Please note this is the final 2020 edition of the CBS News Trail Markers. Thank you to all of the members of the political unit, correspondents, digital reporters and many others for their daily contributions and reporting over the last year and a half. And a very big thank you to Ellen Uchimiya and Caroline Linton for editing this every night and to Lex Harris and CBSNews.com for giving it a home.
In his third appearance since election night, President Trump talked about his administration’s work to lower the price of prescription drugs through regulations and argued its efforts could save Americans up to 30% in drug costs. He announced two new rules aimed at helping seniors, in particular.
He also announced an end to the unapproved drugs initiative, which the administration says creates artificial monopolies for some older drugs. The president said that his administration would prevent exorbitant raises in drug prices and possibly save Americans billions of dollars.
CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that the president also took the time to attack Big Pharma and “their army of lawyers, lobbyists, and bought-and-paid-for politicians,” while also claiming victory in the 2020 general election. CBS News has projected President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the contest.
“Big Pharma ran millions of dollars of negative advertisements against me during the campaign, which I won by the way but you know, you’ll find that out — almost 74 million votes,” said Mr. Trump during the briefing.
CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga notes that it remains to be seen whether the incoming Biden administration would accept the Trump administration measures on prescription drug costs, something that may not have been lost on the president, despite his failure to formally concede the 2020 election.
“I just hope they keep it,” President Trump said in an apparent reference to the Biden administration. “I hope they have the courage to keep it, because the powerful drug lobby, big Pharma, is putting pressure on people like you wouldn’t believe.”
Sganga added that the president again alleged that Pfizer and others developing coronavirus vaccines retaliated against the administrations’ policy changes by delaying the vaccine rollout, ultimately impacting the election. He did not back this up with any evidence.
The CBS News White House Unit reports that White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany briefed reporters for the first time in roughly seven weeks during a 15-minute briefing on Friday afternoon.
In what was also her first briefing since the election, McEnany was asked about the administration’s refusal to coordinate with the Biden transition team. CBS News White House associate producer Gabrielle Ake reports that McEnany refuted Mr. Biden’s previous comments suggesting that by withholding information, the Trump administration is hurting Americans. McEnany also said the president has not instructed her to not work with transition officials and that the GSA would make the call to work on transition “at the right moment,” citing the Transition Act.
PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN
President-elect Joe Biden celebrated his 78th birthday on Friday by meeting with Democratic Congressional leaders, according to CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson.
It was the first time Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have met in person with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer since the general election. “In my Oval Office, mi casa, you casa,” Biden told the Democratic leaders. “I hope we’re going to spend a lot of time together.”
As Georgia completed its statewide certification of the 2020 general election results Friday, CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that Vice President Pence visited the Peach State to help campaign for GOP Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler ahead of their highly anticipated Senate runoff races in January.
Addressing a crowd of supporters, Pence said that the president wanted him to visit because they need Georgia to send Perdue and Loeffler back to a GOP majority, because it could be “the last line of defense” for all the administration has done “to defend this nation, revive our economy and preserve the God-given liberties that we hold dear.”
Pence also vowed that the Trump campaign would “keep fighting until every legal vote is counted” and “keep fighting until every illegal vote is thrown out.”
Now that the state has certified the 2020 general election results, the Trump campaign has two business days to request a recount, which would be conducted using scanning machines.
As President-elect Joe Biden lays the groundwork for his transition to the presidency, President Trump still refuses to acknowledge his defeat and is instead looking to the courts to rescue his chances for a second term in the White House, though in most cases unsuccessfully.
Since Election Day, the number of lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign and Republican voters in an effort to halt the certification of election results has swelled to more than a dozen, with the legal battles focused on a handful of key battleground states where Mr. Trump lost. The president continues to claim the cases provide him a pathway to victory over Mr. Biden, but they involve too few ballots for him to close the president-elect’s 5.5 million-vote lead or change the outcome of a state’s race. Mr. Biden secured 306 electoral votes to Mr. Trump’s 232.
Harvard Law School professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos told CBSN in an interview Monday, “There have been something like 30 or 40 of these lawsuits filed in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, and so on. To this point, dozens of defeats have piled up for the Trump campaign.”
On Monday, four different cases brought by voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia who sought to exclude some counties from being included in state certification of the election were voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiffs. All four voter groups were represented by conservative elections lawyer James Bopp, Jr., who declined to say why the cases were dismissed.
He told the Detroit Free Press in an email, “Sorry because of atty. client privilege and because I do not telegraph my next moves, I cannot comment.” The cases were all dismissed without prejudice, so they may be revised and refiled.
The increasingly steep climb to victory hasn’t stopped Mr. Trump from making unsubstantiated assertions that he won the election or claiming it was rigged against him, despite the absence of any evidence to support his allegations. Instead, the president has beefed up his legal team, spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani, and suggested more lawsuits are coming.
CBS News digital reporter Melissa Quinn takes a look HERE at the current legal fights being waged by the president and Republicans in the courts, and where they each stand.
From Election Day through the end of the year, ahead of the Georgia Senate runoffs on January 5, CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice reports that more than $170 million is slated to be spent on television and radio ads in the Georgia Senate runoff races according to Kantar/CMAG data.
The massive investment in paid advertising comes as control of the Senate hangs in the balance, where a pick-up of two Senate seats by Democrats would tilt the Senate slightly in their favor, a 50-50 tie, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking any ties.
Leading the way on spending is Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, who is slated to invest more than $40 million for the runoff. She’s followed by Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff — who is challenging Republican Senator David Perdue. Ossoff is scheduled to spend nearly $38 million and Democrat Reverend Rafael Warnock — who is challenging Loeffler — has placed at least $33 million in advertising. Perdue is expected to spend at least $27 million on ads as of now according to the recent tracking.
Other big spenders between November 3 and the runoff include the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee with more than $5.6 million, Republican Super PAC American Crossroads with at least $4.7 million, the Mitch McConnell-affiliated Super PAC Senate Leadership Fund with $4.6 million and the National Republican Senatorial Committee with at least $4 million.
Currently, candidates and supporting groups are not spending on Facebook ads due to a post-general election ban on ads still in place by the social network.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
Former President Barack Obama took a light-hearted jab Thursday at President Donald Trump, who has refused to concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden, reports CBS News digital reporter Sophie Lewis. Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel asked Mr. Obama what might happen if an unnamed person — presumably Mr. Trump – were trying to hide in the White House.
“You know the White House well. You lived there for eight years. Are there places someone could hide? Like, if, say, they were going to be removed?” Kimmel asked the former president on his show Thursday. “There’s little cubby holes or anything we should know about?” “Well, I think we can always send the Navy SEALs in there to dig him out,” Mr. Obama replied, laughing.
Mr. Trump has refused to concede the election, even as state recounts have confirmed the outcome. He has continued to spread baseless claims of voter fraud and filed lawsuits in several battleground states. The Trump campaign has so far lost most of its lawsuits.
While there is no precedent for forcibly removing a president on Inauguration Day, Mr. Biden has said that he “is absolutely convinced they will escort him from the White House with great dispatch.”
The Trump administration has also denied Mr. Biden’s team access to crucial transition materials. Multiple sources told CBS News on Thursday that there is “marginal” backchannel communication between the transition team and Trump administration officials. Mr. Obama told Kimmel, “I wish the transition was going better, because we lose time during these crises.”
The former president compared the coronavirus crisis to the financial crisis he experienced as he entered his first term in 2009.
“When I came in, we were in the middle of a big crisis: the financial crisis,” Mr. Obama said. “George W. Bush — he and I had obviously big policy differences — but he’s a good man. He is a patriot. And he ordered everybody on his team to work seamlessly with us on the transition.”
He added that Mr. Bush “could not have been more gracious, could not have been more helpful. And that actually helped us be able to get a head start on trying to stem what could have been a great depression instead of a great recession.”
PRESIDENT TRUMP & THE GOP
Few Republicans have spoken out publicly against President Trump’s refusal to concede the election he definitively lost, as he and his legal team continue to promote claims of voter fraud they have not proven, reports CBS News digital politics reporter Grace Segers.
Mr. Trump’s campaign has launched lawsuits in several states won by President-elect Joe Biden alleging voting discrepancies, but nearly all of these challenges have been unsuccessful. This hasn’t stopped the president’s legal team from continuing to claim that fraud occurred.
In a rambling, often incoherent news conference on Thursday, the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani accused Democrats of trying to steal the election, though he presented no evidence for this. Giuliani and other attorneys have been unable to provide any evidence of fraud in several of their lawsuits, and many of the lawsuits do not allege fraud. Mr. Biden is projected to have won the election with 306 electoral votes, well beyond the necessary 270, and he won the popular vote by more than 5 million votes.
But a few Senate Republicans have spoken against Mr. Trump and his attorneys’ lies about the election. Senators Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse and Joni Ernst criticized the president for undermining Americans’ faith in the democratic process and refusing to provide evidence to back his politically motivated and false claims that the election was rigged.
“Having failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy before any court of law, the president has now resorted to overt pressure to state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election,” Romney said in a statement posted to Twitter. “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president.”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Friday certified President-elect Joe Biden’s win and the results of all the other races in the state, report CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell, CBS News digital politics reporter Grace Segers and digital editor Caroline Linton.
In a statement, Raffensperger said this “will affirm that all 159 counties have provided to the state the total votes tabulated for each state and federal candidate.” Now that the results have been certified, Mr. Trump has two business days to request another recount, since the results still show a margin of 0.5% or less.
If the Trump campaign does ask for another recount, it will be a machine recount. Georgia was one of five states Mr. Biden flipped from President Trump in 2016. Mr. Biden won the state by a margin of 0.3%. The state has not voted to send a Democrat to the White House since it backed Bill Clinton in 1992.
In a brief press conference Friday, Republican Governor Brian Kemp said he joined many “in backing a hand recount and urging a thorough investigation into any voting irregularities.”
Now, he said he’s encouraging Raffensperger to consider addressing concerns that some have regarding matching signatures and proposed that his office conduct a sample audit of signatures on the absentee ballot envelopes and compare those to the signatures on applications and on file at the secretary of state’s office.
Earlier in the day Mitchell joined CBSN anchor Anne-Marie Green to break down the completion of the state’s risk-limiting audit, which showed that the original machine count accurately portrayed President-elect Joe Biden as the winner in the state.
VotingWorks Executive Director Ben Adida said in a statement that “Georgia’s first statewide audit successfully confirmed the winner of the chosen contest and should give voters increased confidence in the results.”
The secretary of state’s office also noted that the highest error rate in any county recount during the manual audit was less than 1% and that most counties found no change in their final tally.
In a press conference Friday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said that while he believes the election results that his office reached are correct, he also believes the state’s election laws need to be reformed.
“I want to do everything I can to build trust in our electoral system,” said Raffensperger. “To that end, I want to work with the governor and legislators on legislation that improves our current system.” Specifically, he vowed to work with state legislators to create more secure measures for absentee ballots like the use of photo identification to replace signature matching. This comes on the heels of a civil complaint against Raffensperger that was dismissed Thursday, calling for absentee ballots from the 2020 general election to not be tabulated. Raffensperger also said that he would like to see legislation that allows for the state to intervene in counties that have systemic issues with administering elections and mentioned that the risk-limiting audit revealed that some counties hadn’t counted votes, which can’t be allowed to happen again.
Michigan’s top Republicans in the state legislature went to the White House to meet with President Trump on Friday, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and other Republicans from the state legislature attended the meeting.
President-elect Joe Biden is leading President Trump by more than 154,000 votes in Michigan.
“No matter the party, when you have an opportunity to meet with the President of the United States, of course you take it. I won’t apologize for that. In fact, I’m honored to speak with POTUS and proud to meet with him. And I look forward to our conversation,” Chatfield tweeted ahead of the gathering at the White House.
Democrats have expressed concerns about the meeting out of fear the President would pressure the state lawmakers to reverse the popular vote in Michigan. Bob Bauer, a legal adviser to the Biden campaign, called it “an abuse of office.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany didn’t provide details about the meeting, but told reporters it’s “not an advocacy meeting.”
A spokeswoman for Shirkey recently said, “Michigan law does not include a provision for the legislature to directly select electors or to award electors to anyone other than the person who received the most votes.”
Two weeks ago Chatfield tweeted, “whoever gets the most votes will win Michigan! Period. End of story.”
Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers is set to meet on Monday to discuss certifying the election results. The board has two Democrats and two Republicans. A majority of the members need to vote to certify the results.
Two Wisconsin counties began recounting votes on Friday, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. Earlier this week, the Trump campaign requested recounts in Dane County, home to Madison, and Milwaukee County.
In Dane County, the Trump campaign tried to throw out tens of thousands of absentee ballots, but this was rejected by election officials. The campaign said votes should be discarded from early in-person absentee voting, mail ballots that can’t be tied to written applications, absentee ballots where election workers wrote in a witness’ address and ballots from voters who said they were indefinitely confined.
All of those challenges were rejected 3-0 by the Dane County Board of Canvassers, except the indefinitely confined ballots, which was rejected by a 2-1 vote along party lines, with two Democrats saying those ballots should be counted. The Trump Campaign could challenge these ballots in a lawsuit.
Today is our final issue of Trail Markers of 2020. Thank you choosing us as a source of original reporting and analysis. Please click here to sign up for the Face the Nation newsletter and other breaking news alerts from CBS News.