with Mariana Alfaro

Some of President-elect Joe Biden’s advisers and lawyers sounded gung-ho last week about filing a lawsuit aimed at compelling the General Services Administration to allow the transition to move ahead. 

Instead of waging a messy legal fight, Biden has chosen to sue for relief in the court of public opinion. He warned during a Monday news conference that President Trump’s refusal to allow his transition team to coordinate with federal agencies could slow down the distribution of coronavirus vaccines by a month or more once they are approved.

“More people may die if we don’t coordinate,” Biden said in Wilmington, Del.

Biden’s decision not to file a GSA lawsuit reflects an impulse toward caution that animated his campaign and seems almost certain to define his presidency.

Monday’s news conference offered several illustrations. 

Biden declined to say whether governors should order new lockdowns or close nonessential businesses. “Look, it depends on the state,” he said. Even as he continues to warn of a “very dark winter” to come, in which “things are going to get much tougher before they get easier,” Biden’s public health advisers tell us he has no plan – or desire – to reimpose a national lockdown when he takes office in January because he’s very mindful of the economic consequences of closures.

Biden is not breaking ranks with congressional Democrats on coronavirus relief negotiations. He could publicly endorse holding a vote on the scaled-back package that Senate Republicans want, but instead he expressed support on Monday for the bill that House Democrats advanced several months ago which has been a non-starter with the GOP. Even as Biden called on both sides to work together and to pass legislation immediately, his message was intentionally delivered in a way that would not be interpreted as undercutting the Democratic negotiating position on Capitol Hill.

Biden, who has promised to be more of a transitional president than a transformational one, continues to fill his senior staff with establishment Democrats with whom he feels comfortable. They are the kinds of steady hands who will not rock the ship of state. Incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, the consummate Washington survivor, worked for Biden as a lawyer on the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1980s and served as his chief of staff during his first term as vice president. Steve Ricchetti, Biden’s chief of staff in his second term as V.P., will be named today as counselor to the president, the job Kellyanne Conway held for Trump. 

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) will announce today in New Orleans that he is giving up his House seat to become the head of public engagement in the White House, a job Valerie Jarrett held in the Obama White House. Richmond, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, was an early endorser and has been a member of Biden’s kitchen cabinet. He will be a key liaison to the Hill. 

Biden also plans to name Jen O’Malley Dillon, who became his campaign manager for the general election after leading Beto O’Rourke’s presidential bid during the primaries, to be deputy White House chief of staff. This should be taken as a sign that Biden has every intention of running for reelection in 2024, despite speculation that he does not plan to pursue a second term.

If Republicans win one or both of the Georgia runoffs, which seems more likely than not, Biden is poised to become a historically weak president. Constrained on Capitol Hill, Biden could be forced to lead largely by example. 

Wearing a mask while urging others to do so is part of a broader virtue-signaling strategy. Another illustration of that came Monday as the president-elect urged Americans to scale back their Thanksgiving plans by announcing that his own family will limit its celebration to 10 people, as recommended by experts. The comment felt reminiscent of President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 announcement, while wearing a cardigan sweater, that he had turned down the White House thermostat to save energy.

“There’s nothing macho about not wearing a mask,” Biden said.

Trump tweeted Sunday that Biden “won” – but only “because the Election was Rigged.” The president quickly walked this back and insisted that that he concedes nothing. Asked about this, Biden responded with a more-in-sadness-than-in-anger vibe. “I interpret that as Trumpianism,” Biden said. “No change in his modus operandi. … I find this more embarrassing for the country than debilitating for my ability to get started.”

Biden observed how silly it is that, while Vice President-elect Kamala Harris gets classified briefings because she sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he is not because Trump will not allow them to begin. Instead, Biden is scheduled to receive a national security briefing later today from experts outside government.

Meanwhile, ABC News reports that GSA administrator Emily Murphy, the Trump loyalist who refuses to sign the paperwork to let the transition move forward, is herself searching for a new job after Jan. 20. Murphy sent a message to an associate inquiring about employment opportunities in 2021.

NBC News reports this morning that the president-elect has privately told advisers that he doesn't want his presidency to be consumed by investigations of Trump, despite pressure from some Democrats to pursue them: “Biden has raised concerns that investigations would further divide a country he is trying to unite and risk making every day of his presidency about Trump … He has specifically told advisers that he is wary of federal tax investigations of Trump or of challenging any orders Trump may issue granting immunity to members of his staff before he leaves office. One adviser said Biden has made it clear that he ‘just wants to move on.’ Another Biden adviser said, ‘He's going to be more oriented toward fixing the problems and moving forward than prosecuting them.’”

To be sure, Biden’s bid to depoliticize the Justice Department after Bill Barr’s hyerpolitical reign as attorney general would not stop state and local prosecutors from pursuing charges against Trump, his children, his staff, his associates and his business, including New York Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who are both Democrats.

Looking back, Biden ran an exceedingly cautious campaign. He behaved in the final months of the race like a football coach trying to run down the clock with a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. The 77-year-old never contracted the coronavirus as a candidate, unlike Trump and most of the president’s senior staff, and he won the election. This ultimately validates his prudence.

But the final outcome was almost certainly closer than it would have been if he had traveled more aggressively instead of campaigning and fundraising from his basement for months. Biden’s campaign erred by not running an in-person field program during the summer when Trump and the Republicans were running circles around him on voter contact. This might have cost him a state like North Carolina, where Trump prevailed by one percentage point, or about 74,000 votes.

Biden’s personal instincts were toward caution and centrism throughout the contest. Last year, in the primaries, the longtime former senator said he opposed adding more justices to the Supreme Court. When court packing became all the rage on the far left after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Biden declined to reiterate his previous view for weeks and opened the door to the idea. Facing blowback from the right, Biden announced that he would appoint a commission to explore possible ideas for “court reform.” Calling for the creation of a blue-ribbon commission to look into something is the quintessential Washington off-ramp – and a signal of cautiousness. The same can be said for how he talked about Black Lives Matter protests for much of the summer. 

Indecision has long been one of his biggest weaknesses. He routinely blows past self-imposed deadlines because he cannot make up his mind. This happened with his campaign kickoff last year and with the vice-presidential selection process over the summer.

The Delawarean’s slow-and-steady plodding over half a century has brought him to the precipice of the most powerful job in the world. Biden was the tortoise to Trump’s hare. One illustration of Biden putting in the work is his investment in developing personal relationships. Denis McDonough, Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, observed to Politico over the summer that Biden, as vice president, “always wanted to have had two conversations with someone before he would ask that person for something. … Once in a while you’re like, ‘Hey, can we get through those two touches so you can make the ask here,’ but he just wouldn’t do it. That’s the kind of operation he runs.”

Something similar appears to be playing out again in Biden’s response to the coronavirus. Celine Gounder, a clinical assistant professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and a member of Biden’s newly formed coronavirus panel, told Annie Linskey and Sean Sullivan on Monday that Biden has privately said that he does not favor national shutdowns like what happened in the spring. She said the Biden strategy is focused instead on invoking the Defense Production Act to increase production of protective equipment such as masks and gowns, increasing testing, and focusing on ensuring the effective production and distribution therapeutics and a vaccine.

“The consensus on the advisory board is that we are not seeking to impose a national lockdown again,” Gounder said. Biden, she added, “has not said he would entertain a national lockdown. He has made it very clear in those meetings as well that he really wants to be more targeted in terms of restrictions. … I do not think that is on the table at all. There’s a lot that we’ve learned since the spring.”

“Biden’s attempts to steer away from shutdowns reveal how toxic his team believes that remedy to be,” Linskey and Sullivan report. “Not everyone on the advisory panel has stuck to the same message. Last week Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a member of the panel, floated national shutdowns lasting from four to six weeks. … Osterholm quickly walked back the idea, saying that it was not one being discussed by Biden’s team.”

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have not talked recently about covid negotiations,” Anne Gearan and Jeff Stein report. “Biden spoke to Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday … Biden has [still] not spoken to McConnell … Lawmakers had expressed hope that at least a partial coronavirus relief package could be coupled with an extension in funding for the federal government, which is necessary to avoid a Dec. 11 shutdown. But senior congressional officials have grown increasingly pessimistic that can be achieved in the lame-duck period. … The White House is now expected to take a back seat in negotiations and not offer new stimulus proposals. … Unemployment benefits for millions are set to expire, as are protections for renters and student borrowers amid mounting signs Americans are struggling to pay their utility bills and rent.”

“Some argue that [Biden’s] lack of clarity on these issues is an attempt to keep his options open. But the nation is increasingly looking to him for guidance,” Heather Long notes. “Many left-leaning economists, including Jason Furman, a former chief economist to [Obama], have urged Biden and [Pelosi] to take a smaller deal now to lock in some stimulus funding. Something is better than nothing for millions of struggling Americans and small businesses, they say.”

The voting wars

Georgia’s secretary of state says he's facing GOP pressure to discard legitimate ballots.

“Brad Raffensperger said Monday that he has come under increasing pressure in recent days from fellow Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who he said questioned the validity of legally cast absentee ballots, in an effort to reverse Trump’s narrow loss in the state,” Amy Gardner reports. “In a wide-ranging interview about the election, Raffensperger expressed exasperation over a string of baseless allegations coming from Trump and his allies about the integrity of the Georgia results, including claims that Dominion Voting Systems, the Colorado-based manufacturer of Georgia’s voting machines, is a ‘leftist’ company with ties to Venezuela that engineered thousands of Trump votes to be left out of the count. The atmosphere has grown so contentious, Raffensperger said, that he and his wife, Tricia, have received death threats in recent days, including a text to him that read: ‘You better not botch this recount. Your life depends on it.’ … Biden has a 14,000-vote lead … 

“The normally mild-mannered Raffensperger saved his harshest language for Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), who is leading the president’s efforts in Georgia and whom Raffensperger called a ‘liar’ and a ‘charlatan.’ … [Raffensperger] said the hand-counted audit that began last week will also prove the accuracy of the Dominion machines … 

“Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger said. Raffensperger said he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots. Absent court intervention, Raffensperger doesn’t have the power to do what Graham suggested … ‘It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road,’ Raffensperger said. In an interview on Capitol Hill on Monday evening, Graham denied that he had suggested that Raffensperger toss legal ballots, calling that characterization ‘ridiculous.’” 

Democrats condemned Graham’s alleged intervention. “This is insane and illegal,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). “Senate Republicans shouldn’t be applying pressure on election officials to overturn the will of the people,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). (Katie Shepherd)

Republicans privately struggle with how to use Trump in the Georgia runoffs.

“Republican leaders are increasingly alarmed about the party’s ability to stave off Democratic challengers in Georgia’s two Senate runoff elections — and they privately described Trump on a recent conference call as a political burden,” Robert Costa and Tom Hamburger report. “Those blunt assessments, which capture a Republican Party in turmoil as Trump refuses to concede to Biden, were made on a Nov. 10 call with donors hosted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. It featured Georgia’s embattled GOP incumbents, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, and Karl Rove, a veteran strategist who is coordinating fundraising for the Jan. 5 runoffs. … Most striking was the way the senators nodded toward the likelihood of Biden’s presidency [even as they continue to pretend otherwise publicly]. …

Perdue noted later that he had confronted an ‘anti-Trump vote in Georgia’ in the first round of voting and said the runoff is about getting ‘enough conservative Republicans out to vote’ in the Atlanta suburbs and elsewhere who might have opposed the president’s reelection.I’m talking about people that may have voted for Biden but now may come back and vote for us because there was an anti-Trump vote in Georgia,’ Perdue said. ‘And we think some of those people, particularly in the suburbs, may come back to us.’ … Some on the call expressed particular concern about Georgia’s fast-changing electorate, driven by the increasingly liberal metro Atlanta region and the push by 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to register more Democratic voters … ‘They changed, dramatically, the face of the electorate in Georgia. Many of these new voters are from California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and they’re not of the conservative persuasion,’ Perdue said …

“Loeffler and Perdue laid bare their strategies for the closing weeks, with an emphasis on making incendiary attacks on the Democrats … ‘This is really not about messaging. It’s not about persuasion in my race. It’s more about getting the vote out,’ Perdue said. … ‘We think that Trump voters are going to continue to be very energized, and we don’t think we’ll have a problem with that,’ Loeffler said. ‘But the question is about the Democrat turnout. We don’t know. We can’t take for granted that we’re going to keep everyone motivated.’ … ‘We’ve got to pile on big time,’ Rove said on the call.”

Russia failed to mount any major hacking or disinformation operations to interfere in the election.

U.S. officials say the Kremlin’s hackers did not even attempt to target elections systems in the way they did in 2016, Ellen Nakashima reports: “Officials and analysts said it’s too early to know why, but they point to a variety of possible reasons. Those include cyber and other operations that helped keep the Russians at bay, harder targets at the state and local level, and a political climate in which Americans themselves were the largest purveyors of disinformation, dwarfing Moscow’s efforts to influence the campaign through social media and its propaganda channels. This year, U.S. Cyber Command pursued a new approach to countering Russian hackers who might want to disrupt the election. In a series of operations, the military attacked their systems and then fell back at random intervals to keep them off balance. Cybercom also attempted to sabotage Russian hacking tools.”

Trump broods behind the scenes as his legal options dwindle.

“Despite mounting legal losses in courts and a retreat by his attorneys in a federal case filed against Pennsylvania election officials, Trump dug in on his false claim that he ‘won’ the election,” Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, Gardner and Jon Swaine report. “Trump’s campaign has begun winding down its operations, with employment contracts for a number of aides expiring on Sunday. The president, frustrated that his campaign lawyers were not appearing more frequently on television to amplify his baseless claim that he was the real election winner, has elevated attorneys Rudolph W. Giuliani and Jenna Ellis to run his legal and public-relations efforts to overturn the results. … Some of Trump’s advisers have encouraged him to permit the Biden transition operation to officially begin its work … But the president — who is actively talking about running for president again in four years — has refused those entreaties, arguing that he thinks his core supporters want to see him ‘keep fighting,’ according to one of these advisers … ‘He is more dug into his position than he was at the beginning,’ this adviser said. … 'All of his people are despondent.' …

"In a meeting Friday, Giuliani told Trump that his advisers had been lying to him about his odds of prevailing and that he actually could winSince then, Giuliani has taken over … ‘It’s really more of a public-relations fight now than a legal one,’ one campaign official said. … Also further empowered is Ellis, who showed up at the campaign’s headquarters over the weekend and signaled to others she would be taking a leading role in the effort. Ellis is viewed as an uncontrollable figure inside the campaign who often provided Trump with questionable information about alleged voter fraud and appeared on television without asking for approval from campaign officials … She recently dubbed herself ‘President-Elect Jenna Ellis’ on Twitter, which invited private derision from some of her colleagues. … 

“Giuliani, Ellis and others, including Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, have embraced more extreme conspiracy theories, including the debunked claim that Dominion Voting Systems … deleted Trump votes. Others on the campaign, such as deputy campaign manager Justin Clark, do not believe those theories … Trump has become personally obsessed with the baseless Dominion claims and has asked campaign officials as well as national security officials in the government about the company."

Three more lawyers representing Trump’s campaign have asked to withdraw from his lawsuit attempting to block the certification of results in Pennsylvania, a case that legal experts describe as frivolous. “The lawyers - Linda Kerns, John Scott and Douglas Bryan Hughes - made the request in a court filing on Monday,” Reuters reports. “The judge hearing the case allowed Scott and Hughes to withdraw but not Kerns. … 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.” Harrisburg-based lawyer Marc Scaringi joined the Trump team and will be the president's lead counsel on the case. Just 10 days ago, Scaringi said there “really are no bombshells that are about to drop that will derail a Biden presidency, including these lawsuits.”

Meanwhile, White House national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien acknowledged the obvious. “If the Biden-Harris ticket is determined to be the winner, and obviously things look that way now, we’ll have a very professional transition from the National Security Council,” O’Brien said at the Global Security Forum. (Paul Sonne)

  • A presidential recount in Wisconsin would cost Trump $7.9 million, and he has to decide by the close of business today whether he'll put up the money. Trump trails there by about 20,500 votes. (AP)
  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said he would intervene if Biden was not receiving detailed intelligence briefings by Friday. Under blowback from the Trump defenders, the chairman of the committee that oversees the GSA backed off and claimed his comments were blown out of proportion. “I'm not in a hurry, necessarily, to get Joe Biden these briefings,” Lankford told Newsmax, a pro-Trump site. (WSJ)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) joined the small group of Republican senators who refer to Biden as the “president-elect.” Only four other GOP senators – Mitt Romney (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) – have congratulated Biden. Rubio made the comment when asked by reporters what he would think of Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) as a possible director of national intelligence. "Well, that'll be the president-elect's decision obviously," Rubio said. (NPR)
  • Over a dozen companies are gearing up for Biden's administration by hiring lobbyists linked to him. Lyft, for example, just hired Sudafi Henry, who was director of legislative affairs for Biden when he was vice president. (CNBC)

The Trump presidency

Handing another win to the Taliban, Trump plans to slash troop levels in Afghanistan.

The White House is preparing to announce as soon as this week plans to roughly halve the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, from around 5,000 to 2,500, before the inauguration, Missy Ryan, Ellen Nakashima, Dan Lamothe, John Hudson and Karen DeYoung report. "The administration is also expected to announce a more modest troop reduction in Iraq, bringing the military force there from about 3,000 to 2,500 troops … But the reductions may not bring an end to America’s long-running wars, as militant groups continue to evolve and fracture. The proposed cuts also have an uncertain meaning less than 70 days before Biden takes office and launches a process to scrutinize his predecessor’s decisions. The Trump administration’s decision to make a major reduction in Afghanistan, where violence has surged as Afghan negotiators engage in halting peace talks, in particular could bring to a head tensions that have intensified between some at the Pentagon and White House during a chaotic transition period. Officials cautioned that the plans from the White House, where foreign policy zigzags have been common, could change. Some aides are proposing a Trump speech later in the week to announce the planned cut from Afghanistan … 

"Days before being dismissed, Pentagon chief Mark T. Esper sent Trump a classified memo that cautioned conditions were not adequate to make additional troop cuts in Afghanistan, citing the possibility of undermining peace talks and a variety of other factors. His assessment was based on input from senior military leaders. … [O’Brien] last month got into a public spat with Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the course ahead in Afghanistan. At the time, Milley said that O’Brien’s assertion that the troop level would be cut to 2,500 by January was ‘speculation.’ … O’Brien has told other officials that Milley isn’t listening to the president on Afghanistan.

"Reports about an imminent announcement prompted warnings from senior Republicans on Capitol Hill. In an impassioned speech Monday, [McConnell] implored the president not to end U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, saying it would be an embarrassment ‘reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975.’ McConnell, avoiding direct criticism of Trump, encouraged the president to preserve the ‘limited, but important role’ of those who remain. ‘Leaving the field in Afghanistan to the Taliban and ISIS would be broadcast around the world as a symbol of U.S. defeat and humiliation,’ he said. …

"Trump’s plans have been only marginally coordinated, if at all, with his negotiating envoy to the Afghans, Zalmay Khalilzad, and with the Afghan government. While Trump has battled many of his top aides in his pursuit of a withdrawal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has come to accept the president’s wishes … 'If Taliban leaders ‘can see they can win on the battlefield, then they don’t need to make concessions at the negotiating table,’ said Carter Malkasian, a former Pentagon official who took part in some of the talks U.S. officials have conducted with Taliban leaders in recent years.” 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned this morning that premature withdrawal from Afghanistan could be dangerous. "The price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high. Afghanistan risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organise attacks on our homelands. And ISIS could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq," Stoltenberg said in a statement this morning to CNN.

POTUS sought options last week for attacking Iran.

“Trump asked senior advisers in an Oval Office meeting on Thursday whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming weeks,” the New York Times reports. “A range of senior advisers dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military strike. The advisers — including Vice President Mike Pence; [Pompeo]; Christopher C. Miller, the acting defense secretary; and [Milley] — warned that a strike against Iran’s facilities could easily escalate into a broader conflict in the last weeks of Mr. Trump’s presidency. … Any strike — whether by missile or cyber — would almost certainly be focused on Natanz, where the International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Wednesday that Iran’s uranium stockpile was now 12 times larger than permitted under the nuclear accord that Mr. Trump abandoned in 2018. …

“After Mr. Pompeo and General Milley described the potential risks of military escalation, officials left the meeting believing a missile attack inside Iran was off the table. … Mr. Trump might still be looking at ways to strike Iranian assets and allies, including militias in Iraq … Defense Department and other national security officials have privately expressed worries that the president might initiate operations, whether overt or secret, against Iran or other adversaries at the end of his term.”

Trump is racing to auction off drilling rights in ANWR. 

“The Trump administration is asking oil and gas firms to pick spots where they want to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as it races to open the pristine wilderness to development and lock in drilling rights before Biden takes office,” Juliet Eilperin reports. “The ‘call for nominations’ to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register allows companies to identify tracts on which to bid during an upcoming lease sale on the refuge’s nearly 1.6 million-acre coastal plain … A GOP-controlled Congress in 2017 authorized drilling in the refuge, a vast wilderness that is home to tens of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl, along with polar bears and Arctic foxes. … The administration is pressing ahead with other moves to expand energy development and scale back federal environmental rules over the next few weeks. It aims to finalize a plan to open up the vast majority of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to drilling, as well as adopt a narrower definition of what constitutes critical habitat for endangered species and when companies are liable for killing migratory birds. At the Energy Department, officials may weaken energy-efficiency requirements for shower heads, as well as washers and dryers before Inauguration Day. The government also plans to auction off oil and gas rights to more than 383,000 acres of federal land in the Lower 48 in the next two months.”

A third GOP senator comes out against Trump’s Fed nominee, putting her confirmation on a knife’s edge. 

“Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on Monday said he would not support the nomination of Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, narrowing the path for the controversial economist’s confirmation in the final months of the Trump presidency,” Rachel Siegel and Seung Min Kim report. “Alexander joins Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who said they would vote ‘no’ over the summer. … ‘I am not convinced that she supports the independence of the Federal Reserve Board as much as I believe the Board of Governors should,’ Alexander said in a statement … ‘I don’t want to turn over management of the money supply to a Congress and a President who can’t balance the federal budget.’”

Jay Clayton, the SEC chairman, will step down at the end of the year. 

“Clayton, a longtime corporate lawyer, was appointed by Trump in May 2017 and is one of the commission’s longest-serving chairs,” Hannah Denham reports. “During his tenure, Clayton emphasized protecting retail investors and drew praise for tackling complex market issues. The agency also cracked down on cryptocurrency scams, filing numerous cases over the past few years. But consumer advocates have said some of the SEC policies under his leadership could hurt consumers in the long run, including allowing more companies to raise money without traditional oversight."

More on the coronavirus

California imposes its strictest restrictions since the spring.

“Governors and mayors moved rapidly on Monday to slow the galloping spread of covid-19,” Griff Witte, Meryl Kornfield and Hannah Denham report. “In a mirror of the country’s spring shutdown, California took some of the most dramatic steps, with Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announcing he was pulling the state’s ‘emergency brake.’ … The vast majority of the state — 94 percent of California’s 40 million people — will now be living under the most restrictive stage of reopening, with indoor dining, fitness center workouts and religious services all suspended. … New Jersey and Philadelphia also announced new restrictions … The data explain why: The country racked up … at least 100,000 cases each day for nearly two weeks running. … The grim milestone of a quarter-million dead Americans is likely to be reached by the weekend. …

The nation’s current spike in infections — its third — is its most severe to date. With families and friends expected to gather for Thanksgiving next week, the spread of the novel coronavirus could easily worsen. But that is not inevitable, and experts say the measures announced Monday – if heeded – could have a pronounced impact in drawing down infections, just as they did in the spring. … Wide disparities in the rules remain, which could limit their effectiveness." 

  • Infections reached a new high for a 13th consecutive day in the D.C. region. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has resisted adding new restrictions. (Julie Zauzmer and Erin Cox)
  • Missouri lawmakers postponed plans to hold a special session on addressing the coronavirus because too many lawmakers and their staffers have the virus after the state senate’s Republican majority held an in-person retreat at a resort in the Ozarks. (Antonia Farzan)
  • Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) tested positive. She said she’s experiencing mild symptoms but is feeling well and in self-isolation. 
  • The NCAA plans to hold the 2021 men’s basketball March Madness tournament in one location rather than staging the early-round games at 13 locations. The NCAA is in talks to hold the entire 68-team tournament in Indianapolis. (Emily Giambalvo)
  • Public health programs in the U.S. have seen a surge in enrollment during the pandemic. (AP)
  • As the virus began to surge again throughout the West this fall, a couple in rural Ritzville, Wash., held a wedding ceremony with more than 300 guests on Nov. 7. Two separate outbreaks have now been fueled by at least 17 guests who have since tested positive – with more new cases from the event being added daily. (Tim Elfrink)
  • Arlington National Cemetery canceled its annual “Wreaths Across America” event. In past years, hundreds of volunteers have joined together to place wreaths on every grave. (Martin Weil)
The World Health Organization tempers optimism about a vaccine.

“The world welcomed with relief biotechnology firm Moderna’s announcement Monday that initial results suggested its coronavirus vaccine candidate was nearly 95 percent effective at preventing the illness. Markets soared on the promising news. But experts at the World Health Organization in Geneva weighed the hopes against a long slog they still see ahead,” Adam Taylor reports. “Public health officials have long warned that the development of an effective vaccine would be the beginning of a struggle just as steep: an effort to vaccinate the world. … The caution at the world’s top public health body was not directed toward the achievements of Moderna and other vaccine developers, but at creating a realistic understanding of the enormous task of immunization. Supply and delivery will pose high hurdles, among others, even if a vaccine is highly effective.”

Experts are frustrated that many of the lessons of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic have not been addressed, from ongoing investments in public health infrastructure to the use of transparent, fact-based communication strategies. Some of those insights have been neglected, some blatantly ignored, while other conundrums loom, unsolved, over the upcoming distribution of the coronavirus vaccines,” Frances Stead Sellers reports.

With no federal mandates to follow, an increasing number of U.S. airlines and airports are offering preflight coronavirus testing to boost public confidence in flying,” Lori Aratani and Ian Duncan report. “More than 100 countries now require proof of a negative coronavirus test for entry, and in some cases travelers with negative results are allowed to skip otherwise mandatory quarantines.”

Stanford distances itself from Scott Atlas.

Trump’s controversial coronavirus adviser, a radiologist without public health experience, made headlines again over the weekend for encouraging Michigan residents to “rise up” against new restrictions unveiled by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). Atlas is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank affiliated with the campus, but he is on leave to serve on Trump’s task force. Without offering specifics, the university said in a statement that Atlas “has expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic" and his comments “reflect his personal views, not those of the Hoover Institution or the university.”

Quote of the day

“For many people, this is their final Thanksgiving, believe it or not,” Trump coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas said Monday night on Fox News, explaining why he encourages family gatherings for the holiday. 

A South Dakota nurse says many patients still deny the virus exists – even on their death beds. 

“Jodi Doering, an emergency room nurse in South Dakota, was overwhelmed Saturday night. Her patients were dying of covid-19, yet were still in denial about the pandemic’s existence. It’s like a ‘horror movie that never ends,’ Doering wrote on Twitter,” Paulina Villegas reports. “Her anxiety and despair is shared by many health-care workers who are facing a dramatic surge in … patients who, despite being severely ill, are reluctant to acknowledge that they have been infected with a virus that Trump has said will simply disappear. Doering said she has covid-19 patients who need 100 percent-oxygen breathing assistance who will also swear that they don’t have the illness … ‘Their last dying words are, 'This can’t be happening. It’s not real,’’ Doering said, adding that some patients prefer to believe that they have pneumonia or other diseases rather than covid-19, despite seeing their positive test results.” 

Some places were short on nurses before the virus. The pandemic is making it worse. 

“There is record demand for travel nurses, who take out-of-town assignments on short-term contracts of 13 weeks or less at elevated wages. Per-diem nurses, who are willing to take a shift or two in their local hospitals, have been pressed into service. The military is chipping in. And still, in some places, it is not nearly enough,” Lenny Bernstein reports. "Staffing in U.S. hospitals, particularly among nurses, has reflected a patchwork of local shortages in recent years … But now, the once-in-a-century pandemic is exposing the liabilities of this just-in-time, cost-conscious approach at some hospitals, chronic staff shortages in others and the toll of the pandemic on an exhausted workforce.”

Other news that should be on your radar

  • SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station last night, delivering three Americans and one Japanese astronaut to the orbiting laboratory. (Christian Davenport)
  • Hurricane Iota, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic this late in the year, slammed into the Nicaraguan coast overnight, bringing catastrophic winds and pounding rains to a swath of Central America still reeling from the destructive force of Hurricane Eta two weeks ago. (Anne-Catherine Brigida and Anthony Faiola)
  • Virtually the entirety of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coastlines has been raked by tropical storm- or hurricane-force winds during this hyperactive hurricane season, leaving only six coastal counties fully spared. All told, a dozen named storms have hit the Lower 48 in 2020. (Matthew Cappucci and Lauren Tierney)
  • There were 51 hate-crime killings in the United States last year, the highest number since the FBI began tabulating such figures in the early 1990s. (Devlin Barrett)

Social media speed read

Former first lady Michelle Obama urged Republicans to respect the election results after reflecting on how painful it was for her to do so in 2016:

Senate Republicans sent a fundraising text signed by Donald Trump Jr. that appears to admit that Biden won by suggesting that, if Democrats win the two Georgia seats, they’ll take control of the chamber. That could only happen if Kamala Harris is vice president:

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) had a tense moment with Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who was presiding over the chamber, when he asked him to put on a mask. Sullivan declined to do so:

Videos of the day

Stephen Colbert said executive mismanagement is the primary reason why the pandemic has not been controlled in America:

Seth Meyers took a look at Trump’s Twitter “concession”: 

And comedian Sarah Cooper spoofed Trump’s lawyers: