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A week in Trump and Biden's split-screen America

 It's been a week of split-screens in American politics.

The nation's attention is divided between the president and the president-elect; between the coronavirus vaccine and the rising death toll from the pandemic; between congressional attempts to reach compromise and congressional attempts to rebuff Donald Trump.

As the days tick down until the holidays, and a new year, and a new Congress and a new president, here are some of the key political stories from this week.

Trump's longshot election challenges

"For individuals and organizations that champion the rule of law and claim the mantle of the founding principles of our nation to call for overturning an election reeks of hypocrisy" - conservative commentator Linda Chavez

It was yet another rough week for the president's efforts to reverse the results of his November defeat in the US presidential election.

First, the "safe harbour" date for states certifying the results arrived on Tuesday with all but one, Wisconsin, meeting the deadline. That will make it much more difficult for Trump's allies in Congress to contest the results of the election in January.

Tuesday also delivered a one-two legal punch to the president. The Arizona Supreme Court unanimously ruled that there was no evidence of fraud or misconduct in Joe Biden's victory in that state. And the US Supreme Court batted down a legal challenge to the Democrat's win in that state with a terse, one-sentence "application denied" order.

  • What legal challenges remain for Trump?
  • Where does the Republican Party go after Trump?

That leaves Trump placing all his judicial hopes on a lawsuit filed by the attorney general of Texas that seeks to discard the presidential election results in four states Biden won - Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia. Texas is asking the court to allow the state legislatures - which all happen to be controlled by Republicans - to determine who should get their electoral college votes.

Election law experts largely scoff at the prospects for the suit - "utter garbage," writes UC-Irvine professor Rick Hasen - but 17 other states with Republican attorneys general, as well as Trump himself, have joined the effort.

Of the 25 states Trump carried in November, 18 are involved in this lawsuit, suggesting that even in defeat the president has the ability to bend the party to his will. This has prompted concern from anti-Trump conservatives like Chavez, quoted above, as well as some Republican politicians, including Texas Senator John Cornyn and Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who said his attorney general's decision to join the lawsuit was an "unwise use of taxpayer money".

While there is a minuscule chance that the Supreme Court will step in, let alone set in motion a chain of events that will hand the election to Trump, the reality is that the presidency rests in the hands of the nine justices who sit on the Supreme Court.

In a democracy of 328 million Americans, it comes down to what five people think.

Contrasting Covid messages

I have been through many public health crises before, but this is the toughest one we have ever faced as a nation. The road ahead will not be easy"- Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

When the president wasn't fulminating about the results of the presidential election this week, he was celebrating the development of multiple vaccines to treat Covid-19.

At a "vaccine summit" event on Tuesday, Trump touted what is, without a doubt, a remarkable medical achievement.

"From the instant the coronavirus invaded our shores, we raced into action to develop a safe and effective vaccine at breakneck speed," the president said. "In order to achieve this goal, we harnessed the full power of government, the genius of American scientists, and the might of American industry to save millions and millions of lives all over the world."

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