with Mariana Alfaro

Several Senate Democrats spoke quite eloquently four years ago about the need for civilian control of the military as they opposed a special waiver to a federal law requiring that a secretary of defense be out of uniform for at least seven years to be eligible for the job.

All of them insisted that their objections were principled and had nothing to do with President-elect Donald Trump or retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, his nominee.

President-elect Joe Biden’s selection of retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to be secretary of defense will offer an early and crucial test for Democrats who opposed Mattis’s waiver. Now that a Democrat will be in the White House, we will get to gauge the sincerity of their supposed convictions.

“Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said in January 2017.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, put on her professorial hat to explain why Congress passed the statute in 1947. “Americans have always been skeptical of concentrated government power, and concentrated military power is at the top of the list,” Warren said at the time. “There were lots of impressive, highly qualified World War II veterans in 1947 who were barred from serving as secretary of defense. We established this rule because the principle of civilian control protects our democracy, and our democracy is more important than any one individual.”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on Armed Services, reluctantly voted for the waiver. “Waiving the law should happen no more than once in a generation,” he said in 2017. “Therefore, I will not support a waiver for future nominees, nor will I support any effort to water down or repeal the statute in the future.”

Mattis’s waiver ultimately passed 81 to 17 in the Senate and 268 to 151 in the House. The senators voting no included Cory Booker (N.J.), Bernie Sanders and Pat Leahy (Vt.), Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin (Ill.), Chris Murphy and Dick Blumenthal (Conn.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden (Ore.).

The Democratic platform, written this summer by delegates at the party’s national convention, included an entire plank on this very topic. “Democrats believe that healthy civil-military relations are essential to our democracy and to the strength and effectiveness of our military,” the DNC platform says. “We will end the Trump Administration’s politicization of the armed forces and distortion of civilian and military roles in decision-making. We will reinstate national security policymaking processes that advance competent civilian control.”

Hypocrisy is nothing new on Capitol Hill. It has long been endemic in both parties. That said, even if it means brazenly flip-flopping, it is very difficult to see Democrats voting against a waiver for a nominee of their own party who would be the first African American secretary of defense.

But there are some early indications that Austin may face more opposition than Biden bargained for when he offered him the job on Sunday. The Biden transition team planned to unveil the latest Cabinet selection during a ceremony on Friday in Wilmington, Del., but word leaked out last night to Politico. Several sources confirmed the news to us.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who served as an assistant secretary of defense under President Barack Obama, expressed skepticism in a statement this morning. “After the last four years, civil-military relations at the Pentagon definitely need to be rebalanced,” she said. “General Austin has had an incredible career — but I’ll need to understand what he and the Biden Administration plan to do to address these concerns before I can vote for his waiver.”

Something else that may unsettle progressives: Austin sits on the board of directors for the defense contractor Raytheon, steel producer Nucor and health-care company Tenet.

President-elect Joe Biden plans to name retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III to be defense secretary. If confirmed, Austin would be the first Black Pentagon Chief. (Reuters)

Civilian control of the military is not a uniquely American principle. Georges Clemenceau, who led France in the Great War, famously said that war is too important to be left to the generals. 

Mattis was only the second nominee for whom a president requested a waiver. The first was requested by President Harry Truman in 1950 so that he could appoint George Marshall. Retired Army officer Jim Golby, a senior fellow at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin, notes that picking Marshall proved problematic.

“Marshall stood by as a civil-military crisis slowly developed between Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Marshall’s former Army peer,” Golby writes in an op-ed for the New York Times. “Marshall even tried to avert MacArthur’s firing for insubordination, related to Truman’s Korean War policy, before reluctantly backing the president’s call. It is telling that today we remember Marshall more for his time as secretary of state than for his tenure as defense secretary.”

Golby, a special adviser to Biden when he was vice president, argues that, although Austin was a fine public servant, appointing retired generals is not a good idea and will not return the Pentagon to normal after the tumultuous Trump era. “Like Marshall, Mr. Mattis remained close to his former colleagues in uniform,” he notes. “When Trump administration infighting left key civilian jobs unfilled, Mr. Mattis leaned heavily on the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford, and other military officers. Civilian political leaders in the Pentagon seemed to be sidelined. … Even if a retired general like Mr. Mattis was the right person for the Trump era, that era is over.”

One of the reasons this news is setting off alarm bells is that Austin is just the latest example of the president-elect relying on retired military brass to a degree that would have been unheard of before the Trump era. 

“Already, Biden’s transition team has appointed at least four retired generals or admirals and a former top enlisted Marine,” Politico reports. “One of the most prominent on the Pentagon transition team is retired Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, a former vice chief of naval operations who is listed only as a professor at George Washington University. She has also been mentioned as a possible candidate to serve as Navy secretary, the service’s top civilian. The Pentagon transition team also includes John Estrada, a former ambassador who previously served as sergeant major of the Marine Corps, the branch's top noncommissioned officer. He is listed on Biden's website only as a retired State Department official. Another member of the transition team is the ‘self-employed’ Karen Gibson. The Biden announcement doesn't note that Gibson retired this year from the Army as a three-star general.”

It is not assured that Republicans will back Austin, either. “We don’t face the special circumstances that justified the selection of Gen. Mattis,” said conservative commentator Bill Kristol. “Biden should pick a civilian.”

Austin, 67, finished his military career in 2016 after three years as the chief of Central Command. His tenure overseeing U.S. military operations across the Middle East included the rise of the Islamic State. “The early days of the campaign … had some embarrassments, including a failed $500 million effort to train Syrian rebels to fight against the Islamic State,” Seung Min Kim, Annie Linskey, Dan Lamothe and John Hudson report. “As a general, he was seen as willing to work within parameters that the White House set for him, even when operations were not going well. He also was viewed as intensely private, rarely doing news interviews and struggling at times during congressional hearings.

“In one memorable exchange in 2015, then-Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) pressed Austin on how operations against the Islamic State were going, and called them an ‘abject failure.’ At the time, migrants were fleeing Syria, and the militants had control of Mosul and other major cities in Iraq. ‘General, what you’re telling us is that everything is fine as we see hundreds of thousands of refugees leave and flood Europe,’ he said. ‘I’ve never seen a hearing that is as divorced from the reality of every outside expert and what you are saying.’”

The voting wars

Trump asked the Pennsylvania House speaker for help overturning the election results.

“Trump called the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives twice during the past week to make an extraordinary request for help reversing his loss in the state,” Amy Gardner, Josh Dawsey and Rachael Bade report. “The calls, confirmed by House Speaker Bryan Cutler’s office, make Pennsylvania the third state where Trump has directly attempted to overturn a result since he lost the election to Biden. He previously reached out to Republicans in Michigan, and on Saturday he pressured Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in a call to try to replace that state’s electors. The president’s outreach to Pennsylvania’s Republican House leader came after his campaign and its allies decisively lost numerous legal challenges in the state in both state and federal court." Cutler told the president the legislature had no power to overturn the state’s chosen slate of electors, according to spokesman Michael Straub. 

The House speaker was among about 60 Republican state lawmakers who sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s congressional representatives late last week urging them to object to the state’s electoral slate on Jan. 6, when Congress is set to formally accept the results. “Although such a move is highly unlikely to gain traction, at least one Pennsylvania Republican, Rep. Scott Perry, said in an interview Monday that he will heed the request and dispute the state’s electors. … To succeed, such a challenge requires support from both a representative and a senator, and must survive a vote of both chambers. So far, no Republican senator has voiced support for such a maneuver, which in any event would fail in the Democratic-controlled House. … Perry joins Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who last week announced plans to challenge the electoral college vote. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), an outspoken ally of the president, said Monday that he was 'totally for that.'” 

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said last night on CNN these actions by House Republicans may “incite people to do and say things they may not ordinarily do,” adding, “They’re really trying to invite insurrection.”

A Black lawmaker in Michigan criticized Rudy Giuliani’s voter fraud claims. Now she’s getting racist, lynching threats. State Rep. Cynthia Johnson (D) has received nearly 100 calls from angry Trump supporters, according to a Facebook post with 10 screenshots of the incoming calls, which she called “a sampling.” “You should be swinging from a f------ rope, you Democrat,” one woman said in a voice mail laced with racial slurs, according to Johnson’s Facebook post linking to a recording of the message. (Jaclyn Peiser)

The coronavirus

Britain launches the West's first mass vaccination.

It took barely a second. She rolled up her sleeve and Britain's Margaret Keenan became on Tuesday the first person to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shot outside of clinical trials, as the first mass coronavirus immunization campaign in the West began.,” William Booth and Karla Adam report. “The 90-year-old grandmother received her jab, as the Brits would say, at University Hospital in Coventry, England, at 6:31 a.m. local time. … ‘I feel so privileged to be the first,’ Keenan said, adding that it meant she could ‘finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the new year after being on my own for most of the year.’

Quote of the day

"My advice to anyone offered the vaccine is to take it," said British resident Margaret Keenan. “If I can have it at 90, then you can have it, too.”

The Trump administration passed up the chance to buy more vaccines from Pfizer.

“Pfizer has told the Trump administration it cannot provide substantial additional doses of its coronavirus vaccine until late June or July because other countries have rushed to buy up most of its supply,” Laurie McGinley, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Carolyn Johnson report. “That means the U.S. government may not be able to ramp up as rapidly as it had expected from the 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine that it purchased earlier this year, raising questions about whether it can keep to its aggressive schedule to vaccinate most Americans by late spring or early summer. Trump administration officials denied there would be availability issues in the second quarter, citing other vaccines in the pipeline … 

“Last summer, Pfizer officials had urged Operation Warp Speed to purchase 200 million doses, or enough of the two-shot regimen for 100 million people … But the Warp Speed officials declined, opting instead for 100 million doses … The New York Times first reported that federal officials passed on the opportunity when Pfizer offered to sell more doses. ‘Anyone who wanted to sell us … without an [FDA] approval, hundreds of millions of doses back in July and August, was just not going to get the government’s money,’ said a senior administration official. It was only last weekend, with a FDA clearance expected any day, that federal officials reached back out to the company asking to buy another 100 million doses. By then, Pfizer said it had committed the supply elsewhere … 

"Pfizer said the company might be able to provide 50 million doses at the end of the second quarter, and another 50 million doses in the third quarter. Pfizer was the only company that did not take government money for research and development, which meant U.S. officials have had less insight into its decisions than it does with the other companies … [Pfizer spokeswoman Amy Rose] said that beyond the first 100 million doses the U.S. has already secured, a separate agreement would have to be negotiated. …

“Trump is expected to sign an executive order Tuesday that would prioritize vaccinating Americans before providing doses to other countries, according to a senior administration official … It is not clear whether the order is related to the Pfizer supply issue, or whether the president can prevent an American company from fulfilling lawful contracts with other countries. … The order will be announced as part of a White House ‘vaccine summit’ designed to highlight the administration’s accomplishments on vaccines. [Both Pfizer and Moderna have declined invitations to the summit, Stat News reports.] …

“No agreements with Moderna beyond its initial contract for 100 million have been announced, but the U.S. has the option to purchase 400 million additional doses. … Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser to Warp Speed, said in an interview Monday that the U.S. government strategy was to spread its risk widely over many different types of vaccines from different manufacturers. He declined to comment on negotiations with any company, but said he did not believe there would be any kind of vaccine ‘cliff,’ where the available doses would fall off sharply. Slaoui said that Johnson & Johnson was likely to report trial results in early January and be ready to ship doses in February, if its vaccine is authorized.”

“The scientists at AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford on Tuesday became the first vaccine developers to publish their full data in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, confirming earlier claims that the vaccine is 70 percent effective overall,” Booth and Johnson report. “The study results, published in the British medical journal the Lancet, answered many questions — but not all — about the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Florida police officers raided the home of ousted health department data scientist Rebekah Jones on Dec. 7. (Rebekah Jones)
Police raid the home of a fired Florida scientist who says the governor juked covid stats.

“Florida police officers with guns drawn raided the home of an ousted health department data scientist Monday morning, searching for the former agency employee’s most powerful tools: her computer, her phone and other hardware that supports the coronavirus website she set up after accusing the state of manipulating its official numbers,” Reis Thebault reports. “Law enforcement officials allege the scientist, Rebekah Jones, may have also used the devices to hack into a health department website in November and to send an unauthorized message to Florida emergency personnel, urging them to speak out against the state’s pandemic response. She has denied the accusation. This is the latest clash between Jones and state officials, who have traded accusations since she was fired from the Florida Department of Health this summer. …

“Jones is an outspoken critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), and she has alleged her ex-managers directed her to doctor virus case data to downplay risks of infection and death in the state. … On Twitter, Jones said she would not be cowed by what she characterized as a state-sanctioned intimidation campaign. ‘If Desantis thought pointing a gun in my face was a good way to get me to shut up, he’s about to learn just how wrong he was,’ she wrote. ‘I’ll have a new computer tomorrow. And then I’m going to get back to work.’”

  • The U.S. reported 185,552 new cases and 1,324 deaths on Monday, according to The Washington Post’s tracker.
  • James Phillips, the Walter Reed emergency room physician who publicly criticized Trump’s decision to drive with Secret Service agents to greet supporters while hospitalized with the coronavirus, was removed from the hospital’s schedule starting in January. Phillips is chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University and an attending physician on a contract basis for Walter Reed. On Oct. 4, he called out the president for his “completely unnecessary” drive-by, warning agents could get sick or die “for political theater.” (CBS News)
  • Former Alabama state senator Larry Dixon (R), who previously directed the state's Board of Medical Examiners, died of covid. His last words were a warning to the people of Alabama. “We messed up. We let our guard down. Please tell everybody to be careful. This is real, and if you get diagnosed, get help immediately,” Dixon said on his deathbed, according to his wife and a family friend. (NBC News)
  • North Carolina’s Department of Labor will not impose additional regulations requiring employers to protect their workers from the virus because the state’s Labor Commissioner claims the virus is not a workplace threat. “Statistically, the virus has not been proven likely to cause death or serious physical harm from the perspective of an occupational hazard,” Cherie Berry said, according to the News & Observer. This, of course, is not true.
The Post asked ICU nurses what it’s been like to care for the sickest covid patients.

Nate Smithson, of Murray, Utah, said that, when his hospital got its first covid patient in February, “we all kind of thought it was a little bit of a joke, to be honest. I had this patient, and he was sitting there with minimal amounts of oxygen in the room just watching TV. He’s like, ‘I’m fine. I don’t know why everyone’s freaking out about this.’” But then, his oxygen started dropping faster. “We get him back into bed and throw all the oxygen that we have in the room on him, crank everything up, and he’s not recovering from it. … An hour later … he’s sedated, he’s on the ventilator. Everything is worse. … He ended up dying.”

“Death is a very intimate event that normally involves a lot of family members that help bring closure and that helps everyone process. In normal circumstances, health care providers form these relationships with the family at the bedside. All of that has been removed. And we now have to try to form those relationships over the telephone. It’s a traumatic experience,” said Kori Albi of Boise, Idaho.

Catie Carrigan, of Jackson, Miss., said “there is no room left, essentially, and I think that’s really what people don’t seem to understand. And I get it, when you’re not in health care you don’t really see our side of it, but we’re seeing the worst of it. … Take our word for it.” 

“When patients are scared, I will hold their hand even though I’m wearing gloves,” said Luisa Alog Penepacker of Glenview, Ill. “I look them in the eyes as much as I can because really, that’s all you can see. You can’t see our faces.”

Kahlia Anderson, of Columbus, Ohio, had just started her job when the pandemic hit. She said she “did cry in the beginning, and now not so much. I think we all struggled when we had a young death. Someone in their 20s was very difficult for us. Because you think: That was a young life. What a young life that was, and they’re not here anymore. Because of a virus. That’s hard. It’s very hard. But now it’s just — it’s almost everyone’s story.”

  • Covid hospitalization rates are dropping – and that’s not a good thing. As hospitals fill up, they are admitting fewer people. The demand for hospital beds is soaring, which means the treshold for admission rises. This means less sick patients – those whose oxygen levels haven’t yet sunk critically low – get sent home. They’re more likely to die there. (Ashish Kha)
  • Hospitals are rushing to firm up plans for deciding which doctors and nurses will receive the vaccine first, with initial supplies expected to fall short of what’s needed to vaccinate the highest-priority workers. (WSJ)
  • A Detroit woman with covid delivered a healthy baby after being induced, but she died before she could hold him. Erika Becerra was eight months pregnant when she began developing symptoms. After delivering her son, Diego, she was in the hospital for three weeks, but her condition kept deteriorating. Her husband, 1-year-old daughter and newborn baby tested negative for the virus. (Katie Shepherd)
  • Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said his partner Marlon Reis, 39, is improving after being hospitalized this weekend with worsening covid symptoms. Reis received dexamethasone for inflammation and remdesivir, but the governor's office says he did not need oxygen. (Shepherd)
  • The number of unaccompanied migrant children testing positive for the coronavirus has jumped more than 35 percent in recent weeks as federal officials prepare for the possibility of a new immigration surge at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Maria Sacchetti)
Amid a history of mistreatment, doctors struggle to sell Black Americans on the vaccine.

“Fewer than half of Black Americans say they would get a coronavirus vaccine, compared with 63 percent of Hispanic people and 61 percent of White people, according to a December report from the Pew Research Center,” Lola Fadulu reports. “Many Black people say they do not trust the medical establishment because of glaring inequities in modern-day care and historical examples of mistreatment. The spread of misinformation about the vaccine development process hasn’t helped either. This deep-seated skepticism has led to a burst of confidence-building efforts across the country, some led by the nation’s top Black doctors and scientists and funded by the U.S. government. So far, the response has been mixed at best, with many Black Americans … saying they want more information or cannot count on the federal government to work in their best interests.”

  • A new smartphone technology designed to provide real-time warnings of side effects in the first Americans vaccinated may be vulnerable to manipulation, raising concerns that malicious actors could gain access to the system to undermine confidence in the shots, federal and state health officials say. (Sun and Isaac Stanley-Becker)
  • Brazil’s most populous state will make the vaccine mandatory. The governor of São Paulo said all 45 million Brazilians who live in the state will be vaccinated, breaking with President Jair Bolsonaro. (Terrence McCoy)
  • U.S. economic sanctions on Iran could impede Tehran's access to vaccines, imperiling efforts to contain the largest outbreak in the Middle East and risking the continued spread of the virus throughout the region. (Miriam Berger)
Biden’s choice to lead the CDC is a respected specialist but lacks government experience.

“While Rochelle Walensky’s research has long had a public health focus, she has never run a government agency or organization as large and complex as the CDC,” Lena Sun reports. “Walensky, 51, heads the infectious-diseases department at Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the nation’s storied medical centers, and is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. She has conducted pioneering research on HIV/AIDS, with an emphasis on equity and access to treatment. … Experts said the early announcement of a CDC director, whose appointment does not require Senate confirmation, took many by surprise. In previous administrations, it has taken months to make the appointment. … 

"Experts said Walensky’s priorities should include unmuzzling CDC experts — including herself — and allowing them to speak directly and regularly to the public. … Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who will be a top medical adviser in the Biden administration, called her a valued colleague and friend. … Within the CDC, the news was also welcome, although some officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, were taken aback.” One CDC epidemiologist said: “I was hoping for someone who is an experienced public health leader, but hopefully she’ll become one quickly.”

  • Trump plans to attend this year’s Army-Navy football game on Saturday at West Point. (Des Bieler)
  • U.S. military officials in South Korea said they are looking into an alleged party at a bar on the Camp Humphreys military base that violated local covid restrictions. (Shepherd)

The lame-duck agenda

Congress will pass a one-week government funding bill as stimulus negotiations continue.

“Congress will vote this week on a one-week stopgap measure to fund the federal government in order to give negotiators more time to reach agreement on government appropriations and emergency stimulus legislation for the ailing American economy,” Mike DeBonis, Jeff Stein and Kim report. “Negotiations over the government funding bill have stalled with lawmakers torn on at least a dozen policy issues, particularly related to immigration, according to three aides … The federal government is set to shut down after Dec. 11 if Congress fails to act. Congressional leaders were hoping to attach coronavirus relief legislation to the must-pass government spending bill, but work on that effort is also far from complete. …

“The most divisive issues in government spending talks concern funding for Trump’s border wall with Mexico and detention facilities run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to aides briefed on the talks. Democratic appropriators have said they are awaiting responses on a range of questions from their Republican counterparts. The bipartisan group pursuing a stimulus package made progress in marathon negotiation sessions over the weekend conducted by phone and over Zoom. Their proposed compromise centers on providing hundreds of billions of dollars in three key areas — aid for the jobless; state and local funding; and a second round of small business relief — while also approving smaller amounts for other needs such as child care, rental assistance and education, among other issues. The group is expected to propose funding federal supplemental unemployment benefits at $300 per week for tens of millions of unemployed Americans. … The new benefit would cover payments for the jobless for 16 weeks.”

Millions of Americans head into the holidays unemployed and over $5,000 behind on rent.

“Nearly 12 million renters will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities by January, Moody’s Analytics warns. Last month, 9 million renters said they were behind on rent, according to a Census Bureau survey,” Heather Long reports. “Economists say the data underscores the deepening financial disaster for many families as the pandemic continues to shut off work opportunities, lending new urgency to negotiations over a second round of stimulus that could reinstate federal unemployment insurance and rental assistance, among other forms of aid. … The numbers of those behind on rent and utilities were especially high for families with children, with 21 percent falling behind on rent, and among families of color. About 29 percent of Black families and 17 percent of Hispanic renters were behind, the Census Bureau reported. … ‘The tidal wave is coming. It’s going to be really horrible for people,’ said Charlie Harak, a senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.” 

  • A $4.5 billion Trump food program is running out of money early, leaving families hungry and food assistance charities scrambling. Trump’s Farmers to Families Food Box program was set to end Dec. 31. Vendors in some states are running out of money already. (Laura Reiley and Greg Jaffe)
  • D.C. will give $1,200 in stimulus payments to some jobless residents as the region’s case count sets a record. The greater Washington region today surpassed the 500,000-mark in known coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic. (Michael Brice-Saddler and Meagan Flynn)
  • “Two whistle-blowers have accused contractors building Trump’s border wall of smuggling armed Mexican security teams into the United States to guard construction sites, even building an illegal dirt road to speed the operation, according to court documents unsealed by a federal judge,” the Times reports. “An unnamed supervisor at the Army Corps of Engineers approved the operation, according to a complaint filed in February and released on Friday." 
  • “Trump is on a collision course with congressional Republicans and Democrats over the annual defense policy bill, setting up what will likely be the first and only veto override of Trump’s presidency,” Politico reports.
Trump plots mass pardons.

“Trump isn't just accepting pardon requests but blindly discussing them ‘like Christmas gifts’ to people who haven't even asked,” Axios reports. “Trump recently told one adviser he was going to pardon ‘every person who ever talked to me,’ suggesting an even larger pardon blitz to come. … Trump has also interrupted conversations to spontaneously suggest that he add the person he's speaking with to his pardon list … The offers haven't always been welcome. One source felt awkward because the president was clearly trying to be helpful but the adviser didn't believe they had committed any crimes. The adviser also believed being on the list could hurt their public persona.”

  • Op-ed by J. Michael Luttig, a conservative former appellate court judge: “No, President Trump can’t pardon himself.”
  • The Editorial Board: “McConnell and McCarthy say they believe in democracy — but stand by as Trump incinerates it.”
  • Columnist Eugene Robinson: “Trump is causing a crisis of faith in our democracy.”
  • Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner bought a $30 million lot on a high-security Miami island known as “Billionaire’s Bunker,” Page Six reports. The property, an hour from Mar-a-Lago, used to belong to Spanish crooner Julio Iglesias.

Other news that should be on your radar

  • As the Taliban and the U.S. finalized their February deal, Taliban leaders were in frequent communication with al-Qaeda, according to U.N. monitors, consulting with their counterparts on the terms of the agreement and assuring them they would not be betrayed. The active coordination has continued to this day, despite the Taliban’s promise to sever ties as a condition of the peace deal. (Susannah George)
  • A Saudi court sentenced Walid Fitaihi, a doctor with dual American and Saudi citizenship, to six years in prison on politically motivated charges that included illegally obtaining U.S. citizenship. (Kareem Fahim)
  • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern apologized for security lapses that preceded her nation’s deadliest terrorist attack, as a report found intelligence officials had focused disproportionately on countering Islamist violence rather than threats posed by other extremist ideologies. (Emanuel Stoakes)
  • Netflix refused to add a disclaimer to “The Crown, despite pressure from the British government, to say that it is a fictional drama. (Jennifer Hassan and Karla Adam)
  • A second federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to ban TikTok downloads in the United States, saying the president likely overstepped his authority with an action he deemed arbitrary and capricious. (WSJ)
  • Chuck Yeager, a military test pilot who was the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound and live to tell about it, died at 97. For his prowess in flight, Gen. Yeager became one of the great American folk heroes of the 1940s and the 1950s. (Becky Krystal)
  • Rashida Jones will replace Phil Griffin as the head of MSNBC, becoming the first Black woman to run a cable news network. (Jeremy Barr)
  • Breakdancing, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing are now official Olympic sports as organizers attempt to lure a younger audience. (AP)

Social media speed read

This might be a little too on the nose:

The Trump Palm Beach hotel – owned by a man who claims Democrats are waging a war on “Christmas” – wished its followers “Happy Holidays”:

A good chunk of the U.S. will likely see at least one inch of snow this Christmas: 

Videos of the day

Seth Meyers fears that Trump will never stop demanding that we pay attention to him: 

Stephen Colbert reviewed the election situation in Georgia: 

Finally, the pandemic has shown us what the future of architecture could be: Designers are reimagining the spaces where people live, work, learn and heal in light of the coronavirus:

Architects are reimagining the spaces where people live, work, learn and heal in light of the coronavirus (The Washington Post)