Nation and world news briefs

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Biden-Harris ticket surpasses 80 million votes

The 2020 Democratic president ticket made history for several reasons and now can claim the most number of votes in a presidential election.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have 80,033,996 votes with as many as millions more still to tally, according to a running count by the nonpartisan Cook Report.

That’s a lead of more than 6 million over Trump, who now has 73,878,907 votes.

The batch of votes that put Biden and Harris over the historic benchmark in the Cook Report were absentee ballots from Erie County in Buffalo, New York.

The official count from The Associated Press still had Biden and Harris hovering a bit below 80 million.

It’s unknown how many ballots remain to be counted but California and New York are still tallying ballots and regularly adding to the count.

Biden’s win came amid soaring voter turnout. He got by far the most votes of any presidential candidate in history — and Trump was second.

The last election in 2016 marked the first time any candidate even scored 65 million votes when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by just short of 3 million votes.

Biden also won states with 306 electoral votes, comfortably more than the 270 needed to win the White House.

Trump has stubbornly refused to concede defeat, citing unfounded claims of fraud, and has not taken questions since the election three weeks ago.

He authorized the federal General Services Administration to start the transition process but insisted Tuesday that he has not thrown in the towel on his dead-end effort to block Biden from power.

“Remember … the GSA does not determine who the next President of the United States will be,” Trump tweeted.

—New York Daily News

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Mnuchin to put $455 billion in funds out of Yellen’s easy reach

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will put $455 billion in unspent Cares Act funding into an account that his presumed successor, former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, will need authorization from Congress to use.

Mnuchin plans to place the money into the agency’s General Fund, a Treasury Department spokesperson said Tuesday. That fund can only be tapped with “authority based on congressionally issued legislation,” according to the Treasury’s website.

The money includes $429 billion that Mnuchin is clawing back from the Federal Reserve — which backed some of the central bank’s emergency lending facilities — and $26 billion that Treasury received for direct loans to companies. Both initiatives were created under the sweeping Cares Act that was passed earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic inflicted economic pain on the U.S.

The move will leave Yellen — selected by president-elect Joe Biden as his nominee for Treasury secretary — with just under $80 billion available in the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, a pot of money that can be used with some discretion by the Treasury chief.

Mnuchin sent a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell last week asking for the return of money provided to the Fed by the Treasury as a backstop that allowed the central bank to lend to certain markets in times of stress. The Fed publicly objected to the move, but agreed to return the funds.

Mnuchin said that many markets are no longer in danger of seizing up and don’t need aid beyond next month, when the programs are scheduled to expire. He said that the funds can be better applied to specific areas of the economy with the greatest need, through congressionally approved grants.

“For companies that are impacted by COVID — such as travel, entertainment and restaurants — they don’t need more debt, they need more PPP money, they need more grants,” Mnuchin said in an interview last week.

Mnuchin isn’t required to move the money into the General Fund — the Cares Act states that the Treasury Department can maintain access to the money by keeping it in its Exchange Stabilization Fund until 2026.

Yet moving the unspent money will make it virtually impossible for Yellen, if confirmed by the Senate as Treasury secretary, to deploy on her own. The Biden transition team last week called Mnuchin’s clawing back of unspent money from the Fed “deeply irresponsible.”

—Bloomberg News

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Georgia state senators call for special session to address voting issues

ATLANTA — Four Republican state senators are calling for a special session of the General Assembly to address voting concerns before the January runoff — an idea that top Georgia leaders have already rejected.

In a statement released late Tuesday, the senators called for the session to “address structural issues with our voting system before the January runoff.” They also want the session to address “any evidence of voter fraud” brought to lawmakers.

The senators calling for a special session are Brandon Beach of Alpharetta, Greg Dolezal of Cumming, Burt Jones of Jackson and William Ligon of Brunswick.

Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston have already rejected calls for a special session, which costs taxpayers $40,000 to $50,000 a day. The General Assembly begins its regular session a few days after the runoff.

“Any changes to Georgia’s election laws made in a special session will not have any impact on an ongoing election and would only result in endless litigation,” the three Republicans said in a statement two weeks ago. Kemp did not address the issue in comments about the election Tuesday.

The calls for a special session come as some Republicans continue to cast doubt on the integrity of Georgia’s election system. Earlier this month, Republican U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue called on Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign because of unspecified problems for which they provided no evidence.

Both senators now find themselves facing stiff challenges from Democrats in races that will determine which party controls the chamber.

Raffensperger’s office has defended the conduct of the election, saying there is no evidence of widespread fraud or other irregularities, despite complaints by supporters of President Donald Trump, who lost Georgia to Democrat Joe Biden.

The secretary of state has called for a photo identification requirement for absentee ballots and other changes he says would strengthen the election system.

—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Putin can’t take Russia’s ‘safe’ COVID-19 vaccine, Kremlin says

President Vladimir Putin told fellow world leaders last week that both of Russia’s COVID-19 vaccines, including one he championed as the world’s first inoculation against the disease, are safe and effective. That doesn’t mean he’s taken a jab.

“We have not yet begun widespread vaccination and the head of state can’t take part in vaccination as a volunteer. It’s impossible,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday, in response to a question on whether Putin had been inoculated. “The president can’t use an uncertified vaccine.”

Russia has the world’s fifth-highest number of cases globally, passing 2 million last week. Putin announced the registration in August of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and a second inoculation was approved in October, even as Phase 3 trials to establish safety and efficacy are still taking place.

Sputnik V’s developers said Tuesday that initial testing showed it was 91% effective in preventing infections, although it has not yet published final results in a peer-reviewed journal.

Russia has already begun vaccinating medical workers, teachers and officials. By the end of the year, producers aim to make about 2.9 million doses, according to Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova.

—Bloomberg News

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