Biden, McConnell talk after top Senate Republican acknowledges Democrat's election win

Mr Joe Biden (left) told reporters he spoke with Mr Mitch McConnell before heading to Georgia. PHOTOS: AFP

ATLANTA (REUTERS) - US President-elect Joe Biden spoke with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday (Dec 15) and said that the two agreed to meet soon, after the lawmaker ended his silence on the results of the presidential election held six weeks ago.

Mr McConnell congratulated Mr Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris on their victory during remarks on the Senate floor on Tuesday, a day after the Electoral College formalised the Democrats' Nov 3 win.

The senator was among many congressional Republicans who had not acknowledged Mr Biden's defeat of President Donald Trump, who has continued to make unfounded claims of election fraud and refused to concede.

Mr Biden told reporters he spoke with Mr McConnell before heading to Georgia, where he will campaign for two Democratic US Senate candidates whose Jan 5 runoff elections could make or break his domestic policy agenda.

"While we disagree on a lot of things, there are things we can work together on," Mr Biden told reporters. "We agreed to get together sooner (rather) than later."

Hours after their call, Mr McConnell told reporters that lawmakers would not leave Washington this year until they have agreed on a new coronavirus economic relief package.

Top US congressional leaders are meeting on Tuesday as they seek to finalise a government funding bill and end a standoff on economic relief.

Mr McConnell and his top deputies pressed other Senate Republicans not to join with any House Republicans who may object to the election outcome when Congress meets on Jan 6 to ratify the decision.

Any such effort to challenge the results is almost certain to fail since it would require approval by both chambers, including the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

Also on Tuesday, Mr Biden was congratulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a favourite of Trump's, and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Mr Biden and Ms Harris will be sworn in on the steps of the US Capitol on Jan 20 with far fewer people present than is customary due to the raging coronavirus that has killed more than 300,000 people in the United States, the inaugural planning committee said on Tuesday.

Festivities will be largely virtual, and the committee urged members of the public to refrain from travelling to Washington.

SPH Brightcove Video
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell congratulated Democratic President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their election victories following Monday's formal result issued by the Electoral College.

Biden cabinet picks

Mr Biden has pressed ahead with building his Cabinet, with word of more picks emerging on Tuesday.

He has chosen Pete Buttigieg, his former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, to lead the US Transportation Department, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Mr Buttigieg, 38, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, would be the first LGBTQ person nominated to Mr Biden's administration and, if confirmed, the first LGBTQ Cabinet secretary approved by the Senate.

US Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico is Mr Biden's leading choice to head the Interior Department, according to three sources familiar with the proceedings, a selection that would make her the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency.

Mr Biden's trip to Atlanta comes nine days after Mr Trump travelled to Georgia in support of the Republican senators seeking re-election.

Mr Biden's narrow win in Georgia last month underscored the Southern state's transformation from Republican stronghold to one of the country's most competitive political battlegrounds.

That was illustrated again with more than 480,000 ballots cast after the first full day of in-person early voting and mail voting, according to the US Elections Project at the University of Florida.

Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are facing Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively, in twin races that will determine which party will control the US Senate.

If the Republicans win either contest, they would maintain power in the Senate, allowing them to thwart many of Mr Biden's ambitious legislative goals on issues such as the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and climate change.

A Democratic sweep would give Mr Biden's party control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. Democrats already hold a majority in the House of Representatives.

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement that Mr Warnock and Mr Ossoff "represent the left-most fringe" of the Democratic Party and that Mr Biden campaigning for them showed he was under the influence of that wing of the party.

Mr Biden said on Tuesday that he planned to get the coronavirus vaccine "sooner than later" and reconfirmed his commitment to take it publicly.

Both parties in Georgia face turnout challenges in the midst of the pandemic and without the polarising Mr Trump at the top of the ballot to turn out voters from his deeply loyal supporters, as well as from detractors with deep animosity toward him.

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