Pennsylvania governor issues mask mandate for schools, child care facilities

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) -Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on Tuesday issued a mask mandate for all K-12 school and child care facilities to protect against the spread of COVID-19, three weeks after the Democrat said he would leave the decision to individual districts.

The order, which goes into effect Sept. 7, comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the highly-contagious Delta variant of the virus.

Since July, Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 case load has increased from less than 300 a day to more than 3,000 a day, according to the state’s health department.

“With case counts increasing, the situation has reached the point that we need to take this action to protect our children, teachers and staff. The science is clear,” the state’s acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said in a statement.

The decision comes as millions of public education students head back to schools across the United States. School districts, state education agencies and governors across the nation are grappling with masking and vaccination requirements.

In South Carolina, for example, the state’s supreme court heard arguments on Tuesday in two cases involving mask mandates in city of Columbia schools.

The order in Pennsylvania requires students, teachers and staff to wear masks in all public and private K-12 schools. The order also applies to child care providers and early learning programs. The order does not apply to school sports or outdoor activities.

In early August, Wolf said he intended to leave the decision to require masks in schools up to individual districts.

“Unfortunately, an aggressive nationwide campaign is spreading misinformation about mask-wearing and pressuring and intimidating school districts to reject mask policies that will keep kids safe and in school,” he said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Chris Reese and Bill Berkrot)

Biogen Alzheimer’s drug hits roadblocks with some hospitals, insurers

By Deena Beasley

(Reuters) -The rollout of Biogen Inc’s Alzheimer’s drug is hitting new roadblocks as some large hospitals decide not to use it and many health insurers await coverage terms from Medicare, the U.S. health plan for people aged 65 and older, before setting their own policies.

Cleveland Clinic, one of the country’s best-known health systems, and New York’s Mount Sinai Health System on Thursday confirmed they had decided not to carry the new drug, called Aduhelm.

“The tide turned on Friday when the inspector general investigation was announced, and the potential allegation of irregularity in the FDA/Biogen relationship,” Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health, told Reuters.

The FDA called last week for an independent federal probe into its representatives’ interactions with Biogen.

Biogen shares fell nearly 8% on Thursday, or $25.21, to $324.85. Guggenheim analyst Yatin Suneja attributed the stock slump to the decision by the two hospital systems not to use the drug.

In mid-June, the Washington, D.C., Neurology Center said it would not recommend the treatment, which is given as a monthly infusion, for any of its patients due to concerns about efficacy, safety and cost.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug, also known as aducanumab, in early June despite mixed clinical trial results. The agency said it was convinced that evidence of Aduhelm’s ability to clear amyloid brain plaques would benefit Alzheimer’s patients.

Biogen, which priced Aduhelm at $56,000 a year, said in a statement on Thursday that clinical data supported the drug’s approval and patients who are denied access should contact the company for help.

INSURERS ON HOLD

Insurers representing millions of American enrolled in private Medicare plans said the drug has yet to meet their bar for coverage based on the data.

UnitedHealth Group, the largest private insurer offering Medicare Advantage coverage to seniors, on Thursday said it was still reviewing the drug and awaiting input from Medicare.

“This has some way to go before we get to real clarity. So I wouldn’t guide you to expect a very rapid decision-making on this piece,” CEO Andrew Witty said.

Humana, the second largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans, also said it has not finalized coverage for Aduhelm as it awaits guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Several Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance plans, including those in Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, have said there is insufficient evidence of Aduhelm’s benefit for patients and they will not provide coverage for the drug.

Biogen said in a statement that the several Blues plans’ “characterization of Aduhelm as experimental and investigational is inaccurate and misleading.”

CMS on Monday began a national review process it said would take nine months to complete. Until then, the agency said coverage determinations for aducanumab are being made at the local level by 12 regional contractors.

SVB Leerink this week said a survey of 57 U.S. neurologists who treat high volumes of Alzheimer’s patients found that 44% of them would use Aduhelm in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease who have evidence of amyloid plaques.

The Wall Street firm estimates sales of the drug at $65 million this year, $1.1 billion next year and $5 billion by 2025.

The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, an influential pricing group, was holding a meeting on Thursday of doctors, patients and other stakeholders to discuss how Aduhelm’s cost stacks up against potential benefits to patients.

(Reporting by Deena Beasley; Additional reporting by Manas Mishra in Bangalaru and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Howard Goller)

Five U.S. states had coronavirus infections even before first reported cases

By Mrinalika Roy

(Reuters) -At least seven people in five U.S. states were infected with the novel coronavirus weeks before those states reported their first cases, a large new government study showed, pointing to the presence of the virus in the country as early as December 2019.

Participants who reported antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 were likely exposed to the virus at least several weeks before their sample was taken, as the antibodies do not appear until about two weeks after a person has been infected, the researchers said.

The positive samples came from Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and were part of a study of more than 24,000 blood samples taken for a National Institutes of Health research program between Jan. 2 and March 18, 2020.

Of the seven samples, three were from Illinois, where the first confirmed coronavirus case was reported on Jan. 24, while the remaining four states had one case each. Samples from participants in Illinois were collected on Jan. 7 and Massachusetts on Jan. 8.

The data suggests that the coronavirus was circulating in U.S. states far from the initial hotspots and areas that were considered the virus’ points of entry into the country, the study noted.

The data also backs a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that suggested the virus may have been circulating in the United States well before the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed on Jan. 19, 2020.

“This study allows us to uncover more information about the beginning of the U.S. epidemic,” said Josh Denny, one of the authors of the study, which was published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The United States has so far reported 33.6 million cases, according to a Reuters tally.

The infections were confirmed using two antibody tests, which were granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

Trump and 17 states back Texas bid at Supreme Court

By Jan Wolfe and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let him join a lawsuit by Texas seeking to throw out the voting results in four states, litigation that also drew support from 17 other states.

In a separate brief, lawyers for 17 states led by Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt also urged the nine justices to hear the Texas lawsuit.

Trump on Wednesday vowed to intervene in the lawsuit though he did not provide details on the nature of the intervention including whether it would be by presidential campaign or the U.S. Justice Department.

Writing on Twitter, Trump said, “We will be INTERVENING in the Texas (plus many other states) case. This is the big one. Our Country needs a victory!”

The lawsuit, announced on Tuesday by the attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, targeted four states.

In addition to Missouri, the states joining Texas were: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.

The lawsuit was filed directly with the Supreme Court rather than with a lower court, as is permitted for certain litigation between states.

The Texas suit argued that changes made by the four states to voting procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic to expand mail-in voting were unlawful. Texas asked the Supreme Court to immediately block the four states from using the voting results to appoint presidential electors to the Electoral College.

Texas also asked the Supreme Court to delay the Dec. 14 date for Electoral College votes to be formally cast, a date set by law in 1887.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Will Dunham)

As Giuliani argues for Trump, Pennsylvania asks judge to toss election challenge

By Jan Wolfe and Brad Heath

(Reuters) – Lawyers for Pennsylvania asked a judge on Tuesday to dismiss Donald Trump’s bid to block President-elect Joe Biden from being certified as the victor in the state as the Republican president, with personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani arguing for him, pursued a long-shot legal challenge to his U.S. election loss.

Giuliani, the former New York mayor, took a key role in spearheading Trump’s case before U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. A loss in the case would likely doom Trump’s already-remote prospects of altering the election’s outcome.

There was “widespread, nationwide voter fraud” in the election, Giuliani told Brann, but provided little evidence to back up that claim.

Daniel Donovan, a lawyer for Pennsylvania’s top election official, said Trump’s campaign did not allege irregularities that would change the outcome in the state.

The Trump campaign on Sunday narrowed the Pennsylvania case to focus on a claim that voters in the state were improperly allowed to fix ballots that had been rejected because of technical errors such as missing a “secrecy envelope.”

Pennsylvania officials have said a small number of ballots were fixed. Trump’s campaign, however, is asking Brann to halt certification of Biden’s victory in the state. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar is due to certify the election results next Monday, meaning Brann is expected to rule quickly.

Biden, due to take office on Jan. 20, is projected to have won the state by more than 70,000 votes, giving him 49.9% of the state’s votes to 48.8% for Trump.

Hours before the hearing, Brann allowed Giuliani to formally appear in the case. Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday that Giuliani was spearheading a new team to pursue the campaign’s legal fight.

Trump, the first U.S. president to lose a re-election bid since 1992, has called the election “rigged,” has made unsubstantiated claims of widespread voting fraud and has falsely claimed victory. State election officials around the country have said they have found no such fraud.

Biden clinched the election by winning Pennsylvania to put him over the 270 state-by-state electoral votes needed. Biden, a Democrat, won 306 Electoral College votes overall to the Republican Trumps 232, Edison Research said on Friday.

Giuliani said there was a history of voter fraud in large U.S. cities, adding, without offering evidence, that the expansion of mail-in voting in 2020 allowed officials to take advantage of a public health crisis, the coronavirus pandemic.

Donovan said the Trump campaign’s alleged injuries are “speculative” and “cannot give them standing in federal court.”

On Monday, three lawyers representing the Trump campaign asked to withdraw from the case, saying the campaign consented to the move but offering little explanation. Brann allowed two of the three to drop out.

The campaign and Trump supporters have filed lawsuits in multiple states challenging the Nov. 3 election result but have yet to overturn any votes. Any remote hope of reversing the election’s outcome hangs on Pennsylvania.

Legal experts have said the lawsuits stand little chance of changing the outcome. A senior Biden legal adviser has dismissed the litigation as “theatrics, not really lawsuits.”

The Trump campaign has had difficulty retaining legal counsel to take on its post-election challenges. Last week, lawyers at the firm of Porter Wright Morris & Arthur withdrew from representing the campaign in the Pennsylvania suit.

Another firm, Snell & Wilmer, withdrew on Tuesday from a lawsuit alleging that Arizona’s Maricopa County incorrectly rejected some votes cast on Election Day.

In the Pennsylvania lawsuit, the Trump campaign alleges Democratic-leaning counties unlawfully identified mail-in ballots before Election Day that had defects so that voters could fix, or “cure,” them.

Pennsylvania officials sought to have the lawsuit thrown out, saying all of the state’s counties were permitted to inform residents if their mail-in ballots were deficient, even if it was not mandatory for them to do so.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Tom Hals and Nate Raymond; Editing by Will Dunham, Lincoln Feast, Howard Goller and Noeleen Walder)

Trump lawyers withdraw on eve of key hearing in Pennsylvania election case

By Jan Wolfe and David Thomas

(Reuters) – Three more lawyers representing President Donald Trump’s campaign have asked to withdraw from his lawsuit challenging the U.S. election results in Pennsylvania, shaking up his legal team on the eve of a major court hearing.

The lawyers – Linda Kerns, John Scott and Douglas Bryan Hughes – made the request in a court filing on Monday, adding that the campaign consented to their withdrawal.

In a brief order on Monday night, the judge hearing the case allowed Scott and Hughes to withdraw but not Kerns.

Harrisburg-based lawyer Marc Scaringi has joined the case and will be Trump’s lead counsel. Scaringi and the three attorneys who sought to withdraw did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Scaringi on Monday asked the judge to postpone a hearing scheduled for Tuesday, saying he and a law partner “need additional time to adequately prepare.” The judge quickly denied the request.

Jenna Ellis, a legal adviser with the Trump campaign, said the change was routine.

“The president announced Saturday that he has asked Mayor Rudy Giuliani to lead the national legal team, along with local counsel. Our substitution of local counsel is consistent with routine managing of complex litigation,” Ellis said in a statement.

The filing did not give a reason for the change, which came days after a prominent regional law firm, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, also withdrew from the case.

In a court filing on Thursday, lawyers at Porter Wright said it had agreed that its clients – the campaign and two registered voters – “will be best served if Porter Wright withdraws.”

Kerns said in a recent court filing that she has faced a torrent of harassing emails and phone messages due to her work for the Trump campaign.

A federal judge in Williamsport will hear arguments on Tuesday in the Trump campaign’s lawsuit, filed on Nov. 9, which seeks to halt the state’s top election official from certifying Joe Biden, a Democrat, as the winner.

The Trump campaign is filing lawsuits that are “borderline frivolous” and will not change the election’s outcome even if successful, said Bruce Green, a professor of legal ethics at Fordham Law School.

“It’s doomed to fail anyway. So, does it really make a difference if another lawyer comes in? I think in most people’s view, these cases are not being filed with any expectation that they’ll prevail,” Green said.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and David Thomas; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Christopher Cushing)

Trump campaign abandons parts of Pennsylvania election lawsuit

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign on Sunday dropped a major part of a lawsuit it brought seeking to halt Pennsylvania from certifying its results in the presidential election, narrowing the case to a small number of ballots.

In an amended complaint filed in federal court, the Trump campaign dropped a claim that election officials unlawfully blocked observers from watching the counting of mail-in ballots in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The pared-down lawsuit now focuses on a claim that Democratic-leaning counties unlawfully allowed voters to fix errors in their mail-in ballots in violation of state law. Officials have said the dispute affects a small number of ballots in the state, where Democrat Joe Biden is projected to win by more than 60,000 votes.

Pennsylvania officials have asked a judge to toss Trump’s lawsuit, saying the election observers were allowed to assess the processing of mail-in ballots and that all of the state’s counties were permitted to inform residents if their mailed-in ballots were deficient, even if it was not mandatory for them to do so.

In Pennsylvania’s populous Montgomery County, less than 100 voters fixed ballots with technical errors, a county official testified at a court hearing on Nov. 4.

The Trump campaign continues to seek a court order blocking the Pennsylvania secretary of state from ratifying the result.

Biden clinched the election after news media and Edison Research called him as the victor in Pennsylvania, putting him over the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Edison Research said on Friday that Biden had won 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232.

Trump on Sunday briefly appeared to acknowledge that Biden’s victory, but then recanted and claimed he would soon file fresh challenges. His campaign has filed a string of long-shot lawsuits in several battleground states.

On Twitter on Sunday, Trump said many cases being filed were not from his campaign.

“Our big cases showing the unconstitutionality of the 2020 Election, & the outrage of things that were done to change the outcome, will soon be filed!,” he tweeted.

Legal experts say the lawsuits have little chance of changing the outcome of the election. A senior Biden legal adviser has dismissed the litigation as “theatrics, not really lawsuits.”

Pennsylvania is due to certify the election results on Nov. 23.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Republicans back Trump’s right to challenge Biden victory

By Steve Holland and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON/WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will push ahead on Tuesday with longshot legal challenges to his election loss, as Republican U.S. lawmakers and state officials defended his right to do so.

Pennsylvania Republican state lawmakers called for an audit of results in the state that on Saturday enabled Democrat Joe Biden to secure the more than 270 votes in the Electoral College he needed to win the presidency.

Biden, the president-elect due to take office on Jan. 20, 2021, also leads Trump in the popular vote by more than 4.6 million votes, according to the latest count of ballots.

Trump has made baseless claims that fraud was marring the results. The count has been delayed by a surge in mail-in ballots prompted by voters’ desire to avoid infection from the coronavirus pandemic.

Judges have tossed out lawsuits in Michigan and Georgia, and experts say Trump’s legal efforts have little chance of changing the election result.

The leading Republican in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on Monday carefully backed Trump, saying that he was “100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities,” without citing any evidence.

McConnell’s comments represent the thinking of most Senate Republicans for now, said a senior Senate Republican aide. “The position is tenable until it isn’t and might last for a week or two before it becomes untenable,” the aide said.

The dispute has slowed Biden’s preparations for governing.

A Trump appointee who heads the office charged with recognizing election results has yet to do so, preventing the Biden transition team from moving into federal government office space or accessing funds to hire staff.

The General Services Administrator Emily Murphy, appointed by Trump in 2017, has yet to determine that “a winner is clear,” a spokeswoman said. Biden’s team is considering legal action.

BARR MOVE PROMPTS RESIGNATION

U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday told federal prosecutors to “pursue substantial allegations” of irregularities of voting and the counting of ballots.

He also told them that “fanciful or far-fetched claims” should not be a basis for investigation. His letter did not indicate the Justice Department had uncovered voting irregularities affecting the outcome of the election.

Richard Pilger, who for years has served as director of the Election Crimes Branch in the Justice Department, said in an internal email he was resigning from his post after he read “the new policy and its ramifications”.

The previous Justice Department policy, designed to avoid interjecting the federal government into election campaigns, had discouraged overt investigations “until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded.”

Biden’s campaign said Barr was fueling Trump’s far-fetched allegations of fraud.

“Those are the very kind of claims that the president and his lawyers are making unsuccessfully every day, as their lawsuits are laughed out of one court after another,” said Bob Bauer, a senior adviser to Biden.

A bipartisan group of six former U.S. Justice Department officials blasted Barr’s move.

“The voters decide the winner in an election, not the President, and not the Attorney General,” wrote the group, which includes Don Ayer, a deputy attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush.

“We have seen absolutely no evidence of anything that should get in the way of certification of the results, which is something the states handle, not the federal government.”

REPUBLICANS REMAIN LOYAL

Although a few Republicans have urged Trump to concede, the president still had the support of prominent party leaders who had yet to congratulate Biden.

Trump’s campaign on Monday filed a lawsuit to block Pennsylvania officials from certifying Biden’s victory in the battleground state, where the Democrat’s lead grew to more than 45,000 votes, or nearly 0.7 percentage points, with 98% of ballots counted on Tuesday morning.

It alleged the state’s mail-in voting system violated the U.S. Constitution by creating “an illegal two-tiered voting system” where voting in person was subject to more oversight than voting by mail.

“The Trump campaign’s latest filing is another attempt to throw out legal votes,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said on Twitter.

Pennsylvania state Representative Dawn Keefer led a group of Republican state lawmakers on Tuesday in calling for a bipartisan investigation with subpoena powers to see if the “election was conducted fairly and lawfully.”

Asked about any evidence of fraud, Keefer told reporters, “We’ve just gotten a lot of allegations,” adding that “they’re too in the weeds” for her to know more without investigating.

Biden will give a speech on Tuesday defending the Affordable Care Act, the landmark healthcare law popularly known as Obamacare, as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a lawsuit backed by the Trump administration to invalidate it.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Richard Cowan, Jan Wolfe, Sarah N. Lynch and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Simon Lewis in Wilmington, Delaware; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Scott Malone, Angus MacSwan, Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller

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)

Trump lawsuits unlikely to impact outcome of U.S. election, experts say

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump called in his lawyers to shore up his dimming re-election prospects, but legal experts said the flurry of lawsuits had little chance of changing the outcome but might cast doubt on the process.

As Trump’s paths to victory narrowed, his campaign on Thursday was ramping up legal challenges and said it was planning to file its latest case in Nevada.

On Wednesday, the campaign sued in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia and asked to join a pending case at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Experts said the litigation serves to drag out the vote count and postpone major media from declaring Biden the victor, which would have dire political implications for Trump.

“The current legal maneuvering is mainly a way for the Trump campaign to try to extend the ball game in the long-shot hope that some serious anomaly will emerge,” said Robert Yablon, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School. “As of now, we haven’t seen any indication of systematic irregularities in the vote count.”

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement Wednesday the lawsuits were aimed at ensuring legal votes were counted.

“The lawsuits are meritless,” said Bob Bauer, who is part of Biden’s legal team. “They’re intended to give the Trump campaign the opportunity to argue the vote count should stop. It is not going to stop.”

Ultimately, for the lawsuits to have an impact, the race would have to hang on the outcome of one or two states separated by a few thousand votes, according to experts.

In Michigan and Pennsylvania, Trump asked courts to temporarily halt the vote counts because the campaign’s observers were allegedly denied access to the counting process.

The Michigan case was dismissed on Thursday but a Pennsylvania court ordered that Trump campaign observers be granted better access to counting process in Philadelphia.

At the Supreme Court, the campaign is seeking to invalidate mail-in votes in Pennsylvania that are postmarked by Election Day but arrive by the end of Friday.

In Georgia, the Trump campaign asked a judge to require Chatham County to separate late-arriving ballots to ensure they were not counted, but the case was dismissed on Thursday.

“There is no consistent strategy there,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. She said the campaign was “throwing theories at a wall to see if anything sticks for long enough to muck up the waters.”

Edward Foley, who specializes in election law at the Moritz College of Law, said the cases might have merit but only affected a small number of ballots and procedural issues.

“But merit in that sense is very different from having the kind of consequence that Bush v. Gore did in 2000,” said Foley.

In that case, the Supreme Court reversed a ruling by Florida’s top court that had ordered a manual recount and prompted Democrat Al Gore to concede the election to Republican George W. Bush.

The 2000 election improbably close, with a margin of 537 votes in Florida deciding the outcome.

The campaign is still challenging late arriving mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, which according to media reports numbered in the hundreds so far, likely too few to have a meaningful impact.

In addition, it appears increasingly likely Biden can win the race even if he loses the state.

Danielle Lang, who advocates for voting rights at Campaign Legal Center, said Trump has a long history of attempting to whip up mistrust in our electoral system.

“Allegations of ‘irregularities’ — backed up by lawsuits, even frivolous ones — could potentially serve that narrative,” she said.

Experts said the lawsuits and claims of fraud might be aimed at softening the sting of being bounced from office by calling the process into question.

“The litigation looks more like an effort to allow Trump to continue rhetorically attempting to delegitimize an electoral loss,” said Joshua Geltzer, a professor at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy & Protection.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis)