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Friday September 17th, 2021 6:07PM

The Latest: Haaland a lead contender for interior secretary

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on President-elect Joe Biden (all times local):

3:40 p.m.

A New Mexico congresswoman is a lead contender to become President-elect Joe Biden’s interior secretary despite Democratic worry that her departure would leave them with a perilously thin majority in the House.

Rep. Deb Haaland, vice chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, is a member of New Mexico’s Pueblo of Laguna. She would be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department, whose duties include handling much of the federal government’s dealings with the nearly 600 federally recognized tribes.

Discussions with Haaland about the position are ongoing, according to a person familiar with the circumstances who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday.

Retiring Sen. Tom Udall, another New Mexico Democrat, has been among the other front-runners. And former Interior Department official Michael Connor is among other Native Americans believed to be under consideration.

Many tribal officials and others are solidly behind Haaland, pushing back at suggestions of a different Native American candidate for the Interior Department.

___

HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN'S TRANSITION TO THE WHITE HOUSE:

The Electoral College has decisively confirmed Joe Biden as the nation’s next president. Biden pointedly criticized President Donald Trump for threatening core principles of democracy even as he told Americans that their form of self-government ultimately “prevailed.”

Read more:

— In a first, leading Republicans call Biden president-elect

— Biden returns to Georgia as validator for Ossoff, Warnock

— Trump says Barr resigning, will leave before Christmas

— Under attack from Trump, institutions bend but don’t break

___

HERE'S WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON:

1:35 p.m.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany is describing Monday’s Electoral College vote confirming Joe Biden as the nation’s next president as just “one step in the constitutional process.”

McEnany’s assessment is the latest example of White House officials declining to accept Biden’s victory.

McEnany was asked Tuesday by reporters whether President Donald Trump now considers Biden to be the president-elect and whether he plans to invite him to the White House.

She declined to provide such an acknowledgement, saying “the president is still involved in ongoing litigation related to the election. Yesterday’s vote was one step in the constitutional process, so I will leave that to him and refer you to the campaign for more on that litigation.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday broke his silence on the winner of the presidency after the Electoral College vote of 306 for Biden and 232 for Trump. McConnell said, “The Electoral College has spoken.”

McEnany says she has not gotten the president’s reaction to McConnell.

___

1:30 p.m.

President-elect Joe Biden says he’s spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after the Electoral College affirmed his victory Monday.

Biden told reporters that he spoke by phone with the top Republican senator Tuesday. It comes ahead of Biden’s trip to Georgia to campaign for two Democratic Senate challengers, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. The Jan. 5 runoff elections in the state will determine Senate control and McConnell’s grip on power.

Biden said he’d spoken with other Republican lawmakers as well. The Electoral College vote on Monday broke weeks of GOP refusal to accept Biden’s Nov. 3 victory.

Biden told reporters he and McConnell “agreed to get together sooner than later.”

___

10:45 a.m.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has acknowledged for the first time that Joe Biden has been elected president.

The Kentucky Republican broke his silence on the Democrat’s November win after weeks in which he and other GOP leaders refused to contradict President Donald Trump’s fallacious declarations that he was the victor in an election marred by fraud.

McConnell made his remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday, a day after the Electoral College formally affirmed Biden’s victory. On Monday, several other top Senate Republicans said it was time to concede that Biden had won.

State and federal courts around the country have rejected cases filed by Trump alleging fraud. Trump has presented no evidence supporting his assertions, and state officials of both parties have said they lacked merit.

Attorney General William Barr and election officials nationwide have confirmed there was no widespread fraud in the election.

___

10:10 a.m.

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is back in the mix for a job in the Biden administration, including consideration for high-level diplomatic postings. That’s according to a person familiar with the matter who talked to The Associated Press.

The person says transition officials see a possible fit for a position in the administration, even in the face of fierce opposition to any Emanuel appointment by members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party because of his experience as a White House chief of staff during President Barack Obama’s administration. The person spoke Tuesday on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Emanuel is a former three-term congressman and two-term Chicago mayor. He had lobbied for the still-to-be-filled transportation secretary position.

A second person familiar with the matter told the AP last week that Emanuel’s chances of landing a top Cabinet post had become increasingly unlikely after he emerged as a source of controversy for President-elect Joe Biden, who had been considering Emanuel for transportation secretary.

Emanuel faced criticism during his time as mayor on policing in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods.

The Rev. Al Sharpton raised concerns about Emanuel during a meeting with Biden and other civil rights leaders. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York had publicly stated she opposes Emanuel having any role in a Biden administration.

___

By AP writer Aamer Madhani.

___

9:50 a.m.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to meet this week with his designated successor, Antony Blinken, in what could be the first face-to-face Cabinet-level transition contact between the outgoing Trump administration and President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming national security team.

Two people familiar with the plans say Pompeo and Blinken are tentatively scheduled to meet on Thursday at the State Department. Neither of the two people was authorized to discuss the matter publicly, and they spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity.

Word of the closed-door meeting comes just a day after the Electoral College certified Biden’s victory in November’s election even as President Donald Trump has still refused to accept the results.

Pompeo has been one of Trump’s strongest defenders in the administration and took criticism for saying shortly after the Nov. 3 vote that he was preparing for “a second Trump administration.” Pompeo’s decision to meet with Blinken reflects a growing acceptance among Republicans that Biden won the election and that Trump’s challenges to the result will fail.

Pompeo made a point when he was nominated to replace his fired predecessor, Rex Tillerson, to speak with and seek advice from all his living predecessors, including Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

___

By AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee.

___

8:40 a.m.

Two foreign leaders who had not congratulated President-elect Joe Biden have now done so. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Polish President Andrzej Duda congratulated Biden on Tuesday, a day after the Electoral College affirmed Biden’s win over President Donald Trump.

A Kremlin statement says Putin wishes Biden “every success” and expresses confidence Russia and the U.S. “can, despite the differences, really contribute to solving many problems and challenges that the world is currently facing.”

In a letter, Duda wishes Biden “a very successful term.”

Unlike other Western leaders, Putin and Duda had withheld their congratulations to Biden after his November election.

Duda is part of a conservative Polish leadership that stands accused by the European Union of eroding democracy. He’s been a strong ally of Trump and once suggested naming a military base “Fort Trump.” Duda received an endorsement from Trump in his own reelection campaign this year, with a last-minute invitation to the White House on the eve of the election.

___

7:30 a.m.

Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris should be vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible.

Speaking to ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday, Fauci said, “For security reasons, I really feel strongly that we should get them vaccinated as soon as we possibly can.” He adds he’d like to see Biden “fully protected as he enters into the presidency in January.”

Fauci says that while President Donald Trump probably still has antibodies to the virus that will protect him for at least several months, he should get the vaccine as well to be “doubly sure.” Trump was hospitalized with COVID-19 in early October.

Fauci says Vice President Mike Pence should get vaccinated, too. He says, “You still want to protect people who are very important to our country right now.”

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