with Mariana Alfaro

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called President Trump’s order to halve the size of the U.S. force in Afghanistan by Jan. 15 “the right policy decision.” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), the ranking member on the committee, said "these additional reductions of American troops from terrorist areas are a mistake."

The best indication yet that congressional Republicans accept Trump’s defeat in the election has been the flurry of statements decrying the Tuesday announcement by acting secretary of defense Chris Miller that the military will reduce troop numbers from about 5,000 to 2,500 in Afghanistan and from about 3,000 to 2,500 in Iraq before the inauguration.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) took to the floor to declare that he is “alarmed” by Trump’s plan to reduce the U.S. presence to “a potentially unstable and dangerous level,” and that the lame-duck president is doing so “without any real consultation, either with our allies at NATO or elsewhere, certainly not with Congress.”

“A precipitous retreat, which would reverse the progress we have made and fought so hard to make, is deeply troubling,” Cornyn said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned in his own floor speech that “the consequences of a premature American exit” from Afghanistan “would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975.”

"Headlines about ‘bringing the boys home’ sound good, but that’s not what’s happening,” added Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). “I fear this weak retreat is not grounded in reality and will make the world a more dangerous place.”

The Pentagon’s inspector general published an 84-page report on Tuesday warning that al Qaeda is excited about Trump’s push to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. The quarterly document, which is required by law, noted that Taliban forces have attacked U.S. troops since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed a peace deal with the terrorist group in February. “The [Defense Intelligence Agency] reported that al-Qaeda leaders support the agreement because it does not require the Taliban to publicly renounce al-Qaeda and the deal includes a timeline for the United States and coalition forces to withdraw—accomplishing one of al-Qaeda's main goals,” the report notes.

Many hawks on the right noted that Trump’s timetable is clearly driven more by politics – trying to keep a 2016 campaign promise on his way out the door – then conditions on the ground, which have rapidly deteriorated. “The U.S.-Taliban agreement is conditions-based for a reason – the Taliban cannot be permitted to not fulfill their commitments while we fulfill ours,” said Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Tex.), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Meanwhile, Democrats who routinely upbraid Trump offered measured and nuanced statements of general encouragement, with lots of caveats. “I'm all for drawing down our wars. But do it right,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.). “I support a swift and orderly drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. But it’s important that we do this in the right way and in close coordination with allies—not on President Trump’s political timeline,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “The war in Afghanistan must end,” said Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.). “There is a right way to do this, but President Trump has instead chosen to play politics.”

This rapid and remarkable role reversal is more pronounced than during previous donnybrooks caused by Trump announcing drawdowns of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, as well as Syria and Germany. Many Republicans opposed those moves, but they often did so in less dire terms. “An arbitrary withdrawal from Iraq risks alienating our allies and emboldening our enemies,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). “At a time when our adversaries are looking for every opportunity to exploit our weaknesses, the administration should reconsider and reverse this politically-motivated decision and avoid worsening our national security challenges.”

To be sure, some key Republicans offered air cover for Trump. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Miller and O’Brien gave him private assurances that the reductions will be done in a way that does not increase the risk of terror attacks originating from Afghanistan. “In this plan, we stand with the Afghan people and against the increased violence of the Taliban against the elected government,” Inhofe said.

And, in contrast to many of his Democratic colleagues, the top Democrat on the same committee let it rip. “We can’t let U.S. national security and our relationships with steadfast partners become a casualty of President Trump’s wounded ego,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.). “Trump is venting his frustration over losing the election in a manner that is more costly, jeopardizes our military personnel, aids the Taliban and terrorist networks and emboldens those who want greater conflict with Iran.”

Acting defense secretary Christopher Miller announced plans to reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, but refused to take questions. (Associated Press)

The announcement came eight days after Miller took over for ousted defense secretary Mark T. Esper, who had submitted a classified memo to the White House saying that the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan did not warrant such troop reductions,” Dan Lamothe and Missy Ryan report. “Esper cited a recent surge in Taliban violence, safety concerns for remaining U.S. troops, possible damage to alliances and the chance that reducing troops could undermine negotiations with the Taliban to secure a landmark deal with the Afghan government. Miller, a retired Special Forces officer who previously served Trump as a counterterrorism adviser, did not mention Esper’s dissent and took no questions from reporters.

“The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, did not appear alongside Miller at the lectern — raising questions about the view of top military officials. Milley has been seen in the White House as opposing deeper cuts, administration officials have said, and when national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien announced in October that Trump planned to withdraw 2,500 service members from Afghanistan this year, Milley called it ‘speculation.’” O’Brien told reporters at the White House after the acting secretary’s speech: “By May, it is President Trump’s hope that they will all come home safely – and in their entirety.” But he also refused to answer any questions. 

Many inside the Pentagon saw Milley’s absence from the briefing room as a subtle but unmistakable show of dissent from the brass. Walter Pincus, the dean of the national security press corps, flags these five sentences in the middle of a short speech that the general delivered last Wednesday on Veterans Day at the opening of a new National Museum of the U.S. Army at Fort Belvoir: 

“We are unique among militaries,” Milley said. “We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or religion. We take an oath to the Constitution. And every soldier that is represented in this museum, every sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman, each of us will protect and defend that document, regardless of personal price.”

Pincus believes Milley was clearly talking about Trump when he said “any individual,” and he argues in a column for the Cipher Brief that this statement is especially important because the latest Gallup polling shows the military is the public institution in which the American people have the most confidence. Milley and Esper both expressed regret after walking with Trump on June 1 across Lafayette Square, where protesters had been violently cleared on the orders of Attorney General Bill Barr, for a presidential photo op outside St. John’s Church.  “I should not have been there,” Milley said a few days later. “My presence in that moment, and in that environment, created the perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

In Baghdad, trouble greeted news of Trump’s partial withdrawal from Iraq. “Three rockets, apparently fired by an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, landed in the U.S. Embassy complex within Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone late Tuesday,” Karen DeYoung, Louisa Loveluck and Ellen Nakashima report. “Initial reports indicated there had been no injuries to U.S. personnel or damage to American facilities. Another rocket reportedly landed elsewhere in the zone, and the Iraqi army said in a statement that another three fell outside the area, killing a young child and wounding five Iraqi civilians. … 

“In recent days, U.S. intelligence has been monitoring potential threats by Iran to U.S. forces in the region … Current and former officials have expressed alarm that Iran might try to provoke military conflict in Trump’s final days in office. … The administration has also threatened to withdraw all personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, citing security concerns, a move that critics say would only deepen Iranian influence in Iraq.”

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg issued a remarkable rebuke of Trump’s order. “Afghanistan risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our homelands,” he said. “And ISIS could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq.”

“The U.S. election results were greeted with relief inside NATO’s glassy new headquarters in Brussels this month. Many diplomats feared that Trump, given a second term, would make good on private threats to pull the United States out of the alliance,” Adam Taylor and Michael Birnbaum report. “Stoltenberg — a former Norwegian prime minister who is light-years away from Trump in temperament — has made it his mission to be a Trump whisperer since 2017. Keep Trump happy, Stoltenberg’s advisers sometimes said, and keep NATO going. Even in private conversation, Stoltenberg has refused to criticize the man who shoved aside Montenegro’s prime minister at a summit, routinely misrepresents NATO’s spending pledges and has appeared more eager to befriend the alliance’s main foe, Russian President Vladimir Putin, than his fellow democratically elected leaders.

“Days before the 2016 election, Stoltenberg told a reporter with exasperation that Trump had exerted no influence on European defense spending, which was already rising following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. After the election, however, NATO started boasting about increased defense spending since 2016, which was a way to write President Barack Obama out of the history and give Trump an easy public relations victory. When Stoltenberg was asked about the tactic, he would simply smile.”

Even after Trump leaves office on Jan. 20, the GOP will be forever changed because of his hostile takeover four years ago. Many ambitious lawmakers have embraced his foreign policy. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a potential 2024 presidential candidate who has tried to hug the president as closely as possible, celebrated the pullout as a promise kept. “Majorities of Americans, including veterans of the war itself, have long called for an end to the war in Afghanistan. Yet most of our nation’s policymakers have ignored them,” Hawley said. “They are certainly entitled to keep advocating nation-building, but they have no right to force working Americans to pay the price for their agenda. The American people deserve an end to this war.”

As he makes dramatic moves on the world stage in his final days, Trump continues to block Biden from receiving classified intelligence briefings and otherwise impedes the transition process. The president-elect was briefed virtually on Tuesday in Wilmington, Del., by a star-studded group of former national security officials that included retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal and retired Adm. William McRaven, both of whom served as head of the Joint Special Operations Command; retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and of the U.S. Central Command during the Obama administration; former deputy CIA directors Avril Haines and David Cohen; former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power; and others. 

Biden asked everyone to tell him what they think will be the biggest challenges he faces as president and how he can best prepare “to meet these crises.” During a brief photo op at the top, Biden said: “We are going to focus on readiness for whatever may come.” 

Even as most GOP lawmakers will not publicly acknowledge that he is the president-elect, and McConnell still has not talked with him, Biden keeps taking calls from foreign leaders. He chatted on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, as well as South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, Chile President Sebastián Piñera and India Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Biden continues to name senior staffers with whom he has developed a rapport and comfort level. On Tuesday, the president-elect named Dana Remus to be White House counsel. The Yale-educated lawyer was chief counsel on his campaign, and Biden got to know her when she was an ethics attorney in the Obama White House. Notably, Remus once clerked for Justice Sam Alito and has defended him in the face of criticism. She even taught a class last summer in D.C. for Duke Law School with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Biden hopes her relationships with Republicans will be helpful in advancing judicial nominees and dealing with investigations by a Senate that will probably be controlled by the GOP, depending on the outcome of the Georgia runoffs. 

Other noteworthy Biden hires announced Tuesday included Julie Chávez Rodríguez, his former deputy campaign manager, who will become director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Her grandfather was César Chávez. Annie Tomasini, Biden’s traveling chief of staff on the campaign, will become director of Oval Office operations. “Biden has not announced any members of his Cabinet. A transition adviser with knowledge of the situation said the team expects Biden to begin announcing his picks before the end of the month,” Sean Sullivan reports.

  • Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is jockeying for the job of Transportation secretary. (The Intercept)
  • Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) is being vetted for Interior secretary. She would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary. (The Hill)
One of the threats Biden will inherit is a nuclear North Korea.

Last month, Kim Jong Un rolled out a massive new road-mobile ICBM during a parade in Pyongyang. This is a larger version of the nuclear-capable North Korean missiles that can already reach the United States. Fortunately, we are making some progress in being able to defend against such threats. “The U.S. military has shot down an intercontinental ballistic missile in a test that demonstrated for the first time that the United States can intercept ICBMs from a warship at sea,” Paul Sonne reports. “The Missile Defense Agency announced the success of the test Tuesday, saying the USS John Finn had struck and destroyed a ‘threat representative’ ICBM using a Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor in the Pacific Ocean northeast of Hawaii. … 

"Up until now, the United States has relied on missile interceptors based in silos in Alaska and California to down ICBMs headed toward the U.S. homeland. This week’s test gives the Pentagon another layer of defense by showing that sea-based systems originally intended to down intermediate-range ballistic missiles can intercept even longer-range ICBMs. The idea is for the ships to serve as a backup if the interceptors based on land in Alaska and California fail to strike an incoming ICBM. Military planners call the concept ‘shoot look shoot,’ meaning they would see whether the silo-based interceptor succeeded in hitting an incoming missile and, if not, shoot at the missile again from a warship. … 

"The events this week marked the sixth test for the SM-3 Block IIA. Two of those tests have failed — one because of human error on the ship and the other because of a failed component. … Tom Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the interceptor … could be deployed on land in Asia to defend U.S. forces in Guam against North Korean and Chinese missiles and in Europe at missile defense installations in Poland and Romania to protect U.S. forces in Europe and NATO allies from Iranian missiles.”

The voting wars

President Trump on Nov. 17 fired Christopher Krebs, a top Department of Homeland Security official who refuted his claims that the election was rigged. (The Washington Post)
Trump purges a top DHS official who led the agency's efforts to secure the election.

“In a tweet, Trump fired Christopher Krebs, who headed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) at DHS and led successful efforts to help state and local election offices protect their systems and to rebut misinformation,” Ellen Nakashima and Nick Miroff report. “Earlier Tuesday, Krebs in a tweet refuted allegations that election systems were manipulated, saying that ‘59 election security experts all agree, ‘in every case of which we are aware, these claims either have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent.’’ Krebs’s statement amounted to a debunking of Trump’s central claim that the November election was stolen. [Trump] said on Twitter: ‘The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud … Therefore, effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated.' … Following Trump’s tweet, acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf called Krebs’s deputy, Matthew Travis, to inform him that the White House had overruled CISA’s succession plan that named him acting director, essentially forcing him to resign, Travis said. … 

"Krebs’s dismissal was not unexpected, as he told associates last week that he was expecting to be fired. His latest tweet about the security of the election, which followed similar earlier assessments by his agency, including on its Rumor Control Web page, angered the president … Krebs’s agency has asserted its independence in recent days … After his firing, Krebs responded from his personal Twitter account: 'Honored to serve. We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow. #Protect2020.'

"The news disturbed many current and former officials and cybersecurity professionals who said that under Krebs, DHS significantly boosted the agency’s capabilities to help the private sector, as well as those managing election infrastructure, better defending themselves against foreign and domestic threats. … Thomas Bossert, a former top White House cybersecurity official who was forced out in 2018, decried the move. ‘If the grounds of removal were insubordination, it’s a very twisted rationale,’ he said. ‘Insubordinate to the president or insubordinate to the Constitution? I think Krebs had no choice.’” 

In a reversal, GOP appointees in Michigan certify Detroit's vote tallies. 

“The unexpected twist came after the four-member Wayne County Board of Canvassers had deadlocked on the day of the deadline for Michigan counties to certify the vote — a move Trump celebrated on Twitter as ‘a beautiful thing,’” Kayla Ruble, Elise Viebeck, Josh Dawsey and Jon Swaine report. “Democrats accused GOP officials of seeking to disenfranchise voters in the majority-Black city of Detroit. State Democrats say Trump has no hope of overturning Biden’s 148,000-vote lead. Trump supporters had urged Michigan’s majority-Republican state legislature to try to appoint its own electors if the state canvassing board, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, failed to certify the vote before the electoral college meets in December. … After the initial deadlock in Wayne County was met with an outpouring of condemnation, the board recessed Tuesday night and returned with a new agreement to certify the results, along with a request that the secretary of state’s office conduct a comprehensive audit of the vote tallies. … 

"The Trump campaign has faced a string of failures in its beleaguered effort to overturn the result of the election through the courts. In the latest defeat on Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the campaign’s claim that GOP observers did not have sufficient access to the vote count, underscoring how the president’s claims of voting irregularities have repeatedly run aground before judges. Meanwhile, in Nevada, the campaign filed a challenge to the state’s election results, asking a state court in Carson City to declare Trump the winner of Nevada’s six presidential electors or to annul the election entirely … 

"Even as the president’s allies frantically raced to roll out more allegations around the country, multiple people close to the campaign acknowledged there was little evidence to support the assertions and bemoaned the ascension of Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has sidelined other legal advisers. Giuliani, who speaks with Trump several times a day, has convinced him his odds are better than other campaign officials believe … There is a grim sense ‘that this is going to end quickly and badly,’ one official said. During an appearance in federal court in Pennsylvania on Tuesday afternoon, Giuliani made broad unsubstantiated allegations about ‘widespread nationwide voter fraud,’ yet conceded that Trump’s team was not alleging fraud as a matter of law. … Two campaign officials said Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, attorney Justin Clark and others were barely involved anymore in the legal fight, with it all being ‘Rudy all the time,’ in the words of one.

Giuliani is seeking to orchestrate a large news conference at the RNC headquarters on Capitol Hill for later this week, but Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel is unlikely to attend, officials said. He is working with Boris Epshteyn, who in between stints as a campaign aide worked as a Sinclair TV commentator and appeared with him in court on Tuesday. The former mayor has sought a rate of $2,000 an hour, as the New York Times first reported, and said he would work on the matter about 10 hours a day, one campaign official said.”

Over the weekend, Giuliani and his own team of lawyers, which also includes Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis, attempted what was described [by insiders] as an internal campaign ‘coup,'" ABC News reports. "Giuliani’s team has taken over office space in the Trump campaign’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters … Ellis told the remaining campaign staff that they should only follow orders from people named ‘Rudy or Jenna’ … The attempted power grab hit a boiling point on Saturday when [Jason] Miller, who’s been the campaign's chief strategist for months, and Ellis got into what sources said was a ‘screaming match’ in front of other staffers.”

A senator’s solo “investigation” into election results in states Trump lost is farcical.

“Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) started off the day by saying he had talked with the secretaries of state in Arizona and Nevada, in addition to the conversation he had acknowledged earlier with Georgia’s top election official. A little later, Graham realized he had misspoken. He had actually talked to Arizona’s governor and some other officials, he said, and he wasn’t sure which officials from Nevada had briefed him about that state’s 2020 election procedures. Finally, by midafternoon Tuesday, Graham realized he had never spoken to anyone from the Silver State about its 2020 vote,” Paul Kane reports. “Graham has turned himself into a lightning rod among state officials who want nothing to do with his probe, while his Senate colleagues try to politely dismiss his stumbling effort as a one-man show that is mostly a distraction.” 

  • Meanwhile, a Georgia elections official who was on the call corroborated to CNN the claims by GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that Graham suggested he toss legitimate votes. 
  • And Trump campaign officials started pressuring Raffensperger long before the election, ProPublica reports:  Senior Trump campaign adviser Billy “Kirkland burst uninvited into a meeting in Raffensperger’s office in the late spring that was supposed to be about election procedures and demanded that the secretary of state endorse Trump, according to Raffensperger and two of his staffers.”

The coronavirus

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread in the United States, experts expect the virus to become endemic, existing permanently in the population. (The Washington Post)
Pfizer completes its vaccine trial.

“The coronavirus vaccine being developed by Pfizer and German biotechnology firm BioNTech is 95 percent effective at preventing disease, according to an analysis after the trial reached its endpoint. The vaccine trial also reached a safety milestone, with two months of follow-up on half of the participants, and Pfizer will submit an application for emergency authorization ‘within days,’” Carolyn Johnson reports. “In the trial, half the nearly 44,000 participants received the experimental vaccine and half received a placebo. As those people went about their normal lives, they were exposed to the virus in the community, and physicians tracked all cases with symptoms to see if the vaccine had a protective effect. The data have not yet been published or peer reviewed, but will be closely scrutinized by the FDA and an independent advisory committee that makes recommendations to the agency. … Among people older than 65, a group at high risk of severe illness, the vaccine was 94 percent effective. … U.S. government officials anticipate having 40 million doses of both vaccines by the end of the year, enough to vaccinate 20 million people.” 

The final leg of the unprecedented race for a vaccine is about to get underway.

In a Pfizer warehouse in Kalamazoo, Mich., “each day, the large freezers fill with stacks of white trays … loaded with 195 identical glass vials. Each tube, about the size of a pinkie finger, contains a few precious droplets of frozen coronavirus vaccine, enough, when thawed and diluted, to give five people a first shot of protection,” Johnson reports. “The next phase of this race will depend on the herculean task of producing these tiny vials of vaccine at a vast scale nearly overnight and distributing millions of doses without wasting any. Getting a vaccine into people’s arms is a meticulously choreographed high-wire act that must not falter at any juncture, and distribution looms as among the most daunting challenges. Basic questions remain to be resolved: Which hospitals or pharmacies will receive, store and administer the doses? Who will get first crack at receiving them? And at the end, everything depends on those vials.”

  • The FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the first coronavirus self-test that can be taken at home. The Lucira All-In-One Test Kit is a molecular single-use test the agency said provides rapid results. The test works by swirling the self-collected sample swab in a vial that is then placed in a test unit. In 30 minutes or less, the results can be read on the unit’s light-up display. 
  • U.S. pharmacies, including CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, reported that demand for flu shots is up sharply – in some cases double from last year. (Caroline Humer)
  • Country music icon Dolly Parton partly funded Moderna's vaccine research by donating $1 million to Vanderbilt’s coronavirus research efforts. (The Guardian)
  • A new study hints immunity to the virus may last years once you've had it. Eight months after infection, most people who have recovered still have enough immune cells to prevent illness. “The research squares with another recent finding: that survivors of SARS, caused by another coronavirus, still carry certain important immune cells 17 years after recovering,” per the Times.
More Republican governors give up the gospel of personal responsibility.

“A growing number of Republican governors, including some who had written off mask mandates as unenforceable or unacceptable to freedom-loving Americans, are now requiring people to cover their faces in public — a response to escalating coronavirus outbreaks overwhelming hospitals across the country,” Isaac Stanley-Becker reports. “Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who once dismissed mask mandates as ‘feel good’ measures, issued a limited order this week, as her state topped 2,000 coronavirus deaths. … And a bipartisan group of Midwestern governors, in a joint video address, stressed that widespread distribution of a vaccine was a long way off and advised their constituents that returning to normal sometime next year first required surviving the holidays. … Among them was Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who backtracked on a sweeping mask mandate earlier this year but recently stepped up enforcement of a statewide order put into place this summer. … Rules about mask use are tightening in Utah, North Dakota and West Virginia, all of which reported record case counts at least once last week … Other Republican-led states, such as Maryland, are stepping up various restrictions. …

At least 159,000 new cases were reported Tuesday, and more than 77,000 people remain hospitalized. And in a sign of deepening anxiety about how Trump’s refusal to recognize the results of this month’s election might impair the nation’s response to the coronavirus at a critical juncture, the leaders of three major medical associations urged his administration to cooperate with Biden’s transition team. … [But] in a sign of how resistance to the president-elect’s more aggressive approach could become a litmus test for GOP die-hards eager to carry Trump’s mantle. South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem’s office said she would not enforce a federal mandate. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves pledged to stand in the way of efforts to close businesses in his state.”

Quote of the day

“I’ve been shot, I’ve been rolled over, I’ve been hit in the head a hundred times, but I’ve never felt as bad as I did," Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), 87, said of his bout with covid-19. “This is not good.” (Anchorage Daily News

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), 87, tests positive.

“Grassley, the president pro tempore of the Senate, which makes him the third in line of succession to the presidency, revealed Tuesday that he has contracted the coronavirus,” Colby Itkowitz and Mike DeBonis report. “‘I’m feeling good + will keep up on my work for the ppl of Iowa from home. I appreciate everyone’s well wishes + prayers &look fwd to resuming my normal schedule soon,’ [he tweeted]. … The senator was at the Capitol on Monday and spoke on the Senate floor, taking off his mask to do so. … He spent two minutes on the rostrum presiding over the chamber and then delivered brief remarks, calling on Americans to wear masks, socially distance and ‘step up their personal responsibilities.’ … Other lawmakers, including Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), are self-quarantining after being exposed to someone with the virus. … Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, confirmed that Grassley also attended a Monday meeting of the top Senate GOP leadership."

  • About one in 11 of the confirmed 11.2 million U.S. cases have come over the past seven days. As of Monday, 31 states were seeing more cases added each day than at any previous point in the pandemic. (Philip Bump)
  • If Congress doesn’t act soon on a new relief deal, 12 million Americans could lose their unemployment aid by the end of the year. (Eli Rosenberg)
  • More than 900 employees at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., have tested positive in the past two weeks as infections surge across the Midwest. In about 93 percent of the instances where staffers have been exposed to the virus, that exposure occurred outside of work. (Antonia Farzan)
  • Nearly 800 nurses went on strike over staffing levels at St. Mary Medical Center, a suburban Philadelphia hospital. As hospitals nationwide compete for a limited supply of nurses, St. Mary employees have been leaving for higher-paid jobs elsewhere. (Farzan)
  • Trump canceled plans to travel to Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving, per CNN, and will stay at the White House.
  • Biden plans to meet virtually with front-line health-care workers today. (John Wagner)
  • Los Angeles County, the most populous in the United States, will implement a host of new restrictions — including a curfew — in an attempt to slow rampant spread. Beginning Friday, restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries must close from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., while all businesses allowed to operate indoors must limit their occupancy to 25 percent capacity. (Reis Thebault)
  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued an executive order clamping down on the hours restaurants and bars can operate and the number of people allowed in retail stores and religious facilities. (Ovetta Wiggins, Rebecca Tan and Julie Zauzmer
  • Nearly half of the 83 people who attended an Ohio wedding tested positive – including the bride, the groom, and three of their grandparents. (NBC)
  • And nearly half the inmates at the Grand Forks County Jail in North Dakota tested positive. (Grand Forks Herald)
  • Thousands of people gathered in Berlin to protest a move to expand the government’s ability to implement and enforce new coronavirus-related restrictions. (Siobhán O’Grady)
Trump orders that “Wreaths Across America” be un-canceled.

On Monday, Arlington National Cemetery canceled the annual “Wreaths Across America” event, saying it couldn’t mitigate the risk to thousands of visitors and cemetery staff. On Tuesday, following criticism from Republican lawmakers and public outcry, Trump announced that he overrode Army officials, tweeting he “reversed the ridiculous decision” to cancel the event that draws thousands of volunteers to lay holiday wreaths on headstones. But Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy also said he decided to hold the event after all. The cemetery is overseen by the U.S. Army. McCarthy’s people said they were not aware of the cancellation until the cemetery released a public statement Monday, Alex Horton reports.

The Trump agenda

Judy Shelton’s nomination to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors was blocked in the Senate on Nov. 17. (Reuters)
The Senate does not advance Judy Shelton’s nomination to the Fed.

“Shelton’s nomination to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors was blocked in the Senate on Tuesday, with bipartisan opposition to the controversial economist and GOP absences prompted by the coronavirus imperiling her candidacy,” Seung Min Kim and Rachel Siegel report. “Two Republican senators voted against advancing Shelton on Tuesday; a third GOP senator who does not support her, Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), was not in attendance for the vote Tuesday. … In the end, [McConnell] voted against moving the nomination forward as well, a procedural move that allows him to bring up Shelton’s nomination at a later time.”

Bookies are taking bets on whether Melania Trump will dump her husband. It seems unlikely. 

“After a brutal election, many anti-Trumpers … wouldn’t mind seeing him humiliated by his 24-years-younger wife leaving him, especially when he’s already down,” Mary Jordan and Jada Yuan report. “Melania Trump keeps a small inner circle, but two people close to her spoke to The Post and said that she has shown no sign of leaving her husband, at least not any time soon. … The first lady has said several times over the past four years that she does not always agree with the president, but in the closing days of the 2020 campaign, she emerged as one of his most ardent cheerleaders. … ‘I don’t think Melania leaves Donald. She’s very willingly complicit in his schemes and holds his beliefs as her own,’ said Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former attorney … ‘Those two deserve each other.’ … 

“Late in the summer, Winston Wolkoff, the former friend and aide, released secret audio recordings in which Melania is heard expressing her views in an unguarded way. On the tapes, Melania could be heard using strong language when referring to her White House decorating duties ('Who gives a f--- about Christmas stuff and decorations?'), and saying she delighted in ‘driving liberals crazy.’ She also sounded heartless when talking about children at the border who had been separated from their parents. … After the Trumps move out of the White House, Melania is expected to spend more time in Palm Beach, Fla., than New York City … Ultimately, Melania Trump will settle close to wherever Barron decides to attend high school, her friends have said. Some have suggested he might like to go to an overseas boarding school.”

Ivanka Trump’s ex-best friend also speculates she will move to Florida.

In an essay for Vanity Fair, Lysandra Ohrstrom shared details about growing up with the Trumps, including claims that the president would constantly comment on her and other young girls’ bodies and anecdotes of Ivanka being “shamelessly vain” but also “fun” and “loyal” as a young woman. Ohrstrom condemns the role Ivanka has taken in her father’s White House, saying that, “in private, I’ve had countless conversations with friends who also grew up with Ivanka about how appalled we are that she didn’t publicly oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, or any of her dad’s especially repugnant policies. But in public, we’ve stayed silent because that’s what we are taught to do.” 

Ohrstrom, who was one of Ivanka’s maids of honor in her wedding to Jared Kushner, revealed that Ivanka would constantly tell her that she hated a necklace she wore, which featured her name in Arabic, asking her: “How can you wear that thing? It just screams, ‘terrorist.’” Ohrstrom predicts that Ivanka will be rejected by “those whose respect she craves most" in Manhattan – she'll never get invited to another Met Ball, for example – and relocate to Florida. “I expect Ivanka will find a soft landing in Palm Beach instead, where casual white supremacy is de rigueur and most misdeeds are forgiven if you have enough money,” Ohrstrom concludes.

Other news that should be on your radar

The Federal Aviation Administration on Nov. 18 lifted its ban on the Boeing 737, 20 months after the plane was grounded following two deadly crashes. (Federal Aviation Administration)
  • The FAA lifted its ban on the Boeing 737 Max 20 months after the aircraft was grounded following two crashes within five months that killed 346 people. The action means the FAA is satisfied that software, pilot training and other fixes make the plane safe to fly again. (Michael Laris, Lori Aratani and Ian Duncan)
  • Two Category 4 hurricanes hit the same place in two weeks. Hurricanes Eta and Iota made landfall in Nicaragua days apart, bringing “catastrophic” wind damage and “life-threatening flooding.” That is unheard of. (Matthew Cappucci)
  • Alaskans narrowly passed a ballot measure that will make the state the second in the union, joining Maine, to use ranked-choice voting in statewide elections. Starting in 2022, the measure will merge the state’s two primary elections into one, and the top four vote-getters – regardless of party – will advance to the general election. This is a big break for Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is up for reelection in two years and faces the threat of a primary challenge from Sarah Palin. (Anchorage Daily News)
  • Weeks after arresting Mexico’s former defense minister on drug trafficking charges, the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to return Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda to Mexico, a retreat from incendiary charges that rattled U.S.-Mexico relations. The extraordinary release of Cienfuegos, who served under former President Enrique Peña Nieto, comes after a long-term, top-secret U.S. investigation allegedly revealed his ties to Mexico’s criminal underworld. (Kevin Sieff, Mary Beth Sheridan and Matt Zapotosky)
  • Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who held his knee on George Floyd’s neck and is now charged with his killing, asked a judge to block prosecutors from introducing evidence of his allegedly having used similar neck and body restraints on other suspects. (Holly Bailey)
  • The two U.S. Park Police officers who shot and killed unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar in 2017 filed motions to have the criminal cases against them moved to federal court from Fairfax County, where a grand jury indicted them last month on manslaughter and weapons charges. (Tom Jackman)

Social media speed read

John Mitnick, a former DHS general counsel who was fired last year during one of several DHS shake-ups under Trump, condemned the firing of Chris Krebs:

The husband of Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon celebrated her being named as White House deputy chief of staff:

As Trump refuses to concede, a presidential historian has been offering daily reminders of how at odds that is with the American tradition:

Videos of the day

“The Daily Show’s” Jordan Klepper went to the “Million MAGA March”: 

Stephen Colbert said Trump is going through the five stages of narcissistic grief: 

And “Late Night’s” Amber Ruffin untangled the drama behind a former Republican Pennsylvania congressional candidate tweeting from what appeared to be a burner account: