanza Hall, a former Atlanta city councilman, won the runoff on Tuesday between two Georgia Democrats and will serve the final weeks of the term of Representative John Lewis, the civil rights leader who died in July.

Mr. Hall’s brief tenure ends on Jan. 3, when he will be replaced by Nikema Williams, a Democrat whom voters overwhelmingly elected to a full two-year term in November. Each will represent the state’s Fifth Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Atlanta and its suburbs.

Mr. Hall, a former Atlanta city councilman, defeated Robert M. Franklin Jr., the former president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, in the runoff after neither received 50 percent of the vote in a crowded special election in September. Ms. Williams did not run in that race, which featured five Democrats, a Libertarian and an independent.

About 22,000 ballots were cast on Tuesday, with Mr. Hall earning 54 percent of the vote.

“Thank you! I am humbled, truly humbled to earn this privilege,” Mr. Hall wrote on Twitter.

Despite the little time he will have in office, Mr. Hall, 49, has said he plans to work toward decriminalizing marijuana, expunging the records of formerly incarcerated people and improving economic opportunities.

President Trump tapped Ronna McDaniel for her role in 2016, and publicly endorsed her for another term last month.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Ronna McDaniel, a faithful ally of President Trump, is running for a third term as Republican National Committee chair — on a platform of doggedly pursuing the agenda of a vanquished one-term president who nonetheless retains a tight grip on his party’s base.

Ms. McDaniel, 47, drafted a letter Wednesday to the 168 members of the R.N.C. touting the support of Mr. Trump, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and a majority of committee members, suggesting the upcoming vote on the chair was a fait accompli.

While saying the party would continue to “fight” for Mr. Trump, Ms. McDaniel, the niece of the 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said the committee intended to remain neutral in the 2024 primaries regardless of whether Mr. Trump decides to run again.

Yet while Ms. McDaniel is likely to remain the party’s pilot, her letter left little doubt that Mr. Trump, whose unpopularity helped propel President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to a record-shattering 81 million votes nationwide, remains its navigator.

Her letter struck a markedly different approach from the soul-searching post-mortem conducted by the former R.N.C. chairman, Reince Priebus, after Mr. Romney’s decisive 2012 loss to President Barack Obama. Mr. Trump lost by a bigger margin in the popular vote than Mr. Romney did, though he garnered more electoral votes.

While Ms. McDaniel acknowledged unspecified “areas where we can improve,” she praised marginal gains among Democratic constituencies as proof that the party, which is heavily reliant on its overwhelmingly-white, majority-male base, was branching out.

“President Trump earned more minority votes than any Republican candidate in decades, and a record number of women, minorities and veterans were elected to office,” Ms. McDaniel wrote. “This is a legacy our party can be proud of, and we must continue to build on this historic momentum.”

Mr. Trump tapped Ms. McDaniel for her role after he won election in 2016, and publicly endorsed her for another term last month.

The letter was first reported by The Associated Press.

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Lamar Alexander Pleads with Senators to Work Together in Farewell Speech

Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, delivered a final message to his colleagues during a farewell speech, saying that the Senate had lost its way and needed to change. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader and a close friend to Mr. Alexander, grew emotional during his final remarks.

“Well, you may say the Senate isn’t solving some big problems. And you would be right. We’re not even voting on some big problems, sometimes because the majority doesn’t bring it up and sometimes the minority obstructs. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to gum up the works in a body of 100 that operates mostly by unanimous consent. But here’s my different view of why we’re here. It’s hard to get here. It’s hard to stay here. And while we’re here, we might as well try to accomplish something. The United States Senate has been, and I hope continues to be, the single most important institution that helps to unify our country by creating broad agreements that most of us can vote for, and that the citizens of the United States will accept.” “I myself have leaned on Lamar’s wisdom for many years. But I think I’ve learned just as much on his optimism, his can-do spirit, his ability to look on the bright side … … and then discern how some more hard work could make it brighter still.”

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Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, delivered a final message to his colleagues during a farewell speech, saying that the Senate had lost its way and needed to change. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader and a close friend to Mr. Alexander, grew emotional during his final remarks.CreditCredit…Al Drago for The New York Times

After serving for nearly 18 years, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, had a final message for his colleagues during his farewell speech Wednesday: The Senate needs to change.

In a stirring scene on the normally staid Senate floor, Mr. Alexander, 80, a former governor and education secretary, reflected on his work over nearly two decades on Capitol Hill, including legislation to overhaul the No Child Left Behind education law; brought Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader and his close friend, to tears; and received a standing ovation from both Republicans and Democrats.

But his departing message was a sobering one: He told fellow lawmakers that the Senate had lost its way.

“Lately, the Senate has been like joining the Grand Ole Opry and not being able to sing,” said Mr. Alexander, who is retiring. “It’s a real waste of talent.”

Mr. Alexander, a former presidential candidate and the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he opposed scrapping Senate filibuster rules that allow a minority to stop any major legislation — he said that doing so would “unleash the tyranny of the majority to steamroll the rights of the minority.” But he said that senators should rediscover the lost art of allowing debate on a variety of legislative changes rather than blocking them outright, to allow the chamber to return to a more bipartisan process.

“Our country needs a United States Senate to work across party lines to force broad agreements on hard issues, creating laws that most of us have voted for and that a diverse country will accept,” he said, speaking to a mostly full chamber, a rare sight. “The Senate doesn’t need a change of rules; it needs a change of behavior, and the behavior to change first is to stop blocking each other’s amendments.”

Speaking about Mr. Alexander, Mr. McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who has presided over increasing partisanship in Washington, grew emotional.

“For 18 years, there’s been Lamar Alexander and there’s been the rest of us,” Mr. McConnell said, pausing to choke back tears and wipe his nose. “I’m sorry that in a few more weeks, it’ll just be the rest of us left.”

As the tributes stretched on for two hours, delaying scheduled votes, Mr. Alexander also received warm words from Democrats.

“I truly have come to appreciate Senator Alexander’s fairness, interest in solving problems and his bipartisanship,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California.

Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, said the best way to honor Mr. Alexander’s legacy would be to fix the Senate.

“He’s left us with a challenge and I hope we’ll take him up on it, because there is no excuse for the way this place works,” he said. “I can’t think of a greater legacy for Lamar to leave than a Senate that’s actually working.”

Mr. Alexander concluded by telling his colleagues it had been a “great privilege” to serve, before saying, perhaps for the last time: “I yield the floor.”

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Former Astronaut Mark Kelly Is Sworn in to U.S. Senate

Senator Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, joined the Senate on Wednesday, becoming one of just two Democrats to unseat a Republican incumbent this year.

“Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you’re about to enter: So help you God?” “I do.” “Congratulations, Senator.”

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Senator Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, joined the Senate on Wednesday, becoming one of just two Democrats to unseat a Republican incumbent this year.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Nicholas Kamm

Senator Mark Kelly is no stranger to lonely missions.

As a former astronaut, he traveled millions of miles in space piloting shuttles to the International Space Station on four different missions, one of them just months after an assassination attempt nearly claimed the life of his wife, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

On Wednesday, he began another kind of lonely journey, becoming the first of a new class to be formally sworn into the Senate and one of just two Democrats to unseat a Republican incumbent this year. Last month, Mr. Kelly won a special election to serve the remainder of the late Senator John McCain’s term.

His arrival whittled Senate Republicans’ narrow majority to 52-48, a distinction for Mr. Kelly that adds to the outsize profile he will wield as a freshman senator. It also dooms the already fraught nomination of Judy Shelton, President Trump’s nominee to the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, whom the White House had hoped to confirm before the end of the lame-duck session.

Mr. Kelly’s victory over the Republican senator Martha McSally meant that for the first time since the 1950s, both Arizona senators are Democrats, underscoring the shifting demographics and politics of a former conservative stronghold. He joins Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who was elected in 2018.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Kelly leaned hard into his biography as a former Navy captain and astronaut, adopting the mantra “Full speed ahead.” He had a compelling surrogate in Ms. Giffords, who spoke in personal terms about his commitment to both his country and to her, gesturing in an advertisement to how he had “helped me through my darkest moments.”

“Everyone continues to be inspired by Gabby’s recovery, by Mark’s devotion, and the courage it took for their family to re-enter public life and public service,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, said on Wednesday.

Mr. Kelly will work out of Mr. McCain’s old office, and on Tuesday, Mr. Kelly and his family visited Mr. McCain’s grave at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis.

“It’s not often that we get to meet our heroes, and even less often that we get to call them a friend,” Mr. Kelly said in his victory speech. “I got to do that with Senator McCain.”

People waited in line to vote early in Suwanee, Ga., in October.
Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

Voter advocacy groups in Georgia filed a lawsuit on Wednesday asking a federal court to compel the state to restore nearly 200,000 names to its voter registration list ahead of the January runoff races for the state’s two Senate seats that will determine the balance of power in Washington.

In the suit, filed in the northern district of Georgia, three voter advocacy groups said the state had improperly removed 198,000 people from its voter registration lists in 2019 on the grounds that they had changed their addresses.

The Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union released a report in September based on an investigation by a progressive independent journalist, Greg Palast, who found that of most of the approximately 300,000 people removed had not changed their addresses. Since the investigation was completed, several thousand voters have died or moved, but more than 195,000 remained wrongly affected, the suit says.

The Georgia A.C.L.U. said in a statement that those removed from the rolls were likely to be “young voters, voters of lower income, and citizens of racial groups that have been denied their sacred right to vote in the past.”

The suit comes after a pair of hard-fought Senate races in which neither leading candidate received 50 percent of the vote, sending both contests to runoffs that will be held Jan. 5. One race pits the Republican senator David Perdue against the Democrat Jon Ossoff. In the other, Senator Kelly Loeffler, also a Republican, will face a Democratic challenge from the Rev. Raphael Warnock. If Democrats win both races, they will effectively control the Senate.

The office of the Georgia secretary of state, led by Brad Raffensperger, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But during a separate news conference on Wednesday, Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, dismissed the allegations.

“I’m going to go with no,” he said, when asked whether his office had purged nearly 200,000 voters from registration lists. “Frankly, I’ve not seen or heard of this lawsuit yet.”

Since the election, Mr. Raffensperger’s office has been dogged by baseless allegations of voter fraud from the Trump campaign. Mr. Raffensperger has repeatedly said that the results of the Georgia election were trustworthy.

LaTosha Brown, the head of Black Voters Matter Fund, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said the issue with the election was not voter fraud.

“It’s been a voter suppression,” she said during a news conference on Wednesday with members of the other advocacy groups. “Massive scale voter suppression.”

Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, at a campaign rally in Marietta, Ga., last month. American Bridge, a Democratic super PAC, plans to spend millions on the state’s Senate runoffs.
Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — With record sums pouring into two Senate runoffs in Georgia to motivate each party’s base, a Democratic super PAC will start a new multimillion-dollar ad blitz on Thursday in hopes that old-fashioned persuasion could help tip the balance.

The group, American Bridge, will begin running a series of ads featuring testimonials from Republicans about why they oppose the party’s candidates, Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. The target: small pockets of disillusioned working-class Republicans and independents outside of Atlanta. American Bridge believes those voters could be pivotal in Democrats’ efforts to overcome Republicans’ traditional advantage in the state.

The ads are reminiscent of a memorable campaign the group undertook for the election in November, using the voices of disaffected supporters of President Trump to try to sway other working-class voters in the industrial Midwest. In Georgia, American Bridge plans to spend as much as $12 million on a campaign reaching voters online and via broadcast television, radio and mail in the next few weeks, according to people familiar with the campaign.

“These two Senate races are close and will ultimately be decided at the margins,” said Bradley Beychok, the group’s president. “To elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the Senate, we need to win back some of the rural working-class voters left behind by Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue’s failed policies.”

The initial ads in the new push, reviewed by The New York Times, feature Tim, a middle-aged man from Duluth, Ga., who identified as a “lifelong Republican,” speaking directly to the camera from his home office about his opposition to Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue.

The ads make oblique reference to the senators’ stock trading at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, which drew the scrutiny of federal investigators and attacks from their Democratic opponents. But the message is conveyed in plain and personal terms.

“Her No. 1 concern at that time wasn’t us. It was her making money off of stock trades,” Tim says in one of the ads, referring to Ms. Loeffler’s response to the pandemic. “I’m tired of having multimillionaires that don’t understand our side of it, the real people.”

The second ad portrays Mr. Perdue, himself a wealthy businessman, as a plutocrat out to line his own pockets and those of wealthy corporations.

“He’s definitely not a man of integrity as far as I’m concerned, because he’s never kept his word as to helping the people out in Georgia,” Tim says. “He’s helped himself.”