Treasury warns Arizona it can’t use federal funds to undermine school mask requirements

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told Arizona’s governor on Tuesday that his state could not use federal funds to pay for programs aimed at undermining face mask requirements in schools, and said Arizona could lose funding if it did not change course.

In a letter to Governor Douglas Ducey, Adeyemo raised concerns about two new Arizona state programs funded under the coronavirus relief “American Rescue Plan” which he said would “undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Adeyemo’s letter comes a month after the U.S. Department of Education opened civil rights investigations to determine whether five states – Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah – that have banned schools from requiring masks are discriminating against students with disabilities.

One of the Arizona programs offers grants to school districts on condition they not require the use of face coverings during instructional hours. The second gives families a voucher of up to $7,000 per student to cover tuition or other educational costs at a new school that does not require face coverings if the student’s current school requires them.

Both programs tapped a $350 billion fund established under the American Rescue Plan to mitigate the fiscal effects of the COVID-19 emergency, which has killed over 700,000 people in the United States, Adeyemo said in his letter.

“A program or service that imposes conditions on participation or acceptance of the service that would undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 or discourage compliance with evidence-based solutions for stopping the spread of COVID-19 is not a permissible use of (such) funds,” he said.

Adeyemo asked Ducey to respond within 30 days on how Arizona planned to come into compliance with the federal requirements, warning that “failure to respond or remediate may result in administrative or other action.” Such action included federal efforts to recoup the funds, a Treasury official said.

Florida, Texas and Arkansas have also banned mandatory masking orders in schools. The Education Department left those states and Arizona out of its inquiry because court orders or other actions have paused their enforcement, it said in a news release.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Porter and Sonya Hepinstall)

U.S. Supreme Court backs voting restrictions in Arizona

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday endorsed two Republican-backed ballot restrictions in Arizona that a lower court found had disproportionately burdened Black, Latino and Native American voters, handing a defeat to voting rights advocates and Democrats who had challenged the measures.

The 6-3 ruling, with the court’s conservative justices in the majority, held that the restrictions on early ballot collection by third parties and where absentee ballots may be cast did not violate the Voting Rights Act, a landmark 1965 federal law that prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

The court’s three liberal justices dissented from the decision.

The decision comes at a time when states are pursuing a series of Republican-backed voting restrictions in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud and irregularities in his 2020 loss to now-President Joe Biden.

The ruling represented a victory for the Arizona Republican Party and the state’s Republican attorney general, Mark Brnovich. They had appealed a lower court ruling that had deemed the restrictions unlawful.

The case involves a 2016 Arizona law that made it a crime to provide another person’s completed early ballot to election officials, with the exception of family members or caregivers. Community activists sometimes engage in ballot collection to facilitate voting and increase voter turnout. Ballot collection is legal in most states, with varying limitations. Republican critics call the practice “ballot harvesting.”

The other restriction at issue was a longstanding Arizona policy that discards ballots cast in-person at a precinct other than the one to which a voter has been assigned. In some places, voters’ precincts are not the closest one to their home.

The case raised questions over whether fraud must be documented in order to justify new curbs.

Democrats have accused Republicans at the state level of enacting voter-suppression measures to make it harder for racial minorities who tend to support Democratic candidates to cast ballots. Many Republicans have justified new restrictions as a means to reduce voter fraud, a phenomenon that election experts have said is rare in the United States.

Republicans are seeking to regain control of the U.S. Congress from the Democrats in the 2022 mid-term elections.

The Arizona legal battle concerned a specific provision called Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act that bans voting policies or practices that result in racial discrimination. Section 2 has been the main tool used to show that voting curbs discriminate against minorities since the Supreme Court in 2013 gutted another section of the statute that determined which states with a history of racial discrimination needed federal approval to change voting laws.

Arizona Republicans said in court papers that voting restrictions have partisan effects and impact elections. Invalidating the out-of-precinct policy would reduce Republican electoral prospects because it would increase Democratic turnout, they told the justices during March 2 arguments in the case.

The Republicans said that “race-neutral” regulations on the time, place or manner of an election do not deny anyone their right to vote and that federal law does not require protocols to maximize the participation of racial minorities.

The Democratic National Committee and the Arizona Democratic Party sued over the restrictions. Arizona’s Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has backed the challenge to the measures.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year found Arizona’s restrictions violated the Voting Rights Act, though they remained in effect for the Nov. 3 election in which Joe Biden, a Democrat, defeated Donald Trump, a Republican, in the state.

The 9th Circuit also found that “false, race-based claims of ballot collection fraud” were used to convince Arizona legislators to enact that restriction with discriminatory intent, violating the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on denying voting rights based on race.

U.S. Senate Republicans on June 23 blocked Democratic-backed legislation that would broadly expand voting rights and establish uniform national voting standards to offset the wave new Republican-led voting restrictions in states.

Biden has sharply criticized Republican-backed state voting restrictions. Biden called a measure signed by Georgia’s Republican governor in March “an atrocity” and likened it to racist “Jim Crow” laws enacted in Southern states in the decades after the 1861-65 U.S. Civil War to legalize racial segregation and disenfranchise Black people.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington and Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

Texas, California call for power restraint during heatwave

(Reuters) -Texas and California urged consumers to conserve energy this week to reduce stress on the grid and avoid outages as homes and businesses crank up air conditioners to escape a scorching heatwave blanketing the U.S. Southwest.

High temperatures were expected to top 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) through the weekend in parts of several states including California, Arizona and Nevada.

“The public’s help is essential when extreme weather or other factors beyond our control put undue stress on the electric grid,” said Elliot Mainzer, chief executive of the California ISO, which operates the grid in most of California.

Over the past year, Texas and California imposed rotating or controlled outages to prevent more widespread collapses of their power systems – California during a heatwave in August 2020 and Texas during a brutal freeze in February 2021.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, expects Thursday’s demand to break the June record set on Monday. In February, ERCOT imposed rotating outages as extreme cold froze natural gas pipes and wind turbines, leaving millions of customers without power – some for days.

ERCOT has been under fire for the design of its system, which is not connected to other U.S. grids to avoid federal oversight, and because they do not operate a “capacity” market that keeps power generation on stand-by during extreme weather events.

The California ISO said its Flex Alert, or call for conservation, “is critical because when temperatures hit triple digits across a wide geographic area, no state has enough energy to meet all the heightened demand.”

The ISO said evening is the most difficult time of day because demand remains high but solar energy diminishes. So far this year, solar has provided 22% of the grid’s power.

Real-time prices in ERCOT have remained below $100 per megawatt hour (MWh) since Tuesday evening as more power plants returned to service from forced outages that caused prices to soar over $1,900 for two 15-minute periods on Monday.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Edmund Blair)

Arizona governor signs ban on abortions based on genetic abnormalities

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed into law on Tuesday a measure banning abortions performed strictly on the basis of genetic disorders detected in the fetus, such as Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis, unless the condition is considered lethal.

The bill, approved in Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature along strict party-line votes last week, makes it a felony for a medical professional to terminate a pregnancy solely on the basis of a hereditary abnormality in the fetus.

Doctors performing such an abortion could face prison time under the newly enacted statute, which opponents have denounced as medically unsound and unconstitutional. A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona said that group and others are weighing a legal challenge.

The bill is due to take effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns for the year.

Support from Ducey, who has never vetoed an abortion restriction and calls himself “proudly pro-life,” was not unexpected.

“There’s immeasurable value in every single life – regardless of genetic makeup,” Ducey, a Republican now in his second term as governor, said in a statement. “We will continue to prioritize protecting life in our preborn children, and this legislation goes a long way in protecting real human lives.”

In addition to outlawing abortions based on genetic abnormalities, the measure – Senate Bill 1457 – also makes it a felony to use force or threat to intimidate a woman into terminating her pregnancy on that basis, or to accept or solicit money to pay for such an abortion.

The measure does not apply to cases in which a genetic condition is considered lethal to the fetus or to abortions sought for other reasons allowed by state law, including protection of the life and health of the mother, Ducey said.

The new law requires any doctor who performs an abortion to complete an affidavit attesting that the woman is not terminating her pregnancy due to an abnormality, and it requires the physician to inform the mother that abortions based on a child’s race, sex or any genetic disorder are illegal.

Various federal courts have taken divergent stands on such restrictions.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled earlier this month that Ohio can enforce a 2017 law banning abortions when medical tests show that a fetus has Down syndrome, a genetic condition that causes cognitive impairment and developmental delays.

That court held that the Ohio statute did not create a substantial barrier to obtaining abortions, was reasonably related to the state’s legitimate interests and was “valid in all conceivable cases.”

But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared a similar Arkansas law unconstitutional in January. That split could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority to take up the issue.

Supporters of the measure say it is intended as a safeguard against modern-day eugenics, the notion of selective reproduction to “breed out” hereditary disease, disabilities and traits deemed undesirable from the human population.

The American Civil Liberties Union, condemning the bill, said it “will undoubtedly have unintended consequences for people who experience pregnancy loss of any kind and will force people to carry pregnancies to term against their will.”

(Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

New York lowers coronavirus vaccine eligibility age to 50

NEW YORK (Reuters) -New York will join a handful of U.S. states that have lowered their eligibility age for coronavirus vaccines to 50, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday.

The state, the country’s fourth most populous, had restricted eligibility to residents who are at least 60 years old, have pre-existing health conditions or are essential workers, especially those who come in contact with the public.

“We are dropping the age and vaccinating more people,” Cuomo said at a church in Mount Vernon, New York, where he launched a campaign to encourage houses of worship to make themselves available as vaccination sites.

With the change, which takes effect on Tuesday, New York joins Florida, the third largest state, which lowered its eligibility age on Monday, and a handful of other states that have made vaccines available to healthy people who are 50 years old or younger.

In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey lowered the eligibility age to 16 at state-run vaccination sites in three populous southern counties, effective Wednesday. Three other counties already have eligibility at 16, but most are at 55.

Alaska has the lowest statewide eligibility age at 16. Its vaccination rate is among the highest in the country, with 31.5% of its residents having received at least one dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

New York has administered at least one dose to 26.1% of its residents and Florida has administered it to 23.8%, according to the CDC, which updated its data on Sunday.

Nationwide, the CDC said 24.9% of U.S. residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 13.5% are fully vaccinated.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Supreme Court begins arguments in major voting rights case

By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday began hearing arguments on the legality of two Republican-backed voting restrictions in Arizona in a case that could further weaken the Voting Rights Act, a landmark 1965 federal law that bars racial discrimination in voting.

The important voting rights case comes before the justices at a time when Republicans in numerous states are pursuing new restrictions after former President Donald Trump made claims of widespread fraud in the Nov. 3 election. Republican proponents of Arizona’s restrictions cite the need to combat voting fraud.

The justices are hearing arguments by teleconference in appeals by Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich and the state Republican Party of a lower court ruling that found that the voting restrictions at issue disproportionately burdened Black, Hispanic and Native American voters.

One of the measures made it a crime to provide another person’s completed early ballot to election officials, with the exception of family members or caregivers. The other disqualified ballots cast in-person at a precinct other than the one to which a voter has been assigned.

Community activists sometimes engage in ballot collection to facilitate voting and increase voter turnout. The practice, which critics call “ballot harvesting,” is legal in most states, with varying limitations. Voting rights advocates said voters sometimes inadvertently cast ballots at the wrong precinct, with the assigned polling place sometimes not the one closest to a voter’s home.

A broad ruling by the high court, whose 6-3 conservative majority includes three justices appointed by Trump, endorsing the restrictions could impair the Voting Rights Act by making it harder to prove violations. Such a ruling could impact the 2022 mid-term elections in which Republicans are trying to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate from the Democrats.

A ruling is due by the end of June.

At issue is the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2, which bans any rule that results in voting discrimination “on account of race or color.” This provision has been the main tool used to show that voting curbs discriminate against minorities since the Supreme Court in 2013 gutted another section of the statute that determined which states with a history of racial discrimination needed federal approval to change voting laws.

The Democratic National Committee and the Arizona Democratic Party sued to try to overturn Arizona’s restrictions. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year found that the restrictions violated the Voting Rights Act, though they remained in effect for the Nov. 3 election.

The 9th Circuit also found that “false, race-based claims of ballot collection fraud” were used to convince Arizona legislators to enact that restriction with discriminatory intent, violating the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on denying voting rights based on race.

Numerous courts rejected claims of voting fraud made in lawsuits by Trump and his allies seeking to overturn his loss to Biden. Eleven Republican U.S. senators including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Ted Cruz submitted a brief to the Supreme Court supporting the Arizona restrictions.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court set to weigh Republican-backed voting restrictions

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – Fresh off an election in which former President Donald Trump made claims of fraud, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to ponder the legality of a restriction on early voting in Arizona that his fellow Republicans argued was needed to combat fraud.

The Republican-backed law, spurred in part by a video purportedly showing voter fraud that courts later deemed misleading, made it a crime to provide another person’s completed early ballot to election officials, with the exception of family members or caregivers.

Community activists sometimes engage in ballot collection to facilitate voting and increase voter turnout. Ballot collection is legal in most states, with varying limitations. Republican critics call the practice “ballot harvesting.”

Supreme Court arguments over the 2016 ban and another Arizona voting restriction – both ruled unlawful by a lower court – are scheduled for next Tuesday, with a decision due by the end of June. A broad ruling by high court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, endorsing the restrictions could further weaken the Voting Rights Act, a landmark 1965 federal law that barred racial discrimination in voting, by making it harder to prove violations.

The video, taken from security camera footage, shows a man carrying a box of ballots into a Maricopa County Elections Department office. It was posted on a blog in 2014 by A.J. LaFaro, the Republican Party chairman at the time in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix.

LaFaro’s post questioned whether the man was a U.S. citizen and called him a “violent thug” who was “stuffing the ballot box as I watched in amazement.” A judge later called the blog post “racially charged” and concluded that the footage showed no illegal activity. The man seen in the video filed an unsuccessful defamation suit against LaFaro.

Republican-governed states including Arizona have imposed a variety of voting restrictions in recent years. In the aftermath of Trump’s claims of fraud, further curbs on voting are being pursued in 33 states, according to New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice.

‘THE MAIN TOOL’

At issue in the Supreme Court case is the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2, which bans any rule that results in voting discrimination “on account of race or color.” The court in 2013 gutted another section of the statute that determined which states with a history of racial discrimination needed federal approval to change voting laws.

Weakening Section 2 would eliminate “the main tool we have left now to protect voters against racial discrimination,” said Myrna Pérez, director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program.

“If there’s one thing that the election and the insurrection showed it’s that not everyone buys into the idea of free, fair and accessible elections,” Pérez added, referring to a pro-Trump mob’s Jan. 6 rampage at the U.S. Capitol.

The Supreme Court case also involves a longstanding Arizona policy that discards ballots cast in-person at a precinct other than the one to which a voter has been assigned. In some places, voters’ precincts are not the closest one to their home.

The case pits Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich and the Arizona Republican Party against the Democratic National Committee and the Arizona Democratic Party, which sued over the restrictions. Arizona’s Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has backed the challenge.

The two sides differ sharply over whether genuine voter fraud must be documented to justify ballot restrictions.

“The notion that voter fraud must be proved in order to enact regulations of elections is not established in the law,” said Republican election lawyer Jason Torchinsky, who filed a brief backing Brnovich. “There are tons of areas where legislatures legislate without proving that some kind of fraud or crime has occurred.”

Jessica Ring Amunson, an attorney who represents Hobbs, said courts should take false fraud claims into account when evaluating the legality of voting restrictions.

Legislatures often justify such restrictions as necessary to tackle fraud and increase voter confidence, but “simultaneously they’re spreading baseless claims of voter fraud when none exists, and that is the very thing that is leading to people losing confidence in elections,” she added.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year found Arizona’s restrictions unlawful, though they remained in effect for the Nov. 3 election. It ruled that the restrictions disproportionately burdened Black, Hispanic and Native American voters and violated the Voting Rights Act.

The 9th Circuit also found that “false, race-based claims of ballot collection fraud” were used to convince Arizona legislators to enact that restriction with discriminatory intent, violating the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on denying voting rights based on race.

U.S. District Judge Douglas Rayes in 2018 faulted Arizona’s legislature for its “misinformed belief that ballot collection fraud was occurring,” but upheld the voting restrictions. The 9th Circuit last year overturned that ruling.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. sets COVID-19 death record for second week, cases surge

(Reuters) – The United States lost more than 22,000 lives to COVID-19 last week, setting a record for the second week in a row, as new cases also hit a weekly high.

California was the state with the most deaths at 3,315 in the week ended Jan. 10, or about eight out of every 100,000 people, up 44% from the prior week, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county reports.

Arizona had the highest death rate per capita at 15 per 100,000 residents, followed by Rhode Island at 13 and West Virginia at 12 deaths per 100,000 people.

On average, COVID-19 killed 3,239 people per day in the United States last week, more than the number killed by the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Cumulatively, nearly 375,000 people in the country have died from the novel coronavirus, or one in every 873 residents. The total could rise to more than 567,000 by April 1, according to a forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

The United States reported more than 1.7 million new cases of COVID-19 last week, up 17% from the prior seven days. Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottleib said new cases could start declining in February.

“By the end of this month, we’ll have infected probably about 30% of the American public and maybe vaccinated another 10%, notwithstanding the very difficult rollout of the vaccine,” Gottleib told CNBC on Friday. “You’re starting to get to levels of prior exposure in the population where the virus isn’t going to spread as readily.”

Across the United States, 13.4% of tests came back positive for the virus, down from 13.6% the prior week, according to data from the volunteer-run COVID Tracking Project. The highest rates were in Iowa at 59%, Idaho at 54% and Alabama at 45%.

(Graphic by Chris Canipe, writing by Lisa Shumaker, editing by Tiffany Wu)

Options dwindling, Trump faces likely setback in Georgia recount

By Andy Sullivan and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. presidential election battleground state of Georgia is expected on Thursday to affirm Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump after a painstaking recount, which would deal yet another setback to the president’s attempts to cling to power.

Georgia’s top election official, a Republican, has said the manual recount of almost 5 million votes is unlikely to erode Biden’s initial 14,000 winning margin by enough to hand Trump victory in the state.

That would leave Republican Trump with a dwindling number of options to overturn the results of an election in which Democrat Biden won 5.8 million more votes nationwide. Barring a series of unprecedented events, Biden will be sworn in on Jan. 20.

In the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the winner, Biden has captured 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232, well ahead of the 270 needed for victory. The winner in each state is awarded that state’s electoral votes, a number roughly proportional to the population.

Flipping Georgia’s 16 votes would still leave Trump at least two closely contested states away from overturning Biden’s victory. Georgia officials say they expect to release results on Thursday ahead of a certification deadline on Friday.

In Pennsylvania, where Biden won by 82,000 votes, the Trump campaign is asking a judge to declare him the winner there, saying its Republican-controlled legislature should choose the state’s slate of 20 Electoral College voters.

In Wisconsin, the Trump campaign has paid for a partial recount, even though election officials there say that will likely only add to Biden’s 20,000-vote advantage in a state that carries 10 electoral votes.

‘A DEEPER PROBLEM’

Trump’s campaign has filed lawsuits in a number of other states, including Michigan, with scant success so far.

Those legal motions, sprinkled with factual errors, have been dismissed by Biden’s campaign as “theatrics” that are not based on sound law.

Several prominent law firms have pulled out of the operation, leaving Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to spearhead the efforts.

Trump said on Twitter on Thursday that lawyers would discuss a “viable path to victory” at a news conference at noon ET (1700 GMT).

State and federal election officials, as well as outside experts, say Trump’s argument that the election was stolen from him by widespread voter fraud has no basis in fact.

However, it does appear to be affecting public confidence in American democracy. A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Wednesday found about half of Republicans believe Trump “rightfully won” the election.

Arizona’s top election official, Democrat Katie Hobbs, said she and her family had been getting violent threats and urged Trump to stop casting doubt on the result, in which he lost by just over 10,000 votes.

“(The threats) are a symptom of a deeper problem in our state and country – the consistent and systematic undermining of trust in each other and our democratic process,” Hobbs said in a statement.

Trump, who has largely stayed in the White House and kept out of public view since the election, has no public events scheduled for Thursday.

His administration has so far refused to recognize Biden as the winner, which has held up funding and security clearances to ease the transition from one president to another ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Biden said on Wednesday that the delay was preventing his team from planning a new assault on surging coronavirus infections, which is straining the U.S. healthcare system.

(Writing by Andy Sullivan and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Ross Colvin, Lincoln Feast and David Clarke)

Biden close to U.S. election victory as a defiant Trump vows to fight

By Trevor Hunnicutt, Steve Holland and Joseph Ax

WILMINGTON, Del./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrat Joe Biden edged closer to winning the White House on Friday, expanding his narrow leads over President Donald Trump in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Georgia even as Republicans sought to raise $60 million to fund lawsuits challenging the results.

Trump remained defiant, vowing to press unfounded claims of fraud as a weary, anxious nation waited for clarity in an election that only intensified the country’s deep polarization.

On the fourth day of vote counting, former Vice President Biden had a 253 to 214 lead in the state-by-state Electoral College vote that determines the winner, according to Edison Research.

Securing Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes would put Biden over the 270 he needs to win the presidency after a political career stretching back nearly five decades.

Biden would also win if he prevails in two of the three other key states where he was narrowly ahead on Friday: Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. Like Pennsylvania, all three were still processing ballots on Friday.

As Biden’s lead grew in Pennsylvania, hundreds of Democrats gathered outside Philadelphia’s downtown vote-counting site, wearing yellow shirts reading “Count Every Vote.” In Detroit, a crowd of Trump supporters, some armed, protested outside a counting location, waving flags and chanting, “Fight!”

Biden planned to deliver a prime-time address on Friday, according to two people familiar with his schedule. His campaign expected that could be a victory speech if television networks call the race for him in the coming hours.

Meanwhile, Trump showed no sign he was ready to concede, as his campaign pursued a series of lawsuits that legal experts said were unlikely to alter the election outcome.

“From the beginning we have said that all legal ballots must be counted and all illegal ballots should not be counted, yet we have met resistance to this basic principle by Democrats at every turn,” he said in a statement released by his campaign.

“We will pursue this process through every aspect of the law to guarantee that the American people have confidence in our government,” Trump said.

Trump earlier leveled an extraordinary attack on the democratic process, appearing at the White House on Thursday evening to falsely claim the election was being “stolen” from him. Election officials across the nation have said they are unaware of any significant irregularities.

The Republican National Committee is looking to collect at least $60 million from donors to fund Trump’s legal challenges, two sources familiar with the matter said.

In both Pennsylvania and Georgia, Biden overtook Trump as officials processed thousands of mail-in ballots that were cast in urban Democratic strongholds including Philadelphia and Atlanta.

The number of Americans voting early and by mail this year surged due to the coronavirus as people tried to avoid large groups of voters on Election Day. The methodical counting process has left Americans waiting longer than they have since the 2000 election to learn the winner of a presidential contest.

A sense of grim resignation settled in at the White House on Friday, where the president was monitoring TV and talking to advisers on the phone. One adviser said it was clear the race was tilting against Trump, but that Trump was not ready to admit defeat.

The campaign’s general counsel, Matt Morgan, asserted in a statement on Friday that the elections in Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania all suffered from improprieties and that Trump would eventually prevail in Arizona.

He also said the campaign expected to pursue a recount in Georgia, as it has said it will do in Wisconsin, where Biden won by more than 20,000 votes. A margin that wide has never been overturned by a recount, according to Edison Research.

Georgia officials said on Friday they expect a recount, which can be requested by a candidate if the final margin is less than 0.5%, as it currently is.

Biden expressed confidence on Thursday he would win and urged patience. In response to the idea that Trump might not concede, Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement on Friday, “The United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”

BIDEN MOMENTUM

The messy aftermath capped a vitriolic campaign that underscored the country’s enduring racial, economic and cultural divides, and if he wins Biden might face a difficult task governing in a divided Washington.

Republicans could keep control of the U.S. Senate pending the outcome of four undecided Senate races, including two in Georgia that will be likely decided in January runoffs, and they would likely block large parts of his legislative agenda, including expanding healthcare and fighting climate change.

The heated campaign unfolded amid the pandemic that has killed more than 235,000 people in the United States and left millions more out of work. The country has also been grappling with the aftermath of months of protests over racism and police brutality.

In Pennsylvania, Biden moved ahead of Trump for the first time and had a lead of 13,558 votes by midday Friday, while in Georgia, he was 1,579 votes ahead. Both margins were expected to grow as additional ballots were tallied. Pennsylvania officials estimated on Friday they had 40,000 ballots left to count, while Georgia officials said on Friday morning there were around 4,000 regular ballots remaining.

Biden, 77, would be the first Democrat to win Georgia since fellow Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992.

In Arizona, where officials said at least 142,000 uncounted ballots remained, Biden’s lead was at 41,302 votes. His margin in Nevada, where there were 63,000 mail-in ballots left to count, jumped to 20,352.

Pennsylvania, one of three traditionally Democratic states that handed Trump his 2016 victory, had long been seen as crucial to the 2020 race, and both candidates lavished enormous sums of money and time on the “Rust Belt” state.

While many rural areas in Pennsylvania remain in favor of Trump, Democrats are strong in big cities such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Trump, 74, has sought to portray as fraudulent the slow counting of mail-in ballots. He has unleashed a series of social media posts baselessly claiming fraud, prompting Twitter and Facebook to append warning labels.

States have historically taken time after Election Day to tally all votes, although in most presidential elections the gap between candidates is big enough that television networks project the winner and the losing candidate concedes before counting formally ends.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington, Delaware and Steve Holland in Washington; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia; Michael Martina in Detroit; and John Whitesides, Steve Holland, Simon Lewis and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)