Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the Capitol. After months of stalemate, congressional leaders were on the verge of cementing a stimulus deal.

Transition Highlights: Stimulus Deal Appears Within Reach, but Final Product Could Limit Biden in the Future


Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

As they closed in on a $900 billion stimulus deal, top Democrats and Republicans in Congress haggled on Thursday over a handful of remaining issues that could help determine how much power President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will have to act once he takes office to provide additional help for the sputtering economy.

Democrats were making a last-ditch effort to provide emergency aid to states, which they argued was critical to helping states weather the pandemic and avoid huge layoffs and cuts in services that could reverberate through the economy. Republicans were working to limit the power of the Federal Reserve to bail out businesses, municipalities or other institutions in the future.

Both disputes could carry heavy consequences for Mr. Biden, who will take office facing a cascade of fiscal crises in states around the country — which will be even more dire if Congress fails to provide at least some assistance now. And reining in the Fed’s lending authority could close off crucial avenues for his administration to stave off more economic havoc.

With Congress running out of time to cement a stimulus agreement and avoid a government shutdown on Friday, leaders remained optimistic that they would ultimately find a resolution, although their wrangling could bleed into the weekend.

“We made some progress this morning,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, told reporters at the Capitol. Asked if a final agreement would be announced by the end of Thursday, she said: “We’ll let you know.”

The plan under discussion would provide a dose of badly needed relief after months of stalled negotiations and amid a national public health crisis that has killed more than 307,000 people.

That includes a new round of stimulus payments, probably $600, to American adults; a temporary infusion of enhanced federal jobless aid of around $300 per week; and rental and food assistance. It would also revive a loan program for struggling small businesses and provide funding for schools, hospitals and the distribution of the vaccine.

With plans to merge a final agreement with a sweeping omnibus government funding package, Congress may have to approve another stopgap spending measure to avert a government shutdown on Friday while negotiators put the finishing touches on the stimulus deal. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, warned Republicans on Wednesday that they should prepare to remain in Washington through the weekend.

“I hope it wouldn’t be more than 24 or 48 hours,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, said of a possible stopgap bill, adding, “I really think this is coming to a close.”

Ms. Pelosi, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, spoke late Wednesday evening to continue ironing out differences over the measure, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi said, and their aides continued talks throughout the day on Thursday.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., future First Lady Jill Biden, Hunter Biden, his son, and wife Melissa Cohen, in Wilimington, Del., on election night.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday defended his son, Hunter Biden, who is under federal investigation for tax fraud, saying that accusations of wrongdoing against him were “kind of foul play.”

“I’m not concerned about any accusations that have been made against him. It’s used to get to me,” Mr. Biden said in an interview with late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert.

“I think it’s kind of foul play,” Mr. Biden said in a clip of the interview that CBS released on Thursday afternoon, several hours before it was scheduled to air on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He added, “It is what it is.”

Last week Hunter Biden disclosed that the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware is investigating him for tax fraud. The two-year investigation began as an inquiry into potential money laundering crimes, according to multiple federal officials familiar with the investigation. F.B.I. agents were unable to gather enough evidence to move forward with the money laundering aspect of the case, they said.

“I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisers,” the younger Mr. Biden said in a statement.

Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Biden transition team, said that Mr. Biden was not calling the investigation itself foul play. Mr. Bates shared a transcript of the interaction on Twitter that showed Mr. Biden made his statement after Mr. Colbert had asked him how he felt about his son being used as “a cudgel” against him.

The investigation into Mr. Biden’s son has already resulted in political fallout. President Trump was furious to learn that Attorney General William P. Barr kept the investigation secret in the run up to the election — behavior that complies with Justice Department policies.

Mr. Trump said on Twitter that more people might have supported his party in the election had they known about the inquiry, and his fury over the lack of disclosure contributed to Mr. Barr’s announcement that he will step down as attorney general effective next week.

The inquiry has also complicated Mr. Biden’s pick for attorney general, who will need to oversee the investigation. It seemed this month that Doug Jones, the former Democratic Senator from Alabama, was a top pick for the job, based largely on his close relationship with Mr. Biden.

Now such close ties could make for a difficult confirmation process, as senators are sure to grill the nominee on his or her ability to prevent the White House from influencing the investigation. Republicans are already calling for the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the investigation and protect it from political interference.

The president-elect’s own comments could also complicate matters for whomever he chooses to run the department. Earlier this week Mr. Biden defended his son, telling a reporter that he was “confident” that his son did nothing wrong.

In the interview with Mr. Colbert, the elder Mr. Biden said that his son is “the smartest man I know in pure intellectual capacity.” He added: “As long as he’s good, we’re good.”

Representative Deb Haaland, Democrat of New Mexico, is a citizen of Laguna Pueblo, one of the country’s 574 federally recognized tribes.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has chosen Representative Deb Haaland, Democrat of New Mexico, to lead the Interior Department, his transition team announced Thursday, a move that would make history: If confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first Native American appointed to a cabinet secretary position.

Ms. Haaland would not only head the federal agency most responsible for the well-being of the nation’s 1.9 million Indigenous people, but also would play a central role in implementing Mr. Biden’s ambitious environmental and climate change agenda. As head of the agency that oversees 500 million acres of public lands, including national parks, oil and gas drilling sites, and endangered species habitats, she would be entrusted to restore federal protections to vast swaths of land and water that the Trump administration has opened up to drilling, mining, logging and construction.

In addition, she would oversee the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, which manages the financial assets of American Indians held in trust.

“It would be an honor to move the Biden-Harris climate agenda forward, help repair the government to government relationship with Tribes that the Trump Administration has ruined, and serve as the first Native American cabinet secretary in our nation’s history,” Ms. Haaland said in a statement.

Ms. Haaland is a citizen of Laguna Pueblo, one of the country’s 574 federally recognized tribes.

Historians and tribal leaders said that appointing a Native American to the role would be a milestone in the United States’ scarred history with its Native people.

Ms. Haaland was not seen as Mr. Biden’s initial choice to run the agency. In the days after the election, he was believed to have been leaning toward Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico and longtime friend who has spent his career pushing to conserve wilderness, according people close to the transition team.

But a coalition of Congressional Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Native Americans and Hollywood celebrities kicked off a campaign urging Mr. Biden to appoint Ms. Haaland. Actor and environmental advocate Mark Ruffalo posted a video on Twitter with tribal leaders speaking in support of Ms. Haaland. And the Lakota People’s Law Action Center launched a petition, supported by more than 120 tribal leaders, in support of Ms. Haaland.

Cedric Richmond attended a campaign rally in Georgia on Tuesday for two Senate candidates where Mr. Biden delivered remarks.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Representative Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana and one of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s closest advisers, has tested positive for the coronavirus and has started a 14-day quarantine, a spokeswoman for the transition said Thursday evening.

Mr. Richmond, who has been a lawmaker since 2011, is the first announced member of Mr. Biden’s White House staff to test positive. He is slated to join Mr. Biden’s administration as a senior adviser and director of the Office of Public Engagement. A rapid test for the virus on Wednesday was positive, the transition said, and a more precise test on Thursday was also positive.

Kate Bedingfield, the spokeswoman, said in a statement that Mr. Richmond, who developed symptoms of Covid-19 on Wednesday, has not been in close contact with Mr. Biden in recent days despite having attended a campaign rally in Georgia on Tuesday for two Senate candidates where Mr. Biden delivered remarks.

Mr. Biden tested negative for the virus on Thursday, Ms. Bedingfield said.

“The protocols we have followed are consistent with protocols we followed during the campaign to ensure the safety of everyone involved,” she said in the statement. “We take all precautions possible, follow the best guidance of public health officials and remain committed to transparency and information sharing when positive tests do arise.”

Photos of Mr. Cedric from the event in Georgia show him standing close to other staff and advisers of the campaign, and in one shot, he is seen bumping forearms with another person. He is wearing a mask and is outside in all of the images.

The transition said that Mr. Richmond had spent less than 15 minutes close to Mr. Biden on Tuesday, but that the interactions “happened in open air, were masked and totaled less than 15 consecutive minutes, the C.D.C.’s time frame for close contact.”

She said two people who drove the car that Mr. Richmond traveled in for the campaign event have been notified of his positive test. In addition to the two-week quarantine, Mr. Richmond will also have to receive two negative PCR tests — the more precise tests — before returning to work on the transition, she said.

Ms. Bedingfield said that neither Jon Ossoff or the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the two Democratic candidates at the rally on Tuesday, nor their staff, were in close contact with Mr. Richmond. She added that other local officials at the event also did not have close contact with him.

The announcement from the transition team about Mr. Richmond’s positive test contrasted sharply with the approach taken by President Trump and his aides over the past several months as several Covid-19 outbreaks swept through the West Wing.

Mr. Trump’s White House shared little information about who was infected and when they were tested, often citing health privacy rules. One outbreak infected several members of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff. Another, at the end of September, infected lawmakers, journalists and the president himself.

The White House physician and top aides to the president did not initially inform the public of Mr. Trump’s positive test and released limited information about Mr. Trump’s condition, even after he was taken by helicopter to the hospital. Several aides to Mr. Trump, including Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, continued working after being exposed to colleagues who tested positive. Ms. McEnany later tested positive herself.

The Commerce, Treasury and Defense Departments, as well as other federal agencies, were the targets of Russian hackers.
Credit…Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock

Federal officials issued an urgent warning on Thursday that the hackers who had penetrated deep into government systems also used other malware — and different attack techniques — that posed “a grave risk to the federal government.”

The warning from the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity arm gave no details but confirmed suspicions voiced earlier this week by FireEye, a cybersecurity firm, that there were almost certainly other pathways that had been found for attack.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. quickly released a statement stressing the gravity of the breach and promising strong action on cybersecurity, including possible retaliation against foreign attackers.

“A good defense isn’t enough,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “We need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyber attacks in the first place.”

He added: “We will do that by, among other things, imposing substantial costs on those responsible for such malicious attacks, including in coordination with our allies and partners. Our adversaries should know that, as President, I will not stand idly by in the face of cyber assaults on our nation.”

The discovery vastly complicates the challenge for federal investigators as they search through computer networks used by the Treasury, the Defense Department, the Commerce Department and nuclear laboratories, trying to assess the damage and understand what the hackers had stolen.

But it also raises the possibility that the goal of the hackers went beyond espionage, and that the Russian actors, once inside the systems, could alter data or use their access to take command of computer systems that run industrial processes. So far, though, there has been no evidence of that happening.

The alert also ramped up the urgency of government warnings. After playing the incident down — President Trump has said nothing and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo deflected the hacking as one of the many daily attacks on the federal government, suggesting China was the biggest offender — the new alert left no doubt the assessment had changed.

Days ago, Microsoft and FireEye took emergency action, shutting down the channels through which attackers penetrated the networks. But that action is of no help to those organizations that have already been penetrated, since the first software was corrupted with malware in March.

Voters line up to cast early ballots in Atlanta on Tuesday.
Credit…Lynsey Weatherspoon for The New York Times

Federal judges in Georgia moved on Thursday to dismiss two separate efforts to curb the use of absentee ballots in the state in advance of next month’s highly anticipated runoff elections for Georgia’s two Senate seats.

Around midday, Judge J. Randal Hall, of the Federal District Court in Augusta, tossed out a case brought by state Republicans challenging the early processing of absentee ballots, the use of unattended drop boxes and Georgia’s current practice of verifying signatures on ballots.

In a terse, two-page order tossing out the case, Judge Hall, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote that the plaintiffs — a local voter, two would-be presidential electors had Mr. Trump won and the 12th Congressional Republican Committee — tried to change the rules of the election at “halftime” and said that any allegations of fraud in the use of absentee ballots was merely speculative at this point.

A few hours later, Judge Eleanor L. Ross, of the Federal District Court in Atlanta, dismissed a similar suit contesting the processing of absentee ballots during the runoff elections. It was brought by the Georgia Republican Party and the campaigns of the two Republican candidates in the race, Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

In her ruling, Judge Ross, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, said that the plaintiffs had managed to articulate only “generalized” and “speculative” injuries that they would face if the procedures for handling absentee ballot were left in place and therefore had no standing to bring their suit.

The suits, which were dismissed on Georgia’s fourth day of early voting, marked a pivot in the strategy of the Republican Party, which has largely moved away from contesting the results of the presidential election to seeking legal advantages in the state’s runoff races for the Senate seats. One more suit, which challenges the use of absentee ballots in Georgia, is still alive.

Nearly a year after the coronavirus outbreak, the full impact of the pandemic on the U.S. economy remains unclear. Some of the most obvious indicators are in conflict: As some companies report enormous profits, the number of unemployed Americans is nearly 10 million more than it was in February, and hundreds of thousands are expected to have filed new unemployment claims last week.

The Times interviewed a range of economists and experts who suggested looking at eight measures to understand the state of the economy that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will face on Jan. 20.

  • Wages: That wages and salaries have bounced back quickly is a sign that things are on track for a rapid recovery. During the last recession — which Mr. Biden and then-President Barack Obama inherited in 2009 — drops of wages and salaries took years to recover.

  • Unemployment for Black men: The current crisis has had a particularly negative, persistent impact on employment for Black men, who face an unemployment rate of 11.3 percent, five percentage points higher than the unemployment rate for white men.

  • Long-term unemployment: The number of Americans who are still in the labor force but have been unemployed for more than six months has been increasing since April. A sociologist with a left-leaning think tank said the rise in long-term unemployment, coupled with the fact that millions of workers have left the labor market altogether since February, indicated “a very serious problem in connecting people who are able to produce needed goods and services with the opportunity to do so.”

  • Housing costs: Home prices and rents have risen during the pandemic. But while the rising costs have strained low-income renters, the rise in housing prices typically signals strong economic growth.

  • New businesses: Even as countless businesses have been forced to close over the course of the pandemic, the increase in business applications over the last year is a sign that the economy may be adapting rather than totally seizing.

  • Spending on goods: Though the pandemic has altered Americans’ day-to-day lives, it hasn’t halted their spending as much as some feared it would. Consumption has shifted toward goods over services — buying alcohol from stores instead of from bars, for example — bucking a generational trend toward a service economy.

  • Food scarcity — More families across the country are unable to meet their basic needs for housing and food security, according to a Census Bureau survey.

Vice President Mike Pence will be vaccinated at the White House on Friday.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Friday, according to the White House, a move that the Trump administration says is intended to “promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and build confidence among the American people.”

Mr. Pence leads the White House’s coronavirus task force, and his inoculation will be a high-profile move for the administration amid a broader push to encourage Americans to get vaccinated.

The event, just days into the nation’s ambitious mass vaccination campaign, will take place at the White House, and the Pences will be joined by Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who will also receive the vaccine.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on Tuesday that he would recommend that President Trump and Mr. Pence get the vaccine, even though the president has already had Covid-19.

Dr. Fauci also said that it was his “strong recommendation” that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris receive a Covid-19 vaccine quickly.

“For security reasons, I really feel strongly that we should get them vaccinated as soon as we possibly can,” he said on “Good Morning America.” “You want him fully protected as he enters into the presidency in January.”

Mr. Biden is expected to get vaccinated as soon as next week, a transition official said. The president-elect has said he will receive the vaccine in public.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the line, but I want to make sure that we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday.

Dr. Fauci, who is 79, has said that he will also be vaccinated publicly, to show his confidence in the vaccine. Three former presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — have all said they are willing to be vaccinated on camera.

At a briefing on Tuesday, Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Trump would “receive the vaccine as soon as his medical team determines it’s best,” but that he was not yet scheduled to do so.

For some elected officials and public figures, getting vaccinated may be a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t proposition. On the one hand, doing so publicly could be useful as a show of confidence to the public. But with the vaccine in scarce supply, some in positions of power don’t want to be accused of jumping the line.

After a hand recount of 16,000 ballots cast in Antrim County, Mich., the results for president were essentially unchanged.
Credit…Samuel Corum for The New York Times

A hand recount on Thursday in a small Michigan County that had been a hotbed of unfounded claims of voter fraud left the results essentially unchanged from what election officials found when the vote was certified last month.

After a six-hour recount of nearly 16,000 votes cast for president in Antrim County in northern Michigan, President Trump picked up 11 votes and President-elect Joseph R Biden Jr. lost one from their totals. The final result: Mr. Trump won by a 9,759 to 5,959-vote margin.

“It’s very typical of what we find in a hand recount of ballots,” said Lori Bourbonais of the Michigan Department of State. “It is normal to find a difference of one or two votes per precinct.”

Final results showed Mr. Biden won the state by more than 155,000 votes, and the Electoral College formally voted on Monday, affirming his national victory.

Antrim County has become a focus of conspiracy theories of election fraud after a human error in the local clerk’s office initially caused the vote totals to flip on election night, giving Mr. Biden the win over Mr. Trump in the Republican stronghold.

The error was caught the day after the election and fixed before the election results were certified.

Supporters of Mr. Trump latched onto the fact that Dominion Voting Service tabulators were used in Antrim County and claimed that the initial mistake was evidence of widespread fraud in communities that use the same systems. The mistake in Antrim was caused when some ballots had to be reprinted to add additional school board candidates and the corresponding software wasn’t updated to reflect the change.

The hand recount and audit by county and state officials is just one of many that will be done throughout Michigan, including an audit of results in Wayne County and its biggest city of Detroit, where Mr. Trump and his allies have filed lawsuits to try and get the results thrown out. Those lawsuits have been dismissed by local, state and federal judges who have said that the Republican claims of improper behavior in the handling of absentee ballots were not credible.

After the recount, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, said the results should put an end to specious claims of election fraud. “Now it’s time for the disinformation campaigns to end, and for all leaders to unequivocally affirm the Nov election was secure, accurate & fair,” she said on Twitter.

Elections are not intended to be open-ended affairs, but 2020’s might be a different story.
Credit…Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Long after the final vote had been cast, long after the verdict of the electorate was clear, a curious thing began happening recently within the space-time perplexity of Trump-era politics: At last, it started to feel as if the election might be over, really and truly.

The 2016 election.

Such closure was never a given.

For the balance of President Trump’s term, that first contest has hovered, like a James Comey-size ghost, over every inch of the proceedings — the incumbent recounting his triumph at any opportunity, investigators combing through the campaign that got him there, Democrats organizing their resistance (and consistent internal squabbling) around questions of how they managed to lose in the first place.

Those questions have faded, mostly. New questions, bleak ones, have replaced them.

What if 2020 is doomed to become the new election season that won’t quit? What if the post-2016 churn of revisitation and recrimination was not a one-off but a precedent?

Of course, any election cycle is important, its ramifications felt (and its particulars often re-examined) for years to come. But political races are not intended to be open-ended in a high-functioning democracy. “Four more years” is generally understood as a chant about governance, not campaign relitigation.

Official benchmarks of finality, like the affirmation of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory this week from the Electoral College, are at once essential and insufficient in moving the country along.

The pomp and platform of incumbency cannot be replicated. Time lurches on. And while Mr. Trump might well use the months ahead to tease a possible 2024 campaign as he rails against the phantom unfairness of his 2020 defeat, perhaps some would-be rivals in the next Republican primary will eventually show less deference if the alternative is waiting until 2028 for a shot at the presidency.

The persistence of the pandemic also seems likely to feed a feeling of lingering, suspending Americans in the thrall of 2020’s grimmest feature.

“I look forward to 2020 ending,” said Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist who worked on Jeb Bush’s 2016 bid and the 2018 House elections, “sometime in early 2025.”

Lawmakers in the House and the Senate introduced bills on Thursday to establish a Justice Department office to help ensure that poor and underrepresented people have access to legal representation and legal aid.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

As President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. decides who he will nominate for attorney general, Democrats have signaled that they want the incoming leader to make criminal justice reform a top priority for the Justice Department.

Lawmakers in the House and the Senate introduced bills on Thursday to establish a Justice Department office to help ensure that poor and underrepresented people have access to legal representation and legal aid. The Office of Access to Justice would also advise the incoming attorney general on how the federal government can address systemic inequities that create vastly different criminal justice outcomes for the rich and the poor.

If passed, the bills would reverse a decision by the Trump administration to shutter a similar office that was established in 2010 to promote more fair outcomes for indigent people who are accused of crimes and other offenses.

But with only a few days left in the current legislative session, the bills are seen by some lawmakers as a way for Democrats to signal that criminal justice reform needs to be a top priority for the incoming attorney general.

“The Biden-Harris Administration must make this office a top agency priority,” Representative Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said in a statement.

The legislation introduced by Mr. Nadler and by Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, formally obliges the department to consider equal access to justice in its policy, enforcement and funding decisions. It also expands the office to include some decision making power over use of federal funds, and allows federal money to be used to assist victims of crime and women who are seeking to leave abusive relationships.

“It’s clear that our justice system is too often weighted against those without adequate resources to navigate it,” Mr. Murphy said in a statement. “2020 has shown us just how deep systemic racism runs across all our institutions, especially in our justice system, and it’s critical we do more to address it.”

The bills have the support of a broad coalition of more than 40 right and left leaning groups, including the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for American Progress, the Christian Legal Society and the R Street Institute, who have all signed a letter in support.

The previous incarnation of the office was as the place within the executive branch that served as a voice for low income and other underserved communities, said Maha Jweied, the former acting director of the Office for Access to Justice.

“Sitting within the primary law enforcement agency for the federal government allowed us to have discussions across the executive branch about the interests and legal needs of people without means,” said Ms. Jweied in an interview.

She said that the Biden administration will need to rebuild that expertise within the Justice Department, as almost all of the staff members involved in the original office have left.

The threatening note was taped to the back door of the Democratic Party headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla.

“We want blood,” the note said. “You lost the election. Redress our grievances now or we will be back later.”

It had been printed on a copy of a webpage from the party’s site that shows the names and faces of its officers. The threat was signed, “We the people.”

“It was kind of freaky,” said Daniel Henry, the chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, who found the note on Monday. President Trump won Florida but narrowly lost Duval County, which includes Jacksonville and is one of Florida’s swing counties, to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Mr. Henry reported the note to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the incident. Security camera footage showed a man approaching the back of the office, which is in a strip shopping center, through trees and brush at around noon on Saturday, Mr. Henry said. The man wore a gas mask and gloves and carried the note in a plastic bag before taping it to the door.

“That kind of took it from, ‘This could be someone playing a joke,’ to ‘Oh, this could be something more serious,’” Mr. Henry said.

Earlier this month, a voting system official in Georgia denounced the violent threats being leveled at elections workers and demanded that President Trump condemn them. “Someone is going to get hurt,” George Sterling, a Republican, said. “Someone is going to get shot. Someone is going to get killed.”

In Jacksonville, Mr. Henry said the note he found made him think of what had happened in Georgia. “This is the first time we’ve ever had to deal with anything like this,” Mr. Henry said.

He added, “This is kind of out of the ordinary, obviously, but with the rhetoric that’s going on with the election right now, I hate to say it’s not surprising. But it’s a first.”

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

Dominion Voting Systems sent a letter to the former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell demanding that she retract false statements about their voting machines.
Credit…Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

Dominion Voting Systems sent a blistering letter on Wednesday night to the right-wing lawyer Sidney Powell, demanding that she publicly retract her “wild, knowingly baseless and false accusations” about the company’s voting machines, which have repeatedly found themselves at the heart of conspiracy theories surrounding the election.

The letter, a preparatory step to formal legal action, accused Ms. Powell of engaging in “reckless disinformation” about Dominion’s machines at news conferences, rallies in support of President Trump and on conservative media outlets like Fox News, Newsmax and Rush Limbaugh’s radio show.

Ms. Powell has also filed unsuccessful federal lawsuits seeking to overturn the election in four key swing states, lodging claims that were “predicated on lies,” the letter says, and that have “endangered Dominion’s business and the lives of its employees.”

In the wake of Ms. Powell’s allegations, Dominion has come under fire from the president and his supporters, who have maintained without evidence that the company’s machines switched votes from Mr. Trump to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. On Monday, John Poulos, Dominion’s chief executive, told Michigan lawmakers investigating the election that the company had been the victim of “a dangerous and reckless disinformation campaign aimed at sowing doubt and confusion.”

In its letter, Dominion demanded that Ms. Powell publicly disavow several false claims she has repeated in the past few weeks. She has maintained, for instance, that Dominion machines and their software were created in Venezuela to help the country’s now-deceased former president, Hugo Chavez, win elections. But Dominion insists that it has no connection to Venezuela, to Mr. Chavez or for that matter, as the letter notes, to “Big Foot or the Loch Ness monster.”

Dominion also demanded that Ms. Powell retract false statements she has made suggesting that the company paid kickbacks to officials in Georgia for “no-bid contracts” to use its machines and that it manipulated votes in “an effort to rig the 2020 election.”

Dominion noted that Ms. Powell never mentioned her accusations in any of her court filings, depriving the company of the opportunity to legally refute them. “While you are entitled to your own opinions, Ms. Powell,” the company wrote, “you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Ms. Powell did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Dominion’s letter.

Not long after the election, the president embraced Ms. Powell, a former federal prosecutor who had represented his onetime national security adviser Michael T. Flynn in a criminal case stemming from the Russia investigation. But after she appeared with Rudolph W. Giuliani, who led Mr. Trump’s postelection legal campaign, at a bizarre news conference where she spouted unproven conspiracies about Dominion, Mr. Trump distanced himself from her and she was left to file lawsuits on her own.

All of the suits were dismissed by federal judges. One said Ms. Powell’s claims were based on “nothing but speculation and conjecture,” another that the “expert reports” she submitted reached “implausible conclusions.” In one case in Michigan, lawyers for the City of Detroit have served her with papers that are the first step toward asking a judge to formally sanction her.

Vacant retail shops in Columbus, Ohio. The rate of jobless claims has been rising as coronavirus cases remain high across the country.
Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Rising Covid-19 cases are taking a steep toll on economic activity, battering the labor market even as new vaccines offer a ray of hope for next year.

The number of Americans filing initial claims for unemployment insurance remained high last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. After dropping earlier in the fall, claims have moved higher, and they remain at levels that dwarf the pace of past recessions.

There were 935,000 new claims for state benefits, compared with 956,000 the previous week, while 455,000 filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for part-time workers, the self-employed and others ordinarily ineligible for jobless benefits.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the number of new state claims was 885,000, an increase of 23,000 from the previous week.

Consumer caution, coupled with new restrictions on business activity like indoor dining, has pummeled the hospitality industry, lodging, airlines and other service businesses. The debut of a coronavirus vaccine this week offers the prospect of relief, but until mass inoculations begin next year, the economy will remain under pressure.

“Businesses are closing, and as a result, we are seeing job losses mount — and that’s exactly what we were fearful of going into the winter,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “It’s going to be a challenging few months, no doubt.”

At the end of November, more than 20 million workers were collecting unemployment benefits under state or federal programs, Labor Department data indicates.

With the weakening economy as the backdrop, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress continued talks on Wednesday on another pandemic relief bill, something that economists have warned is overdue. Without action, two key programs for unemployed workers will expire this month, cutting off benefits to millions.

“We are not moving in the right direction,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “With the looming expiration of benefits, it’s even more worrisome.”

Data released on Wednesday showed a 1.1 percent drop in retail sales in November, a disappointing start to the crucial holiday season. Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services, expects economic growth to be weak for the next few months before picking up later in 2021.

“Until we get a lot of people vaccinated, the economy will face a difficult test,” he said. “I don’t know if we will see an outright contraction or the loss of jobs, but the pace of improvement will slow markedly.”





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