U.S. President Donald Trump's bid to overturn his election defeat faces a deadline in Wisconsin on Wednesday, where his campaign has to decide whether to pay $7.9 million for a recount in a state President-elect Joe Biden won.
Trump has refused to concede the Nov. 3 election, blocking the smooth transition to a new administration and complicating Biden's pledge to make the pandemic a top priority when he takes office on Jan. 20.
Biden, a Democrat, won the national popular vote by more than 5.6 million votes, or 3.6 percentage points, with some ballots still being counted. In the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the winner, Biden captured 306 votes to the Republican Trump's 232.
Trump claims, without providing evidence, that he was cheated out of a victory by widespread fraud and has fired off a flurry of lawsuits that judges have mostly rejected.
To remain in office, Trump would need to overturn results in at least three states, in unprecedented fashion, to reach the threshold of 270 electoral votes.
In Wisconsin, where Biden won by more than 20,000 votes, Trump can ask for a recount but his campaign would have to front the estimated cost of $7.9 million. The Trump campaign has until 5 p.m. CST (2300 GMT), to decide whether to pay for the recount.
The president is clinging also to hope that a manual recount ordered by the state of Georgia can erase Biden's 14,000-vote lead there.
States face a Dec. 8 deadline to certify election results in time for the official Electoral College vote on Dec. 14.
Congress is scheduled to count the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, which is normally a formality. But Trump supporters in the Senate and House of Representatives could object to the results in a final, long-shot attempt to deprive Biden of 270 electoral votes and turn the final decision over to the House.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed about half of Republicans believe Trump "rightfully won" but the election was stolen from him.
Seventy-three percent of those polled agreed Biden won while 5% thought Trump won. But when asked specifically whether Biden had "rightfully won," 52% of Republicans said Trump rightfully won, while only 29% said that Biden had rightfully won.
Biden and his senior advisers have said that Trump's defiance could jeopardize efforts to contain surging COVID-19 cases and inhibit vaccine distribution planning in a country where more than 248,000 people have died from the pandemic.
That sentiment was echoed by three leading U.S. healthcare organizations on Tuesday that addressed the president directly in an open letter, urging him to share critical COVID-19 data with the Biden team.
"We urge you to share critical data and information as soon as possible," said the letter, signed by the heads of the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Hospitals Association.
Biden will meet healthcare workers on the front lines of the crisis in a virtual roundtable from his home state of Delaware on Wednesday. Trump has no public events scheduled.
Trump on Tuesday fired the top U.S. cybersecurity official, who had irked Trump by refusing to support allegations of election fraud.
Chris Krebs was removed as head of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. His work in protecting the election from hackers and battling disinformation about the vote won praise from lawmakers of both parties, as well as election officials around the country.
Taking their cue from the president, Republicans across the country have sought to cast doubt over the results.
In Michigan, where Biden won by 145,000 votes, two Republicans on the Wayne County board of canvassers tried to hold up Biden's victory in that state on Tuesday, only to relent hours later.
In a county that includes the majority-Black city of Detroit and that voted overwhelmingly in favor of Biden, the two board members initially voted to block certification of the results.
But the Republicans reversed their decision after more than two hours of angry public comment, voting to certify results with the caveat that the Michigan secretary of state conduct an audit.
At a federal court hearing in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann appeared skeptical of Trump's request to block officials from certifying Biden's win in that state by more than 80,000 votes.
"At bottom, you are asking this court to invalidate 6.8 million votes, thereby disenfranchising every single voter in the Commonwealth (of Pennsylvania)," Brann said. "Can you tell me how this result can possibly be justified?"