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Gov. Bill Lee speaks during the Tennessee Higher Education Commission session of the state budget hearings Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee says it's "not clear" who won the presidential election, leading the state's Republican elected officials in full-throated support of President Donald Trump, whose legal battles to overturn an apparently decisive presidential victory by Democrat Joe Biden are just beginning.

Biden is leading, with 76.6 million votes to 71.7 million for Trump in the popular vote, and 290 to 214 in the Electoral College. Although The Associated Press and other news organizations have projected that there is no way mathematically for ongoing vote counting and certification to reverse the result, Trump has not conceded and is waging a legal battle in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and elsewhere over issues such as access for his supporters to watch ballot counting.

"I think it's a function of recognizing that this country has a process for elections, especially very closely contested elections," Lee told reporters on Tuesday. "And we need to let that process play out. And the president, we have one president at a time, and the president has every right to pursue legal challenges. We have states that are in the process of recounts."

Both U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, and U.S. Sen.-elect Bill Hagerty have urged Republicans to financially support the president in his legal efforts.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, an appointed Republican, joined a group of fellow Republican state attorneys general on Monday in filing an "amicus curiae" or "friend of the court" brief siding with Trump in the Pennsylvania challenge.

Lee said that while he had not personally spoken with Slatery, his office had been in contact with him and that he supported Slatery's involvement.

"What's at issue in Tennessee is an issue for Americans and that is that future elections be held in a way that is consistent across states," the governor said. "And our attorney general recognizes that. And that's why we are joining other states in making sure that we have elections in the future that are not complicated by rules that don't apply across states."

The state Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday said in a statement that the caucus "stands absolutely and unequivocally with President Donald J. Trump as he contests the unofficial results of the presidential election of 2020."

"There have been reports of irregularities in many critical states such as Michigan, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania," the Senate Republican letter said. "Until these irregularities have been thoroughly investigated and court appeals have been exhausted, no winner should be declared."

Three Republican senators in the 27-member GOP Caucus, including Republican Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, did not sign the letter. Gardenhire said he was dealing with a personal emergency at the time signatures were needed.

Former elected Republicans from Tennessee have been less accepting of the president's post-election posture.

As Trump began making allegations about illegal votes and other issues last week, the bipartisan National Council on Election Integrity — a group of more than 40 former elected officials, former Cabinet secretaries, retired military officials and civic leaders — weighed in.

The group's members include one-time Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a Hamilton County Republican.

"The president spent 15 minutes using the podium of the White House to make false claims that undermine the integrity of our elections and do a disservice to the hard-working election officials around the nation who have performed their duties admirably," the group said in its statement. "There is absolutely no basis for these irresponsible claims.

"Politicians can say whatever they choose, but it is the American people who decide their leaders, not the other way around. Our constitutional process demands we count every vote," the group added.

 

'BEYOND DEMAGOGUERY'

Another former elected Republican in Tennessee, former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, on Tuesday congratulated Biden on winning his presidential race.

"I congratulate President-elect Biden and wish him well as he organizes to lead our country," tweeted Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor who served two terms in the Senate and rose to become Foreign Relations Committee chair before falling out with Trump and later deciding not to seek reelection in 2018.

Corker added that "after 2016 and 2020, surely our country can improve our election system where results are beyond question — and beyond demagoguery from either side of the aisle."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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