Transition Highlights: Biden Warns ‘Defund the Police’ Slogan Could Hurt Democrats in Georgia Runoff Races

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Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. this week urged a group of civil rights activists to remain quiet about plans to overhaul policing until after two Senate runoff elections in Georgia next month, saying that Republicans would try to distort their position on the issue to win those races.

“That’s how they beat the living hell out of us across the country, saying that we’re talking about defunding the police,” Mr. Biden told the Black representatives of several interest groups, according to audio of the meeting obtained by The Intercept. “We’re not. We’re talking about holding them accountable.”

Mr. Biden made the comments as he prepares to travel to Georgia next week to campaign for Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the two Democrats who would give Mr. Biden’s party a slim majority in the Senate if they won the Jan. 5 runoffs.

The remarks came during a sometimes contentious, closed-door session on Tuesday in which the civil right leaders pressed Mr. Biden to pick more Black nominees for his cabinet and for other top White House posts.

On the issue of policing reform — a subject about which many groups had been wary of Mr. Biden given his history of pushing for tough criminal justice laws when he was a senator — the president-elect suggested that the activists tread carefully.

“I also don’t think we should get too far ahead of ourselves on dealing with police reform in that, because they’ve already labeled us as being ‘defund the police,’” he said. “Anything we put forward in terms of the organizational structure to change policing — which I promise you, will occur. Promise you. Just think to yourself and give me advice whether we should do that before Jan. 5.”


An official for Mr. Biden’s transition, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations with the president-elect, downplayed the significance of the conversation.

“President-elect Biden is the same person behind closed doors that he is public; honest, direct and realistic about the challenges facing our nation the day he is sworn in,” the official said. “As he made clear throughout the campaign, he believes in supporting bold and urgent reform to our criminal justice system while continuing to support law enforcement’s mission to keep our communities safe.”

Mr. Biden’s warnings on the “defund” slogan echo those of other Democrats, including former President Barack Obama.

On an episode of the Snapchat show “Good Luck America” this month, Mr. Obama said, “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’.”

“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.

During the meeting Thursday, Mr. Biden also defended his choice of Tom Vilsack, a white man, to run the Department of Agriculture, despite the pressure from several of the civil rights groups to nominate Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio, who is Black. Mr. Biden nominated Ms. Fudge to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Derrick Johnson, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., told Mr. Biden that nominating Mr. Vilsack “could have a disastrous impact on voters in Georgia” because of an incident in which Mr. Vilsack fired a popular Black employee when he served as the department’s secretary during the Obama administration.

Mr. Biden dismissed the concerns and said people would soon hear more about Mr. Vilsack’s record.

The Supreme Court in Washington.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

In a series of blistering responses to a lawsuit from Texas asking the Supreme Court to overturn President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victories in four key battlegrounds, those states asked the justices to reject what they called an affront to democracy and the rule of law.

“The court should not abide this seditious abuse of the judicial process, and should send a clear and unmistakable signal that such abuse must never be replicated,” a brief for Pennsylvania said.

“Let us be clear,” the brief said. “Texas invites this court to overthrow the votes of the American people and choose the next President of the United States. That Faustian invitation must be firmly rejected.”

Briefs from the other three states Texas seeks to sue in the Supreme Court — Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin — filed their own rejoinders, comprehensively critiquing Texas’ unusual request to have the Supreme Court act as a trial court in examining supposed election irregularities.

The briefs collectively said Texas was in no position to tell other states how to run their elections, adding that its filing was littered with falsehoods.

“Texas has not suffered harm simply because it dislikes the result of the election,” lawyers for Pennsylvania wrote, “and nothing in the text, history, or structure of the Constitution supports Texas’s view that it can dictate the manner in which four other states run their elections.”

The responses from the four states targeted by the Texas suit came the same day Republican attorneys general from Ohio and Idaho publicly criticized the suit.

Dave Yost, Ohio’s attorney general, filed a brief accusing Texas of inconsistency. The Constitution, Mr. Yost wrote, “means today what it meant a month ago.”

“Texas seeks a ‘remand to the State legislatures to allocate electors in a manner consistent with the Constitution,’” Mr. Yost wrote, quoting from Texas’ filings. “Such an order would violate, not honor, the Electors Clause.”

The filing put Mr. Yost at odds with more than a dozen states with Republican attorneys general who have lined up in support of Texas’ suit.

In a statement on Thursday, Idaho’s attorney general, Lawrence G. Wasden, explained why he also declined to join the lawsuit.

“This decision is necessary to protect Idaho’s sovereignty,” he said. “As Attorney General, I have significant concerns about supporting a legal argument that could result in other states litigating against legal decisions made by Idaho’s legislature and governor.”

Zach Montague contributed reporting.

Denis McDonough was the White House chief of staff in the Obama administration.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday tapped several members of former President Barack Obama’s administration — including Mr. Obama’s chief of staff and national security adviser — to serve in the White House and his cabinet, adding to the ranks of advisers with whom he has longstanding relationships.

Mr. Biden announced that Denis McDonough, who was Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, will be his nominee for the secretary of Veterans Affairs. Susan Rice, who was the national security adviser when Mr. Biden was vice president, will become the director of his Domestic Policy Council, overseeing a large part of the new president’s agenda.

The selections underscore an unmistakable theme that has emerged in the past several weeks: For all the talk that Mr. Biden is abiding by a complicated formula of ethnicity, gender and experience as he builds his administration — and he is — perhaps the most important criteria for landing a cabinet post or a top White House job appears to be having a longstanding relationship with the president-elect himself.

Mr. Biden has worked with the former aide he wants to be secretary of state since their time at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 1990s. He knows his choice for Pentagon chief from the retired general’s time in Iraq, where Mr. Biden’s son Beau, a military lawyer, also served on the general’s staff. John Kerry, his climate envoy, is an old Senate buddy.

It is a sharp contrast to President Trump, who assembled a dysfunctional collection of cabinet members he barely knew. With nearly half of Mr. Biden’s cabinet and many key White House jobs announced, his administration looks more like a close-knit family.

Credit…Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

But there are risks in Mr. Biden’s approach, which departs sharply from Abraham Lincoln’s famous desire for a “team of rivals” in his cabinet who could challenge one another — and the president.

Relying on advisers and cabinet officials steeped in old Washington — and Mr. Biden’s own worldview — lends an air of insularity to his still-forming presidency at a time when many Americans are expecting fresh ideas to confront a world that is very different from the one that the president-elect and his friends got to know when they were younger.

Mr. McDonough is a comfortable choice for Mr. Biden at the scandal-plagued V.A. Mr. McDonough has a background in national security affairs, having served at the White House as the deputy national security adviser before becoming Mr. Obama’s chief of staff. In both roles, he worked closely with Vice President Biden. Politico reported earlier on his selection.

Ms. Rice is well known for coordinating Mr. Obama’s foreign policy, first as ambassador to the United Nations and later as national security adviser, a period when she clashed with the Republican-led Congress over the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Those clashes may have doomed her hopes of being able to be confirmed as secretary of state, a position for which she was considered by Mr. Biden. Her position at the White House Domestic Policy Council does not require Senate confirmation. (Ms. Rice was also a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times for three years. Her last column for The Times was published Dec. 1, 2020.)

In a statement announcing her appointment, Mr. Biden’s transition team said that she “knows government inside and out and will carry through the president-elect’s vision of a newly empowered Domestic Policy Council and turbocharge the effort to build back better.”

Staff aides to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that most Republicans are unlikely to support the bipartisan plan.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Staff aides to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, have informed other congressional leaders that it is unlikely that the majority of Republicans could support compromise provisions addressing liability protections and state and local government funding in a $908 billion stimulus deal being hammered out by a bipartisan group of moderates.

Their warning reflected the deep resistance among several Republicans for another large round of federal relief. For months their reluctance has helped to stymie agreement on an economic recovery plan to help struggling businesses and individuals amid the pandemic. Mr. McConnell and Republicans have been particularly resistant to providing billions of dollars to cash-strapped state and local governments, a top Democratic priority that would receive $160 billion under the moderates’ emerging outline.

That package is likely to contain some form of limited liability protection to businesses, schools and hospitals, which most Democrats have dismissed as a nonstarter, but the shield could be temporary and not as sweeping as the one that Mr. McConnell has demanded, which prompted the private skepticism.

The potential Republican antipathy for the compromise that was conveyed by Mr. McConnell’s staff was first reported by Politico, and was relayed on condition of anonymity by a senior Democrat familiar with the conversation. Mr. McConnell’s office declined to comment.

“My view is that the best thing that could happen is the pieces of this that everybody agrees on, take that out — take the funding for state local governments out — and pass the rest of it,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, told reporters, offering a suggestion Democrats have panned.”

The bipartisan group is still struggling to finalize its agreement, let alone produce legislation that could be voted on in the coming days.

With just a handful of days before the end of the 116th Congress and a number of critical programs established in previous coronavirus legislation set to expire, lawmakers agree that both chambers should not leave Washington until they reach consensus on both an omnibus government spending package and a pandemic aid deal.

The Senate is expected to approve a one-week stopgap bill before funding lapses on Friday, intended to buy additional time for negotiators on both issues. But the timing of the vote was unclear as of Thursday afternoon.

Top Democrats have signaled support for the bipartisan discussions, led by a handful of moderate lawmakers in both chambers, as a possible avenue for a final agreement. But in doing so, Democrats also rejected a proposal from Mr. McConnell to remove the provisions related to state and local government and liability protections and focus on approving funding for schools, education and small businesses.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, presented Ms. Pelosi on Tuesday with a $916 billion alternative, but she and other Democrats rejected it given that it failed to revive lapsed federal supplemental jobless payments. Instead, it would include a round of $600 stimulus checks, half the amount initially approved earlier this year.

Representative Kevin McCar­thy, the House minority leader, walks with fellow House Republicans outside the Capitol building on Thursday
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

A majority of House Republicans threw their support on Thursday behind an audacious lawsuit by the state of Texas asking the Supreme Court to overturn President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in four key battleground states.

In a brief filed with the court, 106 lawmakers 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” that warranted review by the justices. Like the lawsuit itself, they focused on four states: Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Constitutional experts have said the legal arguments in the suit, filed by a pro-Trump attorney general in Texas, are specious. And as states prepare to cast their Electoral College votes on Monday, there has been no evidence of the kind of widespread fraud or irregularities that President Trump and his allies have claimed. But for Republicans, many of whom have unflinchingly stood by Mr. Trump as he has lodged baseless claims and sought to subvert the will of American voters, the lawsuit was the latest venue for a show of fealty to the president.

More than a dozen Republican state attorneys general expressed similar support on Wednesday.

The members of Congress said that they and “untold millions of their constituents” were concerned that “the unconstitutional irregularities involved in the 2020 presidential election cast doubt upon its outcome and the integrity of the American system of elections.”

“National polls indicate a large percentage of Americans now have serious doubts about not just the outcome of the presidential contest, but also the future reliability of our election system itself,” the lawmakers, led by Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, wrote. They added: “It is the solemn duty of this Court to provide an objective review of these anomalies and to determine for the people if indeed the Constitution has been followed and the rule of law maintained.”

Many Republican senators have been more critical of the lawsuit, and none of them joined Thursday’s brief. Only one of the House’s elected leaders, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the Republican whip, signed on.

A few openly criticized it. Representative Chip Roy, a Texas conservative, called the suit “a dangerous violation of federalism” that “sets a precedent to have one state asking federal courts to police the voting procedures of other states.”

Mr. Roy was not the only Texan to question the wisdom of the suit from his state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton. The leader of the Democratic caucus in the Republican-led Texas House of Representatives, Chris Turner, wrote Mr. Paxton on Thursday demanding to know the amount of taxpayer dollars and staff hours that went into preparing a “nonsensical legal proceeding unrelated to the state you serve.”

“This is another example where he’s abusing his office for political purposes,” Mr. Turner said in an interview. “Even worse, he’s literally trying to overturn a national election and throw out millions of legitimate votes across the country.”

David Montgomery contributed reporting.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the East Room before a cabinet meeting.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The State Department’s acting inspector general will step down from his role on Friday, according to a spokesman for the inspector general’s office. The decision came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s office criticized the watchdog agency regarding a report it published about official trips taken by Mr. Pompeo’s wife.

Matthew S. Klimow, the acting inspector general, was already scheduled to leave his post later this month because of provisions in the Vacancies Reform Act, a law that allows acting officials to serve for no more than 210 days after a role is declared vacant.

It was just the latest sign of upheaval in the department’s office of the inspector general, which investigates corruption and wrongdoing at the agency and has had a tumultuous relationship with Mr. Pompeo and top officials.

The inspector general’s office on Thursday released a report that said State Department officials did not have sufficient documentation for some official trips taken by Susan Pompeo, Mr. Pompeo’s wife. The report said no laws had been broken and that no penalty should be assessed. This is one of two investigations into Mr. Pompeo’s potential misuse of government resources.

Shortly after the report was released, Mr. Pompeo’s office released a statement saying the couple was “fully vindicated from baseless claims” by Democrats and the media. His office went on to criticize the inspector general’s office for wasting “both time and taxpayer resources on this report.”

Ryan Holden, a spokesman for the inspector general’s office, did not say that Mr. Klimow’s departure was because of criticism from Mr. Pompeo’s office. He said that Mr. Klimow’s tenure was “always anticipated” to end and that the departing inspector general had “a desire to return” to the embassy in Turkmenistan, where Mr. Klimow was the U.S. ambassador before becoming acting inspector general.

The State Department declined to comment on Mr. Klimow’s decision to exit the role earlier than expected.

Mr. Klimow’s plans to leave his post this week was reported earlier on Thursday by The Washington Post.

In May, President Trump fired a previous inspector general at the State Department, Steve A. Linick, at Mr. Pompeo’s private urging. Mr. Linick had opened investigations into Mr. Pompeo’s potential misuse of department resources and his effort to push arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Linick was succeeded by Stephen J. Akard, who stepped down from his role after less than three months.

Mr. Pompeo and his wife are still subject to another investigation into potential misuse of government resources. This one concerns allegations that a political appointee was asked to perform personal and political tasks for Mr. Pompeo and his wife, including picking up dry cleaning, making restaurant reservations and walking the family dog, Sherman.

Mr. Pompeo has dismissed accusations at the center of that other inquiry and has repeatedly refused to meet with inspector general staff on the issue.

Hunter Biden is being investigated by the Justice Department.
Credit…Paul Morigi/Getty Images

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 on 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.

Tom Vilsack, who was the secretary of Agriculture for eight years during the Obama administration, campaigned for Joseph R. Biden Jr. in January.
Credit…Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Democrats have struggled for years to win over voters in rural America, ceding that powerful voting bloc to the populist pitches of Republicans as farm income fell and corporate agriculture conglomerates pushed small family operations aside.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s selection of Tom Vilsack to be Agriculture secretary — a reprisal of his role in the Obama administration — appears unlikely to solve that problem, according to critics of the pick. While the choice of Mr. Vilsack is in keeping with Mr. Biden’s tendency to fill cabinet roles with experienced hands and loyal allies, the selection has been met with disappointment by some farm groups and progressives who hoped to see someone more diverse in the job.

Mr. Vilsack served for eight years as former President Barack Obama’s Agriculture secretary, a time when there was sweeping consolidation in the farm sector. He has faced particular criticism for the fading fortunes of Black farmers, who have long complained of discrimination when it comes to land and credit access.

“While Black farmers had legislative successes during the Obama administration, far too little was done during his tenure to address the long legacy of discrimination against Black farmers,” John Boyd Jr., president and founder of the National Black Farmers Association, said in a statement.

Mr. Vilsack was also at the center of a firestorm during Mr. Obama’s first term. In 2010, he hastily fired Shirley Sherrod, a Black Agriculture department official, after a conservative blogger released a misleading video clip that appeared to show her admitting antipathy toward a white farmer. He later apologized and tried to rehire her.

Many progressive groups had hoped that Mr. Biden would select Representative Marcia Fudge, a Democrat from Ohio, to lead the U.S.D.A. However, Ms. Fudge, who is Black, was tapped to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some rural groups did praise Mr. Vilsack on Thursday.

Patty Judge, a co-founder of Focus on Rural America, noted that Mr. Vilsack helped promote healthy food in schools and expand biofuels during his previous stint.

“Rural economies can rely on his smarts and even keel to provide a stark contrast to the Trump and Perdue years, and put us on the right path on day one,” said Ms. Judge, who was Iowa’s Agriculture secretary during Mr. Vilsack’s tenure as governor of the state.

Small farmers have expressed concern about Mr. Vilsack’s ties to “Big Agriculture.” During the Obama years, he hired people with ties to Monsanto to work for the department. He also clashed with progressives who believed he was too lenient about labeling for genetically engineered food — earning the derisive nickname “Mr. Monsanto.”

Since leaving office, Mr. Vilsack has been a lobbyist, working as chief executive of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Although Mr. Biden flipped several states that President Trump won in 2016, it is questionable whether Mr. Vilsack will help him make inroads outside of the cities and suburbs in farm states.

Joel Greeno, president of Family Farm Defenders in Wisconsin, said he was “extremely disappointed” with the selection of Mr. Vilsack, arguing that he, “believes in corporate Ag and multinational corporations.”

“If team Biden wants to create positive changes, dinosaurs like Vilsack need to go,” Mr. Greeno said.

President Trump has been critical of Attorney General William P. Barr for his refusal to try to overturn the results of the election.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Attorney General William P. Barr has told others that he plans to remain in his post through the end of the Trump administration, setting aside his deliberations about stepping down by the end of the year, according to a person told of his decision.

Mr. Barr had been weighing whether to leave this month, but President Trump — already angry over Mr. Barr’s refusal to help overturn the election’s results — was said to be irritated with Mr. Barr’s contemplation of an early departure, according to the person.

People close to Mr. Barr previously said that he wanted to step down because he felt that he had accomplished the work he had set out to complete during his tenure, and that his plans were unrelated to Mr. Trump’s push to overturn the election outcome. They also said that Mr. Barr was wary of the tensions and problems that can pop up when one administration hands off to the next.

Last week, Mr. Barr broke weeks of public silence in the wake of the election when he acknowledged that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could have changed the result of the election. Mr. Barr’s comments were a striking repudiation of Mr. Trump’s increasingly specious claims of voter fraud and a departure for the attorney general, whose tenure has been marked by a willingness to implement the president’s political agenda at the typically independent Justice Department.

If Mr. Barr were to step down, the deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, would be in line to take over as the head of the department.

Representative Deb Haaland in 2018 became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress.
Credit…Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, via Getty Images

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is facing intensifying pressure from Democratic lawmakers, progressives and tribal leaders to select Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico as interior secretary.

On Thursday, a group of more than 100 female leaders, including Native women, activists and celebrities, released a letter asking Mr. Biden to choose Ms. Haaland, who would be the first Native American cabinet secretary.

“Representative Haaland will be a strong steward of our precious natural resources and will return to the practice of science-based decision-making,” the letter said. “Additionally, she will work to honor the treaties between the federal government and tribal nations.”

The letter — which was organized by the actress Marisa Tomei, the progressive advocacy group We Stand United and Allie Young, a Native American activist with the group Protect the Sacred — is the latest attempt to sway Mr. Biden’s choice for secretary of the interior, which oversees public lands and controls the federal agencies most responsible for the government’s relationship with the nation’s Indigenous people.

Already, more than 50 House Democrats have implored Mr. Biden in a separate letter to select the congresswoman, a Democrat. Tribal leaders and environmental activists have also voiced their support for Ms. Haaland.

More broadly, Ms. Haaland is a favorite for the position among progressive groups, including the Sunrise Movement, which was created by young climate activists and has championed the Green New Deal.

Julia Walsh, the campaign director for We Stand United, said her group helped organize the letter alongside Native women to show that “there is a lot of support for Deb, and it’s not just Indian country.”

“We really think she could be a transformative force in that department,” she said.

In addition to Native American leaders and activists, celebrities including Mandy Moore, Amy Schumer, Rosario Dawson and Cher also signed the letter. The letter will be delivered to the Biden transition team, Ms. Walsh said.

Ms. Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, made history in 2018 when she and Sharice Davids of Kansas became the first two Native American women elected to Congress.

But Ms. Haaland’s relative lack of policy experience has given some Biden advisers pause. Other names that have been floated for the post include Michael L. Connor, who was a deputy interior secretary under the Obama administration and is also Native American, and Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, who is retiring from Congress.

President Trump on stage at the CIA in Langley, Va., in 2018.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The Trump administration is considering whether to pull back military support for the C.I.A., including potentially taking back much of the drone fleet the C.I.A. uses, according to current and former officials. The shift could sharply curtail the agency’s counterterrorism efforts that were greatly expanded after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Former Trump officials cautioned that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. could immediately reverse any changes once he takes office next month. Nevertheless, depending on how quickly the Pentagon enacts such decisions, the new administration could find some harder to quickly undo.

The administration is considering multiple options that could take effect as early as Jan. 5. One would reduce the number of Pentagon personnel sent to the agency — many of them Special Operation forces who work in the C.I.A.’s paramilitary branch. But other changes being considered would be far broader and more consequential, making it harder for the agency to work out of military bases, use the Defense Department’s medical evacuation abilities or conduct covert drone strikes targeting terrorists in hot spots around the world.

It was not clear why the Trump administration is pressing forward with their review, given that Mr. Biden could easily roll it back. Some former agency officers viewed the move as a last attempt by President Trump, who has long reviled the intelligence agencies over their assessment that Russia interfered to help his 2016 presidential campaign, to diminish the C.I.A.

Most administrations hold off on major decisions with deep ramifications during the final days of a president’s term. Former officials say revising the operating agreement between the C.I.A. and the Pentagon is just that kind of change with global ramifications that ought to be left to the Biden administration.

The Pentagon has told Biden transition officials that it is looking at its agreement to provide assistance to the C.I.A. as part of an effort to shift resources from counterterrorism missions to the threat from China.

Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was installed last month as the acting under secretary of defense for intelligence and is viewed among some career officials as a highly ideological Trump loyalist, drove the effort, current and former officials said.

“The Pentagon has been trying to better allocate its resources to focus more on the so-called great power competition with China,” Lt. Col. Uriah L. Orland of the Air Force, a Defense Department spokesman, said in response to a request for comment.

While the C.I.A. declined to discuss the deliberations, Nicole de Haay, a spokeswoman for the agency, said it was confident that its close collaboration with the Defense Department would continue “for years to come.”

“There is no stronger relationship, nor better partnership,” she said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in Franklinville, N.J., in October.
Credit…Michelle Gustafson for The New York Times

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.

In his final days in office, President Trump and his surrogates are continuing to try to force legal challenges to the election.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump and his proxies continue to apply political pressure across multiple channels, challenging the results of the election and placing roadblocks in the way of the incoming administration, even as all 50 states and Washington, D.C., have certified the results of the presidential election.

With almost no available legal path for the Trump campaign to contest the outcome of the election, the president took to Twitter again on Thursday to malign the 2020 election in no uncertain terms. There is no evidence of widespread fraud, a conclusion shared even by Mr. Trump’s own Justice Department.

Another tweet echoed comments from Wednesday that directed the Supreme Court to “overturn” the election results even after the court, in a one-sentence order, declined a request by Pennsylvania Republicans to do so. On Thursday Mr. Trump said the court “has a chance to save our Country from the greatest Election abuse in the history of the United States.”

Despite the top court’s disinclination to help him, Mr. Trump has enjoyed the support of a host of influential Republicans who have continued to entertain his challenges.

Republican attorneys general in 17 states joined in a brief filed to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, supporting a lawsuit to delay the certification of the presidential electors in four battleground states the president lost.

A day earlier, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who argued several cases before the Supreme Court before he was senator, agreed to take up the president’s cause in any remaining cases aimed at invalidating election results should the court agree to hear them.

While surrogates of the president forge ahead with what legal experts have described as an increasingly desperate strategy in the courts, officials loyal to the president have sought to stonewall the transition of power in other contexts.

Across several agencies, transition meetings have been held up or limited by Trump appointees who have reportedly inserted themselves between career civil servants and President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s transition teams in ways that several federal officials said had hampered the transition process.

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