This week, USA TODAY Politics focuses on the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, his remaining Cabinet picks and the final week of the current Congress. 

Dates to watch:

Jan. 3: New Congress is sworn in.

Jan. 5: Senate runoff election in Georgia.

Jan. 6: Congress will count and certify the electoral results in a joint session.

Jan. 20: Inauguration of Biden, who will take the oath of office.

Be sure to refresh this page often to get the latest information on the transition.

GOP Sen. Ben Sasse: Trump, GOP allies ‘playing with fire’

In a blistering Facebook post on Congress’ role in counting the votes of the Electoral College, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., denounced efforts by President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the presidential election results.

The senator gave a lengthy analysis of Trump’s claims of election fraud, saying there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would put President-elect Joe Biden’s win in doubt.

“For President-Elect Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College victory to be overturned, President Trump would need to flip multiple states. But not a single state is in legal doubt,” Sasse wrote.

Sasse’s comments come as several Republican lawmakers have indicated they plan to contest the certification of Biden as the winner when Congress holds a joint session on Jan. 6.

Though the effort is doomed to fail, a faction of conservative House Republicans, led by Mo Brooks, R-Ala., have already said they will object to electoral votes from some battleground states that Biden won, such as Pennsylvania and Georgia.

On Wednesday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he would join the effort, ensuring that both chambers will need to debate and hold a vote on the issue.

Sasse said those were the actions of “ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage.”

The Nebraska senator, who has emerged as one of the more vocal critics of Trump in a party that is staunchly loyal to the president, warned that the effort amounts to pointing a “loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.” 

“We ought to be better than that. If we normalize this, we’re going to turn American politics into a Hatfields and McCoys endless blood feud – a house hopelessly divided,” he said.

– Matthew Brown

Trump to cut short Florida trip, return to White House

President Donald Trump is cutting short his holiday trip to Florida to return to Washington Thursday.

White House officials did ncite a reason for the change in plans by Trump, who traditionally hosts a black-tie New Year’s Eve celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Trump’s return comes as his demand for $2,000 stimulus checks for millions of Americans appears to be dead. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has tied the larger checks to two other provisions – eliminating legal protections for social media companies and creating a commission to study the 2020 election – that are widely opposed by Democrats.

Trump kept a low profile in Florida since arriving on Dec. 23 and has rarely been seen outside the golf course. Instead of providing a detailed schedule, the White House said only that he was working “tirelessly for the American people” and would take “many meetings and calls.”

– John Fritze

First senator joins GOP effort to challenge Electoral College results

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, says he will object to the Electoral College results next week when Congress meets to officially certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win over President Donald Trump, ensuring a doomed but dramatic congressional fight to overturn Biden’s win. 

Hawley, a close ally of the president, is the first senator to announce he would back the effort on Jan. 6, ensuring both chambers will debate and be forced to vote on whether to overturn Biden’s election win. A faction of conservative House Republicans, led by Mo. Brooks, R-Ala., have already said they will object to electoral votes from some battleground states that Biden won, such as Pennsylvania ad Georgia.

Biden won the Dec. 14 Electoral College vote 306-232.

Trump has repeatedly called on congressional Republicans to step up and object on his behalf, but many have acknowledged Biden’s win. Some went as far to call the effort to object meaningless.

The effort, however, is doomed to fail in the Democratic-controlled House and even in the Senate, where Republican leaders led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have warned colleagues not to challenge the Electoral College vote.

– Christal Hayes and Joey Garrison

$2,000 stimulus checks likely dead

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled Wednesday that the effort to increase stimulus checks in the COVID relief package to $2,000 is likely dead.

President Donald Trump has urged an increase in the size of the checks and the House this week passed a bill to boost them to $2,000.

But McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday the proposal for bigger stimulus payment has “no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate.”

The Senate majority leader has introduced a bill Tuesday that includes two other Trump demands that Democrats are not likely to support. The measure would increase checks to $2,000 but also repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants certain legal protections for big tech companies, and establish a commission to study election fraud.

The commission would examine many of the concerns Trump has raised since losing the election and make recommendations to Congress. The president hasn’t provided evidence to back his claims, and the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud in last month’s election.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said there was no way Democrats would support the legislation and it stood no chance of reaching Trump’s desk. Democrats called on McConnell to pass a standalone proposal on stimulus checks.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Department is has begun issuing the $600 payments. The department said payments would begin for Americans with direct deposit set up through the Internal Revenue Service as soon as Tuesday night. Paper checks will begin to be mailed Wednesday.

McConnell’s bill hasn’t been scheduled for a vote, and it’s unclear whether it will receive the backing of Senate Republicans. Some have voiced support for increasing relief checks, but most are opposed.

Holding a vote on the measure would put Republican senators on the spot to either reject Trump’s demands for increased checks or relent on long-held objections to adding to the debt. 

— Christal Hayes and staff reports

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