Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: November 18, 2020

Harold Maass
Biden in Delaware
Joe Raedle/Getty Images


Biden names top campaign officials to White House staff

President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday revealed nine White House senior staff hires, including five women and four people of color. Biden said his campaign manager, Jen O'Malley Dillon, would serve as deputy chief of staff under Chief of Staff Ron Klain. Other campaign veterans include Julie Chavez Rodriguez, a deputy campaign manager and former aide to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris named director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. The Biden campaign's top lawyer, Dana Remus, will serve as counsel to the president. Obama administration veteran Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon will be chief of staff to soon-to-be first lady Jill Biden. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) will be a senior adviser and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. [Politico, The Guardian]


Trump fires cybersecurity chief who disputed vote-fraud claims

President Trump on Tuesday fired Christopher Krebs, the head of the federal election cybersecurity agency who rejected false vote-fraud claims. Trump had criticized Krebs over the Rumor Control blog that his agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), used to counter bogus allegations of cheating in the Nov. 3 election. Krebs was a leading government voice in debunking baseless claims of ballot fraud, including a conspiracy theory pushed by Trump claiming that Dominion Voting Systems machines switched Trump votes to President-elect Joe Biden votes. Trump tweeted on Tuesday that Krebs had released a "highly inaccurate" statement on the election, an apparent reference to a joint statement by CISA, the Election Assistance Commission, and other groups saying that there was "no evidence" that voting systems lost or deleted votes. [NBC News]


FDA approves first complete at-home rapid COVID-19 test

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the first rapid coronavirus test for complete use at home. The test, developed by California-based company Lucira Health, requires a prescription, and is expected to cost $50 or less. It relies on a nasal swab, and can provide results in half an hour. Other at-home tests that have already received FDA approval require samples to be shipped to a lab for analysis. Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said the authorization of a complete at-home test marks "a significant step" for the FDA's COVID-19 response. "Now, more Americans who may have COVID-19 will be able to take immediate action, based on their results, to protect themselves and those around them," Shuren said. [The New York Times]


Pennsylvania Supreme Court reverses rare Trump legal victory

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed a rare Trump campaign post-election court victory, ruling that Republican election observers were not improperly prevented from watching ballot counting in Philadelphia, which heavily favored President-elect Joe Biden. Even the two conservative justices who dissented in the 5-2 ruling acknowledged that the Trump campaign's argument that legitimate votes should be invalidated because of disputed observation practices was "misguided." The loss could hurt Trump's effort in a federal court in Williamsport to block Pennsylvania from certifying its election results. In that case, Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, argued on Tuesday that hundreds of thousands of votes should be invalidated because "widespread, nationwide voter fraud" had tipped the presidential election to Biden. A lawyer for some of the state's election boards, Mark Aronchick, said Giuliani's claim was "just disgraceful." [CNBC]


Michigan county breaks deadlock, certifies Detroit election results

The Wayne County, Michigan, Board of Canvassers late Tuesday voted to certify the Nov. 3 election results, breaking an earlier 2-2 deadlock along party lines. The board's two Republican members previously opposed certifying the results in the county, drawing praise from Republicans. President Trump tweeted approval of the deadlocked vote. Democrats had harshly criticized the delaying of the certification, calling it a targeted attack on majority-Black, heavily Democratic Detroit, the largest city in the county and state. Members of the Board of Canvassers from both parties approved the change but called for a "comprehensive audit" by the Secretary of State's office of precincts with unexplained minor discrepancies in their vote tallies. [The Detroit News]


GOP defectors join Democrats to hold up controversial Fed nominee

Two Republican senators joined Democrats on Tuesday to block the nomination of Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) voted "no," as they said months ago they would do. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) also opposes confirmation, but he wasn't present for the vote. "In her past statements, Ms. Shelton has called for the Federal Reserve to be less independent of the political branches and has even questioned the need for a central bank," Collins said in a statement. "This is not the right signal to send, particularly in the midst of the pandemic." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also voted against advancing the controversial nomination in a procedural move to allow him to bring it up later. [The Associated Press, Bloomberg]


Grassley tests positive for coronavirus

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Senate's most senior Republican, tweeted Tuesday that he had tested positive for coronavirus. The news came shortly after Grassley, 87, said he would be self-isolating because of a possible exposure to the virus. "I'll (be) following my doctors' orders/CDC guidelines & continue to quarantine," Grassley wrote. "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." Grassley, who serves as president pro tempore of the Senate, attended a Republican leadership meeting on Monday, colleagues said. "He's been great about wearing his mask and I think great about taking care of himself," said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). [CNN]


Pentagon announces troop reductions in Afghanistan, Iraq

The Pentagon on Tuesday announced that President Trump is ordering a sharp reduction in U.S. troops in Afghanistan just before he leaves office in January. Trump is cutting U.S. forces in the country from 4,500 to 2,500, stopping short of the full withdrawal he has sought to what has become America's longest war. Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, who Trump appointed after firing Mark Esper last week, confirmed the drawdown and said the U.S. also will reduce its troop strength in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500. Some Republicans warned that reducing force levels in Afghanistan could hurt peace talks with the Taliban. "It is extremely important here in the next couple of months not to have any earthshaking changes in regard to defense or foreign policy," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. [Reuters]


U.S. agrees to drop drug charges against former Mexico defense minister

The Trump administration and Mexico announced Tuesday that the United States will return Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, a former defense minister, to Mexico, and drop drug charges against him that upset relations between the neighboring nations. Cienfuegos was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in October on allegations that he had helped a drug cartel while serving as defense minister from 2012 to 2018. Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department had "provided Mexico evidence in this case and commits to continued cooperation." But Mexico has not committed to trying Cienfuegos after he returns. A judge is expected to formally drop the charges on Wednesday. After that, Cienfuegos will be flown home. [The Washington Post]


Conan O'Brien ending nearly 3-decade run as late-night host

WarnerMedia announced Tuesday that Conan O'Brien will step down as a late-night host and pursue a weekly variety series. "After an extraordinary 28 years as a late-night television host," O'Brien will end his TBS show Conan in 2021, WarnerMedia said. The late-night talk show will wrap up at the conclusion of its 10th season. O'Brien next will head to HBO Max for a new weekly variety series. He'll also continue his Conan Without Borders travel specials. "I'm thrilled that I get to continue doing whatever the hell it is I do on HBO Max," O'Brien said. Prior to Conan, going back to 1993, O'Brien hosted Late Night and, briefly, The Tonight Show. New episodes of Conan are set to continue until June 2021. [CNN, WarnerMedia]