The justices of the Supreme Court met Friday morning, by telephone, for their usual private conference to discuss which cases they might add to their docket.
They almost certainly discussed an extraordinary lawsuit that Texas has sought to file directly in the court against four battleground states — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — seeking to overturn the results of the presidential election. The court could act on that request at any time and may well issue an order on Friday.
Texas filed replies on Friday morning to a set of blistering briefs from the four states that had called its request an affront to democracy and the rule of law. Texas asked the court to hear its case and, in the meantime, to bar the four states “from certifying presidential electors and from having such electors vote in the Electoral College.”
Legal experts said Texas’ lawsuit was filled with procedural and substantive shortcomings and that the Supreme Court was unlikely to have any appetite for wading into it.
On Tuesday, the court rejected a more modest request from Pennsylvania Republicans to overturn the election results in that state.
The two sides in the Texas case have attracted more than a dozen supporting briefs and requests to intervene, from President Trump, from coalitions of red and blue states, from politicians and from scholars. Among them was a brief filed by 106 House Republicans who claimed that the election — the same one in which they were all re-elected — had been “riddled with an unprecedented number of serious allegations of fraud and irregularities.”
More than a dozen Republican state attorneys general expressed similar support on Wednesday.
But some 20 states led by Democrats, in their own supporting brief, urged the court “to reject Texas’s last-minute attempt to throw out the results of an election decided by the people and securely overseen and certified by its sister states.”
The threat of a government shutdown loomed on Friday as negotiators remained divided over a stimulus plan to address the economic toll of the pandemic and senators struggled to finalize a vote for a stopgap spending bill that would keep federal funding flowing for a week to leave time for a deal.
The one-week bill, approved by the House on Wednesday, was intended to give negotiators time to reach agreement on both a catchall government spending package and a coronavirus aid plan.
The temporary measure was expected to pass at some point, but the path forward for broader spending agreements remained murky.
While lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill continued to haggle, the two policy divides that had long impaired a coronavirus relief deal — a Republican insistence on sweeping coronavirus liability protections and Democratic demands for state and local funding — remained sticking points. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has suggested jettisoning both provisions in order to get a swift agreement on a narrower package, but many lawmakers are reluctant to resort to that.
Democratic leaders have said the starting point for talks should be a $908 billion bipartisan compromise being drafted by a group of moderates. It would include limited liability protections, $160 billion in state and local funding, $288 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program that extends loans to small businesses, and $300-a-week supplemental federal jobless payments until the spring. The proposal, for now, does not include direct payments from stimulus checks.
“These problems don’t go away,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, who is part of the group that is working on the bipartisan plan. “If anything, they just get bigger. So if we can just stick to it, get a proposal that we can advance that resolves not only goals like unemployment, P.P.P., food security, but also the state and local and tribal and the liability issue — this is what we’ve been working on. This is what we need to keep doing.”
The newly disclosed federal tax investigation into his son will test President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s stated commitment to independent law enforcement while leaving him in a no-win situation that could prove distracting at best and politically and legally perilous at worst.
Unless President Trump’s Justice Department clears Hunter Biden of wrongdoing before leaving office, the new president will confront the prospect of his own newly installed administration deciding how or whether to proceed with an inquiry that could expose his son to criminal prosecution. Already some Republicans are demanding a special counsel be appointed to insulate the case from political influence.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Biden excoriated Mr. Trump’s efforts to use the F.B.I. and Justice Department to go after his enemies and go easy on his friends, vowing to restore a measure of autonomy for law enforcement if he won the election. News of the investigation into Hunter Biden now focuses even more attention on the incoming president’s choice for attorney general.
“That should not be investigated by someone appointed by the president any more than if one of his cabinet members is accused of something or his national security adviser,” said Richard W. Painter, a former ethics counsel to President George W. Bush who became a leading critic of Mr. Trump and switched parties.
Mr. Painter said Mr. Biden should establish a permanent special counsel to handle politically sensitive cases and restore faith that the Justice Department is not simply a tool of the president. “This is the opportunity for the incoming president and attorney general, whoever he chooses, to say this is exactly why we need an office of special counsel,” he said.
The president-elect has made no comment since Hunter Biden disclosed Wednesday that he had been informed about the investigation being conducted by the U.S. attorney in Delaware beyond a statement issued by his staff expressing support for his son. His office had no further comment on Thursday on how he would handle the matter once he becomes president.
The Food and Drug Administration is accelerating the timeline for issuing an emergency authorization for Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, aiming to issue it by Friday evening after planning as recently as Thursday night to finalize the move on Saturday.
On Friday morning, President Trump lashed out at the F.D.A. in a tweet, attacking the agency’s commissioner, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, by name for not approving a Covid-19 vaccine faster.
Continuing his practice of publicly upbraiding subordinates with whom he is displeased, Mr. Trump told Dr. Hahn to “stop playing games and start saving lives!!!” He called the F.D.A. “a big, old, slow turtle,” flush with funds but mired in bureaucracy.
People familiar with the F.D.A.’s planning say that regulators are now racing to complete the required paperwork that goes with the authorization, including a fact sheet and information for physicians. The timing of the announcement appears unlikely to speed up the shipment of the initial doses of the vaccine, the people said, raising questions about the purpose of expediting the authorization.
Federal officials have said 2.9 million doses could be sent around the country within days of an authorization. That is only about half of the doses that Pfizer will provide in the first week. The other half will be reserved so that the initial recipients can have the second, required dose about three weeks later.
The F.D.A. has been walking a thin line, trying to fast-track vaccine approval without undercutting public confidence in the process. Dr. Hahn has repeatedly said regulators will not approve a vaccine that has not been proven safe and effective.
First in line to get it are health care workers and nursing home residents.
“We could see people getting vaccinated Monday, Tuesday of next week,” Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday.
The new vaccine could not arrive at a better time — or, perhaps, a worse one.
The day before the panel endorsed it, the United States set another record for daily virus-related deaths, breaking the 3,000 mark. And on Thursday, reported deaths neared 3,000, and the case count — at least 223,570 new infections reported — made it the second-worst day since the virus reached American shores.
The Pfizer vaccine, and another developed by Moderna expected to join it in the near future, would add to the few real tools American health officials have to combat the virus.
“With the high efficacy and good safety profile shown for our vaccine, and the pandemic essentially out of control, vaccine introduction is an urgent need,” Kathrin Jansen, head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, said Thursday.
Michigan’s 16 electors have been assured that they will receive a police escort from their cars to the state’s Capitol on Monday when they cast their votes in the Electoral College for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Stop the Steal, a group that believes, against overwhelming evidence, that the election was rife with fraud and stolen from President Trump, has posted on social media that they will protest the Electoral College vote from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the State Capitol in Lansing. It is the latest example of the influence Mr. Trump’s messages, even in his last days in office, have within his base.
And because Michigan is an open-carry state, demonstrations at the Capitol often include armed protesters both inside the building and on the grounds outside, although the Capitol building will be closed to the public on Monday.
“I’ve been rallying at the Capitol for many years and the only time I felt uncomfortable is when there were people milling around with guns,” said Bobbie Walton, 84, a lifelong political activist from Davison and first-time elector. “It’s terrible when those things are used to intimidate people. I might have to wear one of my favorite T-shirts: ‘Don’t push, I’m old.’”
County, state and federal judges in Michigan have dismissed efforts to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory in the state, calling allegations of voting fraud baseless and witness claims of nefarious activities at the TCF Center in Detroit, where absentee ballots were tallied, not credible. Michigan’s 83 counties and the state Board of Canvassers have certified the results of the election, which found Mr. Biden won by more than 154,000 votes.
Mark E. Miller, the clerk for the Kalamazoo Township, is looking forward to Monday despite the prospects for chaos at the Capitol.
“We will be doing our duty,” he said. “And while you’ve had armed people coming into the Capitol, there is no law against it, but that is strange to a lot of us.
“I’m trusting that the situation will be under control, so I’m not really worried,” he added. “But perhaps I’m being naïve.”
The Michigan State Capitol Commission, which runs the building made the initial decision to close the building for the Monday vote, said member John Truscott. The state Democratic Party, which is in charge of running the Electoral College vote, agreed with the move.
“Given the number of people who have been testing positive for Covid, we’re trying to keep everybody safe,” Mr. Truscott said. At least eight lawmakers and several dozen legislative staffers have tested positive for coronavirus.
The chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee urged the incoming administration to renew trade negotiations with the European Union, countering a pledge by President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to postpone any new trade talks until after the United States has made significant domestic investments.
The statement on Friday, from Representative Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts, raises the question of whether congressional pressure could persuade the Biden administration to take a more aggressive approach to trade negotiations with close allies.
Mr. Biden has downplayed expectations for new trade negotiations early in his term, saying he wants to first wrest control of the pandemic and make substantial investments in American industries like energy, biotech and artificial intelligence.
“I’m not going to enter any new trade agreement with anybody until we have made major investments here at home and in our workers,” Mr. Biden said in a New York Times interview last week.
But since congressional opposition would be one of the main obstacles to any new trade agreement, the support of key Democrats could be strong motivation for initiating talks.
Despite deep historic ties, the United States and Europe have not always had an easy trading relationship. The governments have argued for decades over tariffs, farm subsidies and food safety standards, and efforts to reach a comprehensive trade pact under both the Obama and Trump administrations were ultimately scrapped.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is facing pressure from congressional Democrats to cancel student loan debt on a vast scale, quickly and by executive action, a campaign that will be one of the first tests of his relationship with the liberal wing of his party.
Mr. Biden has endorsed canceling $10,000 in federal student debt per borrower through legislation, and insisted that chipping away at the $1.7 trillion in loan debt held by more than 43 million borrowers is integral to his economic plan. But Democratic leaders, backed by the party’s left flank, are pressing for up to $50,000 of debt relief per borrower, executed on Day 1 of his presidency.
“I’ve got people with $130,000 in student debt. What’s $10,000 going to do for that person?” asked Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina in an interview. Mr. Clyburn, who speaks with Mr. Biden frequently, added that he did not think that what Mr. Biden proposed during the campaign “goes quite far enough.”
More than 200 organizations — including the American Federation of Teachers, the N.A.A.C.P. and others that were integral to his campaign — have joined the push.
The Education Department is effectively the country’s largest consumer bank and the primary lender, since 2010, for higher education. It owns student loans totaling $1.4 trillion, so forgiveness of some of that debt would be a rapid injection of cash into the pockets of many people suffering from the economic effects of the pandemic.
Many economists, including liberals, say higher education debt forgiveness is an inefficient way to help struggling Americans who face foreclosure, evictions and hunger. The working poor largely are not college graduates — more than 70 percent of currently unemployed workers do not have a bachelor’s degree, and 43 percent did not attend college at all, according to a report by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, said he hoped the two parties could find common ground on the issue. He introduced a bipartisan bill that would allow employers to contribute up to $5,250 tax-free to their employees’ student loans, which was included as a temporary provision in the coronavirus relief law this spring.