WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump smiles as he departs the White House yesterday. - AFP

WASHINGTON: Despite an emphatic court setback in Pennsylvania, US President Donald Trump showed no sign yesterday of dropping his long-shot efforts to overturn the US presidential election even as Democratic President-elect Joe Biden moves ahead with planning for his incoming administration. Since Biden was declared the winner of the Nov 3 election two weeks ago, the Republican president has launched a barrage of lawsuits and mounted a pressure campaign to prevent states from certifying their vote totals.

Critics of Trump, including Democrats and some Republicans, have accused him of trying to undermine faith in the American electoral system and delegitimize Biden's victory by promoting false claims of widespread voter fraud. Biden is due to take office on Jan 20. "Fight hard Republicans," Trump wrote on Twitter yesterday morning as he pressed his unsubstantiated narrative of voter fraud.

So far, attempts to thwart certification of vote tallies have failed in courts in Georgia, Michigan and Arizona. On Saturday, US District Judge Matthew Brann, a Republican appointed by Democratic former President Barack Obama, dismissed a similar effort in Pennsylvania, writing that the case presented by Trump's lawyers claiming voter fraud amounted to "strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations". "This claim, like Frankenstein's Monster, has been haphazardly stitched together," Brann wrote.

Some of Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress are now breaking ranks though many, including the most senior ones, have not. Republican Senator Pat Toomey said Brann's ruling "exhausted all plausible legal options" for Trump in Pennsylvania, and he urged the president to "accept the outcome of the election". Toomey also congratulated Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and referred to them as "dedicated public servants".

Liz Cheney, a member of the Republican leadership team in the House of Representatives, earlier called on Trump to immediately present evidence of widespread voter fraud or otherwise respect "the sanctity of our electoral process". Ron Klain, Biden's choice as incoming White House chief of staff, and other Biden aides appeared on Sunday morning news shows to give their team's perspective on the transition process.

"You are going to see the first of the president-elect's cabinet picks on Tuesday of this week," Klain told ABC's "This Week" yesterday. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who served as an advisor during the Trump transition, said on ABC that the president's spate of legal challenges was a "national embarrassment". Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, another Republican, said on CNN that Trump was making the country look like a "banana republic," while ex-national security advisor John Bolton said on the same program that the president's actions amounted to "throwing rocks through windows."

North Dakota senator Kevin Cramer defended Trump's insistence on ensuring the election was fair, but added on NBC that it is "past time to start a transition". And even Representative Devin Nunes, an ardent Trump loyalist, conceded in backhanded language on Fox News that Biden was "the first guy to run a successful campaign from a basement."

For Trump to have any hope of remaining in the White House, he needed to somehow overcome Biden's 81,000-vote margin in Pennsylvania, a state he won in 2016. The state is due to begin certifying its results today. Trump's lawyers vowed a quick appeal, but lawyers who opposed him in court said he is out of time. "This should put the nail in the coffin on any further attempts by President Trump to use the federal courts to rewrite the outcome of the 2020 election," said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Biden received 6 million more votes nationwide than Trump and, more importantly, prevailed 306-232 in the state-by-state Electoral College system that determines the election's victor. In order to remain in office, Trump would somehow need to overturn election results in at least three large states - an unprecedented feat in US history.

A recount in Georgia only affirmed Biden's victory there - a state Trump had won in 2016 - and officials certified the result on Friday. Trump's campaign said late on Saturday it would request another recount. In Wisconsin, election officials have criticized Trump volunteers for slowing a partial recount that is not expected to overturn Biden's victory. Trump also won Wisconsin in 2016.

With recounts and lawsuits coming up short, Trump is now pressuring Republican-led state legislatures to throw out the vote totals and declare him the winner. "Hopefully the Courts and/or Legislatures will have … the COURAGE to do what has to be done to maintain the integrity of our Elections and the United States of America itself," he wrote on Twitter after the Pennsylvania ruling.

Trump's accusations have continued to inflame his hard-core Republican base. Half of Republicans believe the election was stolen from Trump, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling, and some supporters have staged rallies across the country to protest the outcome. - Reuters