The Daily 202: Two Trump administration alumni join Biden’s covid-19 advisory board, including ousted vaccine chief

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The United States will surpass 10 million confirmed infections today. The seven-day average for new cases is more than 100,000 per day for the first time. In five of the past seven days, covid-19 has killed more than 1,000 Americans.

The new advisory group will brief Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris here later today, and Biden will deliver remarks on his plan to control the contagion. Vice President Pence will host a meeting at 3 p.m. of the White House coronavirus task force in the Situation Room. This is the first meeting Pence has convened since Oct. 20, despite the rapidly deteriorating situation.

Two members of the new panel worked inside the Trump administration: Luciana Borio was director for medical and biodefense preparedness on Trump’s National Security Council until she left last year before the pandemic. She is now vice president of the technical staff at In-Q-Tel, the Central Intelligence Agency’s investment arm, and a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. She previously served as assistant commissioner for counterterrorism policy and the acting chief scientist at the Food and Drug Administration.

There’s also Rick Bright, an immunologist and vaccine researcher, who was ousted by Trump political appointees in April as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Bright, a civil servant who had led the agency since 2016, alleged in a whistleblower complaint and testified under oath before Congress that he was pushed aside after he strongly objected to Trump’s insistence that his agency support widespread access to chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two potentially dangerous drugs that the president spent weeks peddling in the spring as a potential cure for covid-19.

Bright was demoted to a lesser role at the National Institutes of Health, from which he resigned on Oct. 6 because he said that he was being given no work to do. “Public health and safety have been jeopardized by the administration’s hostility to the truth and by its politicization of the pandemic response, undoubtedly leading to tens of thousands of preventable deaths,” Bright wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post the day after his resignation.

He has been warning that the Trump administration still has no coordinated national testing strategy and criticized the White House for expressing resistance to testing people who might have asymptomatic infections. “Federal agencies, staffed with some of the best scientists in the world, continue to be politicized, manipulated and ignored,” Bright wrote in the op-ed. “The country is flying blind into what could be the darkest winter in modern history.”

Bright also previously served as an adviser to the World Health Organization. In July, the Trump administration began the process of formally withdrawing the United States from the U.N. agency. One of the first actions Biden plans to take after being inaugurated on Jan. 20 is to reverse that.

Trump’s political people at the top of Health and Human Services have claimed they got rid of Bright because he was confrontational and ineffective, but his whistleblower complaint included emails and other documentation that supported his allegations.

The spotlight is also back on the Trump White House’s handling of the coronavirus within its own walls. News leaked out late Friday that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and five other Trump aides in the West Wing – plus a senior campaign official – tested positive for the virus around Election Day. Meadows, who tested positive Wednesday but told others not to disclose his condition, said on Oct. 25 that Trump was pushing to reopen schools and send people back to work because “we’re not going to control the pandemic.”

Biden has attacked the Trump team for waving the white flag of surrender, and he promised during his victory speech on Saturday night that trying to get the pandemic under control will be his top priority as president.

“We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality or relish life’s most precious moments — hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us — until we get this virus under control,” Biden said. “That plan will be built on a bedrock of science. It will be constructed out of compassion, empathy and concern. I will spare no effort — or commitment — to turn this pandemic around.”

Who else is on the Biden task force:

The effort will be co-chaired by David Kessler, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who served as commissioner of the FDA from 1990 to 1997, under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; Vivek Murthy, who as surgeon general during the final three years of Barack Obama’s administration commanded 6,600 public health officers during the Ebola and Zika outbreaks; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, the associate dean for Health Equity Research at Yale medical school. Murthy and Kessler have been regularly advising Biden for months.

Zeke Emanuel, an oncologist, chairs the medical ethics department and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, where he’s also vice provost. During the first two years of the Obama administration, he was served a special adviser for health policy at the Office of Management and Budget. (His brother Rahm was White House chief of staff.) Emanuel has also chaired the bioethics department at The Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health since 1997.

Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, teaches at Harvard’s medical school. The prolific author founded Ariadne Labs, a health systems innovation center between the hospital where he practices and Harvard’s School of Public Health. He was a senior advisor in HHS during the Clinton administration. 

Celine Gounder cares for patients at Bellevue Hospital Center and teaches at New York University’s medical school. While on the faculty at Johns Hopkins, she directed delivery efforts for the Gates Foundation-funded Consortium to Respond Effectively to the AIDS/TB Epidemic. 

Julie Morita, who served as the city of Chicago’s health commissioner for two decades, is executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, sat on the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Community Based Solutions to Promote Health Equity in the United States. 

Michael Osterholm directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, where he chairs the Department of Public Health. He was previously a science envoy for health security on behalf of the State Department and worked for 24 years in the Minnesota Department of Health, including 15 years as the state’s epidemiologist.

Loyce Pace is executive director and president of the Global Health Council. She has worked with Physicians for Human Rights and Catholic Relief Services, and she previously held leadership positions at the Livestrong Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

Robert Rodriguez is a professor of emergency medicine at UCSF medical school, where he practices in the emergency department and intensive care unit of two major trauma centers in the Bay Area. The Harvard medical school graduate has authored papers on the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of frontline providers. In July, he volunteered to help with a critical surge of coronavirus patients in the ICU in his hometown of Brownsville, Tex. 

Eric Goosby, also a professor at UCSF medical school, was the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator during the Obama administration. Later, he was appointed by the United Nations Secretary General as a special envoy for TB.During the Clinton administration, he was founding director of the Ryan White CARE Act, the largest federally funded HIV-AIDS program, and the interim Director of the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy. 

Rebecca Katz, the director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center, and Beth Cameron, director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council during the Obama administration, are serving as advisers to the transition task force.

This new advisory group offers a stark contrast with Trump, who suggested last week during one of his final rallies before Election Day that he plans to fire Anthony Fauci, the top expert on infectious diseases in the government since 1984, after the election. Fauci and others have clashed with Scott Atlas, a radiologist at a conservative think tank who does not have a background in public health but who has had Trump’s ear since advocating for a more relaxed approach to the virus during appearances on Fox News.

Biden plans to call Republican and Democratic governors to ask for their help in developing a consistent message from federal and state leaders,” Yasmeen Abutaleb reports. “He will urge governors to adopt statewide mask mandates and to provide clear public health guidance to their constituents, including about social distancing and limiting large gatherings. The task force will have subgroups that focus on issues related to the response, including testing, vaccine distribution and personal protective equipment … Murthy, who served as the 19th U.S. surgeon general, is a physician whose nomination was stalled in the Senate for more than a year because of his view that gun violence is a public health issue. Three months into the Trump administration, he was replaced as ‘the nation’s doctor’ with more than two years left on his four-year term.”

Even as Trump refuses to concede, Biden continues to forge ahead with transition planning. On Sunday, he added new details to his website and social media account for the 46th presidency. Biden’s proposals include aiming to secure funds for ramping up coronavirus testing, acquiring additional protective equipment such as masks and gowns, and investing $25 billion in vaccine manufacturing and distribution.

Biden may take a more proactive role in coming weeks in congressional negotiations over an economic stimulus package,” Matt Viser reports. “Aides do not expect to announce any Cabinet nominations for several weeks … Top White House positions, which don’t require confirmation, are typically announced first and Biden’s team expects to follow that model … 

Some top jobs — including Biden’s pick for White House chief of staff — will probably be made public this week, potentially providing insight into how Biden intends to govern. Many inside the campaign believe Ronald A. Klain, a longtime Biden aide who served as chief of staff in the early years of his vice presidency, is a likely choice for White House chief of staff. Other prospects include top adviser Steve Ricchetti, who served as Biden’s chief of staff during Obama’s second term, and Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), a co-chairman of the Biden campaign. Since Biden was declared the winner Saturday morning, the work has mingled with celebration. Top aides celebrated at the Wilmington Westin’s restaurant, the River Rock Kitchen, until late Saturday evening. Many wore new black face masks with ‘46’ written on the side, in homage to Biden soon becoming the 46th president.”

The latest on the contagion

Pfizer put out some very promising news this morning.

“A front-runner coronavirus vaccine developed by drug giant Pfizer and German biotechnology firm BioNTech was more than 90 percent effective at protecting people compared with a placebo saline shot, according to an interim analysis by an independent data monitoring committee that met Sunday,” Carolyn Johnson reports. “The early look at the ongoing trial provides a decisive initial glimpse of the real-world performance of one of the four coronavirus vaccines in the last stages of testing in the United States. It is the strongest signal yet that the unprecedented quest to develop a vaccine that could help bring the pandemic to an end might succeed, breaking every scientific speed record. … 

“The data is not yet published or peer-reviewed. … The data committee noted no serious safety concerns. [Kathrin Jansen, head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer,] said the side-effect profile of the vaccine was similar to what was reported in an earlier study. That included pain at the injection site and fatigue, chills and fever — which occurred more frequently in younger trial participants than in adults over age 65. Pfizer and BioNTech said they plan to submit an application for emergency authorization from the [FDA] after the third week of November, when they will have two months of safety follow-up data on half of the participants in their trial, along with data on their manufacturing process.” Global markets and U.S. futures soared following the Pfizer news. 

Biden said in a statement that his public health advisors were informed on Sunday of “this excellent news,” and he congratulated “the brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough and to give us such cause for hope.” But the president-elect emphasized that “it is also important to understand that the end of the battle against covid-19 is still months away.” 

“This news follows a previously announced timeline by industry officials that forecast vaccine approval by late November. Even if that is achieved, and some Americans are vaccinated later this year, it will be many more months before there is widespread vaccination in this country,” Biden wrote. “This is why the head of the CDC warned this fall that for the foreseeable future, a mask remains a more potent weapon against the virus than the vaccine. Today’s news does not change this urgent reality.”

A surge of cases reveals a snowball effect.

“It took only 10 days for the country to move from 9 million cases to what is expected to be its 10 millionth case Monday. By comparison, it took more than three months for the country to go from no cases to 1 million in late April,” Robert Barnes reports. “More than half of states reported a new high for their seven-day average of cases, including Maryland, for the first time since early May. Saturday’s totals were more than 135,000 new cases, about 55,000 people were hospitalized and 1,133 new deaths were reported. The virus has been spreading fastest in the Great Lakes and Mountain West states, with North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin leading the way. For nearly a month, Ohio has each day set a new high in its seven-day new case average. … U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams said half of the states are in the red or orange zones for new coronavirus outbreaks, but added that is not the whole story: ‘We could also hit historic highs in daily hospitalizations this week.’ 

The political differences over how to proceed were apparent Sunday in a contentious exchange between New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Democrat whose state was one of the first to be leveled by the virus, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem, the Republican whose state is in the crosshairs now. On ABC’s ‘This Week with George Stephanopoulos,’ … Cuomo said, ‘Republican governors who were cowered by Trump’s philosophy to deny covid’ will need to acknowledge the risks. ‘It’s going to be the states that denied covid that are now going to be paying the highest price,’ he said. Noem said her state is part of a regional increase that reflects growing numbers because of additional testing. ‘Frankly, George, I’m not going to take advice from Governor Cuomo,’ Noem said to Stephanopoulos. ‘He has the second-worst death rate per 100,000 people in this nation. He’s at 173 deaths per 100,000 per capita. South Dakota is at 54.’ Noem said she ‘appreciated that President Trump gave us the flexibility to do the right thing in our state and will continue to do that.’”

Public health officials issued dire warnings: “Down this current path lies [a] continued rapid rise in cases,” Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, wrote in a Twitter thread. “More people on ventilators. Higher numbers of people dying. More survivors with long term consequences. Hospitals under pressure until they can’t provide care for everyone anymore.” Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s first commissioner of the FDA, said there has to be a new post-election focus on what more should be done at the national and state level. “We’ve been sort of arguing politically over what I think is a false dichotomy, a straw man, that it’s really a choice between lockdowns and no lockdowns. And that’s not the case,” Gottlieb said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

New York’s block-by-block lockdowns are curbing the pandemic. Residents aren’t pleased. 

“The unique effort, supported by a massive state and city testing apparatus, has been largely successful so far, earning the admiration of epidemiologists. But neither state nor city officials are taking a victory lap as they watch cases surge to their highest-ever levels in sister cities throughout the United States and Europe,” Ben Guarino reports. “The policy has allowed the city to avoid returning to blanket closures, unlike the European cities that also suffered immensely in the pandemic’s first wave. … The policy had its origins in October when the state released a color-coded map — yellow, orange and red zones, least to most severe … The map is built from the results of the nearly a million coronavirus tests New York has conducted per week, or about 0.6 percent of the state population daily, as of late October. … While less draconian than the spring’s citywide lockdown, the policy is unpopular among those who live and work in the targeted communities. ‘Small businesses feel that they are being unfairly punished,’ said Randy Peers, chief executive and president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.” 

  • Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) declared a state of emergency and announced a statewide mask mandate on Sunday night after months of resistance. “Our hospitals are full,” he said. “We cannot afford to debate this issue any longer.” (Antonia Farzan)
  • Nursing home covid-19 cases rose four-fold in surge states. (AP)
  • For the second weekend in a row, St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, one of Idaho’s largest hospitals, was unable to admit any new patients because its staff was overwhelmed with a high volume of cases. (Farzan)
  • Cruise ships will not return to U.S. waters with passengers onboard until 2021. (Shannon McMahon)
  • Thousands of screaming, cheering college students stormed the field after Notre Dame defeated top-ranked Clemson in football on Saturday night, a jubilant moment that soon drew criticism in light of the campus’s recent surge in cases. (Farzan)
While most Americans agonized over election results, others fought for their lives.

“It was early in the morning on Tuesday when Trona Leaper’s doctor told her to check herself into the hospital to be treated for covid-19,” Ashley Fetters reports. “So before the polls opened at 7 a.m., Leaper, who works in accounting for a livestock feed company, called her polling place near the tiny town of Three Springs, Pa., and made arrangements to vote safely. … [By] late Wednesday night, Leaper’s mind was no longer on the election. Her roommate in the covid-19 ward, an elderly woman, was having a difficult night. ‘I knew she was close to the end,’ Leaper said, ‘and I got up, went over and held her hand and prayed with her.’ … As TV audiences across the country watched Trump’s lead in Pennsylvania dwindle, Leaper lay in her hospital bed and wept. … On Election Day, a Texas-based Pentecostal Christian congregation lost its 75-year-old co-founding pastor to covid-19. On Thursday, a middle school in Lancaster County, Pa., had to abruptly cancel students’ in-person classes for the rest of the week after the coronavirus claimed a 47-year-old guidance counselor.”

More on the transition

A Trump appointee refuses to sign a letter allowing Biden’s transition team to get to work.

“The administrator of the General Services Administration, the low-profile agency in charge of federal buildings, has a little-known role when a new president is elected: to sign paperwork officially turning over millions of dollars, as well as give access to government officials, office space in agencies and equipment authorized for the taxpayer-funded transition teams of the winner,” Lisa Rein, Jonathan O’Connell and Josh Dawsey report. “GSA Administrator Emily Murphy had written no such letter. And the Trump administration, in keeping with the president’s failure to concede the election, has no immediate plans to sign one. This could lead to the first transition delay in modern history, except in 2000, when the Supreme Court decided a recount dispute between Al Gore and George W. Bush in December. ‘An ascertainment has not yet been made,’ Pamela Pennington, a spokeswoman for GSA, said in an email …  

“The GSA statement left experts on federal transitions to wonder when the White House expects the handoff from one administration to the next to begin — when the president has exhausted his legal avenues to fight the results, or the formal vote of the electoral college on Dec. 14? There are 74 days, as of Sunday, until the Biden inauguration on Jan. 20. … In a call on Friday with administration officials, Mary Gibert, the head of the presidential transition team at the GSA, told colleagues the agency was in a holding pattern and not to host people from Biden teams … The delay has already gummed up discussions on critical issues, including plans to distribute a possible coronavirus vaccine … [Until they get the letter, transition officials also cannot begin working with the Office of Government Ethics to process financial disclosure and conflict-of-interest forms for their nominees.]

The decision has turned attention to Murphy, whose four-year tenure has been marked by several controversies Trump’s hotel lease was signed with the agency before Trump took office … But he retained ownership of his business, allowing him to profit from the property while in office. … Under Murphy, the GSA repeatedly declined to provide documents to House Democrats, including the monthly income statements it receives from Trump’s company. Last year, the agency’s inspector general determined that GSA ‘improperly’ ignored those concerns in allowing Trump’s company to keep the lease. … 

“Trump has personally intervened in the most prominent real estate project in the agency’s entire portfolio: the plan to build a new FBI headquarters that would allow the bureau out of the crumbling and insecure J. Edgar Hoover Building. During his first year in office, Trump and the GSA abruptly canceled a bipartisan plan to build a new suburban headquarters for the agency, infuriating Democrats who had worked more than a decade on the project and who alleged that Trump canceled the project so a competing hotel could never be built in place of the Hoover building, a site down the street from his hotel.” 

Former Republican White House officials and veterans of past transition teams are calling for the GSA to move forward. “While there will be legal disputes requiring adjudication, the outcome is sufficiently clear that the transition process must now begin,” says a letter that was signed by George W. Bush’s former chief of staff Josh Bolten, Mitt Romney’s 2012 transition chief Mike Leavitt, Clinton’s first chief of staff Thomas McLarty and Obama’s Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. (Politico)

A lame-duck Congress and lame-duck president will face huge challenges in the coming weeks. 

“Congress faces a government shutdown deadline and crucial economic relief negotiations at a moment of extraordinary national uncertainty,” Erica Werner, Paul Kane and Abutaleb report. “Even before Biden takes office on Jan. 20, Congress must contend with a Dec. 11 government funding deadline. Failure to reach a deal would result in a government shutdown, and Trump has not signaled whether he would sign a new spending bill. At the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have both expressed the desire to pass new economic and health-care relief measures … But it is uncertain whether they will be able to find common ground in the weeks ahead: McConnell is pushing for a narrow and targeted bill, while Pelosi continues to insist on a broader and bolder relief package.”

Election fallout

Trump continues to defy the election results, as the world – and more Republicans – move on. 

“Trump traveled to his Virginia golf course for a second straight day Sunday, declining to concede the presidential race more than 24 hours after Biden had been declared the victor. As Trump continued to make conspiratorial allegations of voter fraud without providing any evidence, Republican officials and allies splintered between nudging him to accept defeat and encouraging him to fight,” Toluse Olorunnipa, Ashley Parker and Dawsey report. “The president appeared fixated on doing the latter, using social media to cast doubt on the election process rather than prepare for a peaceful transition of power. … For the fifth consecutive day, Twitter flagged several of Trump’s tweets as potential misinformation about elections as he made specious claims of vote rigging. … Trump’s instincts to fight the election results were being fueled by his adult sons and [Rudy] Giuliani, according to several advisers …

“Several senior aides to the Trump campaign met at its Arlington headquarters on Saturday to discuss options. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been a constant presence at the headquarters in recent days, has encouraged the president to pursue every legal remedy he has to contest the results in the handful of swing states where Biden has been declared the victor or is leading … Kellyanne Conway is among the advisers encouraging the president to pursue options but to carefully preserve his political brand as a Republican kingmaker … Others said the president himself probably realized that he has limited options to turn things around and would soon accept reality.”

George W. Bush congratulates Biden.

In a statement, the sole surviving former Republican president said he called Biden to congratulate him and Harris on their win. “Though we have political differences, I know Joe Biden to be a good man, who has won his opportunity to lead and unify our country,” Bush wrote. “I want to congratulate President Trump and his supporters on a hard-fought campaign. He earned the votes of more than 70 million Americans – an extraordinary political achievement. They have spoken, and their voices will continue to be heard through elected Republicans at every level of government. … Trump has the right to request recounts and pursue legal challenges, and any unresolved issues will be properly adjudicated. The American people can have confidence that this election was fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld, and its outcome is clear.”

U.S. business leaders called for a peaceful transfer of power. “‘Now is a time for unity,’ said Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank by assets. ‘We must respect the results of the US presidential election and, as we have with every election, honour the decision of the voters and support a peaceful transition of power.’ Bill Ackman, the billionaire hedge fund manager, advised Mr Trump to admit defeat,” the Financial Times reports

The GOP has leveled many allegations of election irregularities. So far, none have been proved. 

“Republicans have made claims of election irregularities in five states where Biden leads in the vote count. … So far, they have gone 0 for 5,” David Fahrenthold, Elise Viebeck, Emma Brown and Rosalind Helderman report. “In the lawsuits themselves, even Trump’s campaign and allies do not allege widespread fraud or an election-changing conspiracy. Instead, GOP groups have largely focused on smaller-bore complaints in an effort to delay the counting of ballots or claims that would affect a small fraction of votes, at best. And, even then, they have largely lost in court. The reason: Judges have said the Republicans did not provide evidence to back up their assertions — just speculation, rumors or hearsay. Or in one case, hearsay written on a sticky note. The result has been a flurry of filings that Trump has cited as a reason to avoid conceding defeat — but, so far, have done nothing to prevent the defeat itself.”

A series of factors suggest that Trump sowing doubt about the results is mostly for show. “For instance, the campaign is soliciting donations for its ‘official election defense fund,’ but the fine print shows half of the donations are to be used for another purpose: to retire the campaign’s debt. That’s a particularly conspicuous clause given Trump had previously said he might put up his own money for his reelection effort; even as he swears he has a legitimate legal case, he’s not just declining to use his own money, but he’s diverting half the money raised for it to another purpose tied to the winding down of the campaign,” writes Aaron Blake. “The Trump campaign has also not, for instance, put up the approximately $3 million required for a recount in Wisconsin. Biden’s margin of victory there is about 0.6 percent.”

Even in defeat, the embers of Trumpism still burn in the GOP. 

“Trump advisers said over the weekend that they expect him to possibly hold campaign-style rallies as he … seeks affirmation from his voters,” Robert Costa, Philip Rucker and Dawsey report. “Inside the White House on Sunday, some advisers were encouraging the president to go out this week and speak to his voters, whether it was via a rally or speech … Several of them said Trump is in no mood to concede and keeps boasting that he has ‘the strongest base ever.’ … And inside Trump’s orbit, defiance remains the guiding principle. One senior Trump campaign official said over the weekend that online contributions had risen in recent days, with ‘some of our strongest days.’ …

“The election Tuesday also saw the ascent of a crowd of fervent Trump backers, such as Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, who became the first open supporter of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory to win a seat in the House. … Many Republican leaders do not blame Trump, at least publicly, for the party’s failings. In fact, some GOP leaders credit him and his movement for reviving the party and bolstering its standing in the House this time around. That cohesion — despite Trump’s shattering of GOP orthodoxy and turbulent, scandal-plagued term — shows how much his persona and politics remain central. … Ambitious Republicans such as Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.), both potential 2024 hopefuls, have signaled their solidarity with much of Trump’s populism even though they lack his celebrity and bravado. Many of the party’s rising stars see Trump as a model of sorts for building a national movement in the modern GOP.”

Quote of the day

Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt (R) said his office, which runs the vote count, has received death threats. “In the birthplace of our Republic, counting votes is not a bad thing. Counting votes cast on or before Election Day by eligible voters is not corruption. It is not cheating. It is democracy,” Schmidt told CBS’s “60 Minutes.” 

The Trump presidency began with a gold escalator. It may have ended at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. 

“The end came in all the places you’d expect, in all the ways you’d expect, with all the people you’d expect,” Dan Zak and Karen Heller report. “When news broke Saturday that Trump’s reign was ending, … a pair of Trump’s most loyal surrogates made a defiant stand on the gravelly backside of a landscaping business in an industrial stretch of Northeast Philadelphia … [Giuliani] squinted into the autumnal sun at journalists who had assembled outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping — a choice of location that multiple Trump staffers could not account for, saying that it was the work of the campaign’s Pennsylvania advance team. Literally anywhere else would have conveyed more legitimacy on the enterprise, but legitimacy did not seem a high priority for one of the last battles of a lost war. … Sean Middleton, the company’s director of sales, was at a Bible study when he got the call to come to the shop and help prepare for Giuliani’s news conference. ‘I was pretty happy because it got me out of Bible study,’ he said Saturday, adding: ‘I have no idea why [the campaign] wanted to do it here. I don’t know how the government works.’”

For Biden fans, there’s one unifying standard: Old Glory. 

“If there was one enduring symbol of Joe Biden’s nationwide election night party Saturday night, it was the American flag,” Annie Linskey reportsIn the Riverfront district of Wilmington, near the parking lot from which Biden delivered his speech to the nation, flags flew everywhere. There was the Big Flag, a massive Old Glory hoisted between two cranes and visible from the interstate. It flew for a week as the ballot counting agonizingly continued, ripping at least twice and becoming a temporary Wilmington landmark. An American flag bigger than a barn door hung on the side of the Chase Center. … Another draped vertically off the nearby wall of Daniel S. Frawley Stadium, a minor league ballpark. One more, about a story high, was suspended from the side of the nearby Westin hotel. … During an elaborate fireworks display and light show after the speeches, the grand finale involved hundreds of lit drones forming a gently waving American flag in the sky as bursts of light exploded around it. Biden and Harris watched with American flag pins affixed to their jackets.”

But the flag’s most evocative use came from everyday people: “Across the country, as Americans flooded into the streets in celebration of Biden’s victory and President Trump’s defeat, flags bobbed over the heads of the crowd. In Wilmington, campaign workers handed out hundreds of American flags to supporters. Some were large, affixed to poles about 10 feet long and meant to be waved overhead dramatically, ‘Les Misérables’ style. … As the festivities continued at the drive-in rally, Biden fans popped out of sunroofs to wave their own flags. ‘This is a pivotal time in our country when this needs to be the flag for everybody,’ said Delaware state Sen. Stephanie Hansen (D), who came with her family to support Biden on Saturday night in a vehicle bedecked with American flags. ‘It’s no longer a conservative flag. It’s not a liberal flag or a Republican agenda. It’s a flag for everybody.’”

  • Airfare and hotel rates in D.C. are soaring for the inauguration now that Biden has won. (Keith Alexander)
  • “Through executive action and negotiations with Congress, Biden wants to bolster public schools,” Laura Meckler, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel and Valerie Strauss report. “He has promised hundreds of billions of dollars in new education spending, for preschool through college. He has proposed college debt forgiveness. And he wants to overturn a controversial regulation on sexual harassment and assault that universities and others strongly opposed.”
The world’s populists are losing their White House ally, but global Trumpism is far from over. 

“Few are predicting an end to global Trumpism, the nation-first, people-dividing style of governance with a hint of authoritarianism that began to gain traction in Europe and Asia well before Trump’s 2016 election,” Anthony Faiola, Terremce McCoy and Loveday Morris report. “Biden’s tight victory, in fact, could embolden Trump’s global allies to portray his unexpectedly strong showing as anything but a repudiation of their arch-conservative populist ideals. … Some of Trump’s global backers initially rallied to his defense as the U.S. election unfolded. But following his claims of a U.S. election being stolen, even some of his most ardent backers appeared to hedge their bets.” Russian strongman Vladimir Putin hasn’t congratulated Biden yet. In 2016, the Kremlin waited just two hours to congratulate Trump after the race was called for him.

The Trump administration is planning a “flood” of new Iran sanctions before Jan. 20 to box in Biden. “The Trump administration’s envoy for Iran Elliott Abrams arrived in Israel on Sunday and met Prime Minister Netanyahu and National Security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat to discuss the sanctions plan,” Axios reports. “The Trump administration believes such a ‘flood’ of sanctions will increase pressure on the Iranians and make it harder for the Biden administration to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.” 

Both parties are gearing up for two ferocious Georgia Senate runoffs.

“The races will unfold in a rapidly diversifying state that has become a national bellwether, one whose votes split nearly evenly between Biden and Trump,” Sean Sullivan, Linskey and Chelsea Janes report. “One of the races in Georgia pits Sen. David Perdue (R), a close Trump ally … against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 33-year-old investigative journalist and former House candidate. The other contest is a special election that features Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) … facing a challenge from pastor Raphael Warnock, who would be the first elected Black Democratic senator from the Deep South. … Behind the scenes, both sides are already plotting strategy. Advisers to Biden and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) have been in touch about the campaign … But questions remain about how engaged Biden and his campaign operation will be in the races, which will overlap with Biden’s transition to the White House. … What’s more, a strategic defeat two weeks before his inauguration could weaken Biden politically. … But other supporters insisted the Georgia races must be a top priority for Biden’s operation, even if he is not the public face of the campaign.”

If Biden’s lead in the state holds, 2020 will become the first year since 1992 that a Democrat wins Georgia: “Even if a recount does reverse the result, the state has returned to the ranks of the competitive, its leftward shift propelled by a coalition of voters very unlike the one that helped Bill Clinton win the state,” Kevin Schaul, Harry Stevens and Dan Keating report. “Twenty-eight years later, the polarization in Georgia mirrors that in the rest of the nation. Majority-White rural counties overwhelmingly preferred Trump, while Biden benefited from an enormous margin and historic turnout in Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs, where a substantial share of voters are Black. … 

“This year’s massive vote margins in and around Atlanta reflect a statewide surge in voter registration, spurred in part by a 2016 administrative change that made registering to vote the default option on the state’s driver’s registration form. … In 2016, 22 percent of Georgia’s eligible voters were not registered. This year, that figure stood at 2 percent. Turnout, meanwhile, jumped to more than 67 percent of eligible voters, breaking the state’s 40-year record of 63 percent, set in 2008. Demographic changes also help account for the Democratic shift. Over the last eight years, Atlanta and its Democratic-leaning suburbs have grown more populous as the rest of the state’s population has stagnated.”

Trump’s attacks on John McCain helped Biden in Arizona. 

“On Election Day, many [Arizonans]— led by McCain’s widow, Cindy — took revenge: Arizona is on target to choose a Democrat — Biden — for the first time in almost 25 years,” Politico reports. “As of Saturday, it appeared that about 100,000 voters in Arizona’s Maricopa County alone, which makes up about half the state’s population, voted for Biden and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly but chose all Republicans for a host of other state offices … That suggests many reliably Republican voters had a special animus toward Trump and Sen. Martha McSally, who was banking on her reflexive loyalty to Trump to carry her over the threshold. … That makes Arizona one of the clearest illustrations of Trump paying a price for his bullying behavior and defiance of norms that have been honored by both parties for generations. Former McCain staffers … actively encouraged Arizona’s Republicans to come out in public support of Biden, not just on account of Trump’s poor treatment of McCain but because they believed the former senator would have voted his conscience for Biden, too.”

  • Former congressman Darrell Issa (R), one of the chief antagonists of the Obama administration, will return to Capitol Hill next year, two after retiring from Congress. The San Diego County-based seat has been vacant since January, when former congressman Duncan Hunter (R) resigned after pleading guilty in federal court to misusing campaign funds, including to support extramarital affairs. (Felicia Sonmez)
  • Lynchburg, Va., went blue for the first time since Harry Truman carried it in 1948. The town is best known today as home to the conservative Liberty University. (Laura Vozzella and Susan Svrluga

Social media speed read

The Trump campaign’s lead spokesman deleted a tweet featuring doctored photos of a Washington Times front page claiming to show Al Gore being declared president (and sworn-in) in 2000. The Washington Times quickly debunked the fake front page:

Trump qualifies for three auspicious categories that makes him a singular figure in American history:

And here is some symbolism to carry with you for the rest of the week: 

Videos of the day

Alex Trebek, the quintessential quizmaster and “Jeopardy!” host, died at 80 following a public cancer battle. Trebek hosted the iconic quiz show for three decades: 

“Trebek maintained a safe space for smart viewers in the darkest, dumbest times,” writes TV critic Hank Stuever. “His show, and the way he hosted it, proved that polite order can be more fascinating than brute chaos. In 2020, that seems like a downright revolutionary idea.”

John Oliver discussed Election Week: 

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And Trevor Noah reviewed the biggest Trump scandals:

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