Opinion
November 17, 2020

Joe Biden is wary of investigating Donald Trump's alleged crimes, several of his advisers have told NBC News. "One adviser said Biden has made it clear that he 'just wants to move on,'" the article states, though advisers also insist that, unlike Trump, Biden will not directly interfere with the Department of Justice. Such reticence would have no effect on the legal inquiries happening on the state and local level, though it would potentially let Trump off on many alleged federal offenses.

There are three important things to say about this. First, speaking to the press about how Biden is reluctant to prosecute Trump is itself putting political pressure on the future Department of Justice. No matter their level of professionalism, an administration's lawyers are going to look to the president for their cues.

Second, it is virtually beyond question that the entire Trump administration is riddled with crime. Right out in the open we have seen egregious violations of the Hatch Act, alleged blackmail and illegal coercion, the president running a massive bribery scheme through his business empire, and about a million other things. And that is just what is known publicly.

Third, it follows that the principle Biden is tiptoeing towards amounts to saying "presidents should be allowed to commit crimes with impunity." If a scofflaw so egregious as Trump can skate after he leaves office, then the rule of law is dead.

It is frankly baffling that Democrats are so timid about prosecuting Republican crimes. When Barack Obama took office, his predecessor had created a secret CIA torture program that accomplished nothing and was baldly illegal. Corruption and crime are very unpopular, and one would think that a party would leap at the chance to expose their opponent's criminal acts. But Obama refused to prosecute any of the major architects of the program, and in fact defended them in public. (Now one of the torturers is in charge of the CIA.)

We may have to hope that the legal violations are so enormous that Biden simply can't cover them up. It's a safe bet that if anyone takes even a cursory look into the Trump administration's inner workings, they will find breathtaking lawlessness. Ryan Cooper

10:28 a.m.

The Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments Monday in President Trump's attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from counting in the 2020 census. The decision could affect congressional representation and federal funding, and it's far from the only way Trump's immigration policies could resonate for decades to come.

From implementing his Muslim ban in the early days of his presidency to recent changes to the U.S. citizenship test, much of Trump's term has centered around restricting both legal and illegal immigration. President-elect Joe Biden's election win hasn't slowed that pursuit. In Trump's last few weeks in office, he has reportedly pivoted to targeting birthright citizenship again. Trump's team has also used the pandemic to restrict the hiring of foreign workers and rapidly deport migrants and children who cross the southern border, and is rushing to add to his border wall. And if the Supreme Court — stacked with six conservatives — decides in Trump's favor, he could succeed in curbing representation and funding in left-leaning cities.

Biden has pledged to reverse all of Trump's restrictive immigration policies, some in the first days of his presidency. But thanks to "the genius of Stephen Miller," the architect of Trump's harsh immigration policies, that may be impossible, a source familiar with the Biden transition tells CNN. The past four years of slashing immigration have weakened the nation's immigration infrastructure; For example, Trump's historic low refugee caps have weaned staff to the point that it could be impossible to quickly increase refugee admissions, as Biden has proposed. Read more about Trump's lasting immigration legacy at CNN. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:03 a.m.

Merriam-Webster has selected the word of the year for 2020, and it's the obvious choice.

The company on Monday picked "pandemic" as its 2020 word of the year, saying the term received a massive 115,806 percent spike in searches in March compared to a year earlier, The Associated Press reports. That spike came on the day the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, Merriam-Webster said, though smaller spikes had occurred earlier in the year.

"Sometimes a single word defines an era, and it's fitting that in this exceptional — and exceptionally difficult — year, a single word came immediately to the fore as we examined the data that determines what our word of the year will be," Merriam-Webster said.

Among the numerous runners up were terms related to the COVID-19 pandemic like "coronavirus," "quarantine," and "asymptomatic." But another runner up was "defund," which Merriam-Webster said saw a more than 6,000 percent increase in lookups in 2020 amid calls to "defund the police."

The word "mamba" also saw a spike in searchers following the death of Kobe Bryant, who was nicknamed "Black Mamba," and "malarkey," a word used frequently by President-elect Joe Biden, saw an uptick in searches in 2020 as well. The other runners up were "kraken," "antebellum," "schadenfreude," "irregardless," and "icon."

Meanwhile, Dictionary.com also picked "pandemic" as its word of the year, with senior research editor John Kelly telling The Associated Press, "It seems maybe a little bit obvious, and that's fair to say, but think about life before the pandemic. Things like pandemic fashion would have made no sense. The pandemic as an event created a new language for a new normal." Brendan Morrow

10:02 a.m.

In Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine trial, all but 11 of the 196 participants who contracted the virus were in the placebo group, good for a 94 percent efficacy rate. But perhaps even more crucially, none of the people who received the vaccine developed a severe infection, the company said. There were 30 severe cases in the trial — including one death — but they all occurred in the placebo group.

Experts have previously highlighted the importance of separating out worst the cases. Back in September, Drs. Peter Doshi and Eric Topol, in an op-ed for The New York Times, expressed concern that companies developing vaccines, including Moderna and Pfizer, which are on track to receive emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks, wouldn't specify the severity of the infections in their trial. But Moderna did just that Monday (Pfizer has also provided data on the matter), and the news is encouraging. Tim O'Donnell

8:33 a.m.

Back in March and April, when the novel coronavirus was still new and mask-wearing and social distancing foreign, the U.S. rolled out a bunch of ads explaining best COVID-19 practices for keep yourself and others safe. Some of them, like Paul Rudd's PSA for New York and Lego's Batman and Star Wars ads were amusing and informative. Others haven't aged so well.

The U.S. is now setting new records for COVID-19, including topping 200,000 new infections on Friday alone, and top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Sunday about a possible "surge upon a surge" in the weeks after Thanksgiving. A vaccine is coming, he added, and "if we can hang together as a country and do these kinds of things to blunt these surges until we get a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated, we can get through this."

The U.S. isn't going through this alone, of course, and some foreign governments, companies, and artists have tried different ways of communicating the severity of the virus and the need to stop the spread of the coronavirus. As COVID fatigue crashes into the holidays, here are six creative ways other countries have tried to keep up the fight.

1. Germany created an instant classic in November that lightly tugged at the patriotic impulse while highlighting both the stakes and the relatively low cost of serving the greater good.

2. Turkey's Süleyman Hacıcaferoğlu took some animated matchsticks created in the spring by Spanish artists Juan Declan and Valentina Izaguirre, threw on the Mission: Impossible theme song, and created an arresting visual representation of how the virus spreads — and stops.

3. South Africa drew on the ick factor to encourage mask wearing.

4. Vietnam's health department produced an animated ad with a "Jealous Coronavirus" song that is so catchy, it became a bona fide hit in the country.

5. Singapore created its own pop hit, "Singapore Be Steady," with actor Gurmit Singh in character as Phua Chu Kang.

6. In Croatia, Karlovacko beer got its social distancing message across in a language that is probably universal: the disapproving look of a potential parent-in-law. Watch below. Peter Weber

8:28 a.m.

Moderna has announced plans to seek emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine after data showed it to be 94.1 percent effective.

The company said it will apply for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. This announcement comes after Moderna earlier this month revealed that preliminary phase-three trial data showed its vaccine candidate was almost 95 percent effective.

On Monday, Moderna said an analysis of 196 cases "confirms the high efficacy observed at the first interim analysis," and additionally, data also showed the vaccine was 100 percent effective at preventing severe COVID-19 cases.

Moderna is the second company to seek emergency authorization for a vaccine against COVID-19. Pfizer previously announced it would also be submitting a request for FDA emergency authorization for its vaccine candidate, which data showed was about 95 percent effective.

When COVID-19 vaccines begin to roll out, those at the highest risk are expected to receive them first. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told The New York Times that should the company's vaccine receive emergency approval, the first doses could potentially be given by Dec. 21, and the company expects to produce 20 million doses in the United States by the end of the year. Brendan Morrow

5:51 a.m.

President-elect Joe Biden is picking several women, including women of color, for top economic posts in his administration, joining expected Treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen in breaking barriers, people familiar with Biden's plans told several news organizations Sunday. He will officially unveil his team on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Biden is expected to name Princeton labor economist Cecilia Rouse as chairwoman of his Council of Economic Advisers, to be joined by campaign economic advisers Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein. He will also reportedly nominate Neera Tanden, head of the center-left Center for American Progress, as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Rouse, who is Black, and Tanden, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from India, would be the first women of color to lead their respective departments.

Biden is also reportedly leaning toward Brian Deese, another alumnus of the Obama White House, for director of the White House National Economic Council, though the Journal says Roger Ferguson, chief executive of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, is also under consideration. Deese might face some resistance from the left because he is currently an executive at BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager.

Biden's expected pick for deputy Treasury secretary, Adewale "Wally" Adeyemo, also worked as a senior adviser at BlackRock from 2017 until 2019, though he also helped Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) set up the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the Journal notes. Adeyemo, whose family immigrated from Nigeria when he was a child, would be the first Black deputy Treasury secretary.

Biden's economic team will be crucial to his efforts to reshape an economy still struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the end of federal coronavirus financial support. It isn't guaranteed that a GOP-led Senate would confirm all of Biden's economic picks, and Senate Republican aides have already suggested that should the GOP control the upper chamber after Georgia holds its runoff elections, Tanden would be blocked because she said mean things about GOP senators on Twitter. Peter Weber

4:23 a.m.

Christopher Krebs and his team spent years working to build the new Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and help protect U.S. elections, among other critical infrastructure, before President Trump abruptly fired him over Twitter for putting out a joint statement calling the 2020 election the "most secure in American history." Krebs explained on Sunday's 60 Minutes why he's so sure the election was free from hacking and foreign meddling, and why Trump and his fringy lawyers are wrong to allege otherwise.

"I'm not a public servant anymore, but I feel I still got some public service left in me," Krebs told Scott Pelley, explaining why he's speaking out publicly. "And if I can reinforce or confirm for one person that the vote was secure, the election was secure, then I feel like I've done my job."

Krebs said his biggest priority after gaming out "countless" scenarios for foreign election interference was paper ballots. "Paper ballots give you the ability to audit, to go back and check the tape and make sure you go the count right," he said. "And that's really one of the keys to success for a secure 2020 election — 95 percent of the ballots cast in the 2020 election had a paper record associated with it." You can see how that worked in the Georgia hand recount, he added.

Krebs said he found the efforts from Trump and his lawyers to "undermine confidence in the election, to confuse people, to scare people" upsetting because it's actively "undermining democracy" but also because the some of the tens of thousands of election workers putting in 18-hour days are now "getting death threats for trying to carry out one of our core democratic institutions, an election."

In 60 Minutes Overtime, Krebs explained why he set up the CISA "Rumor Control" site, and why he's especially proud of his explainer on the impossibility of hacking voting results.

Krebs also said he isn't aware of anyone at the White House asking CISA to throw doubt on the integrity of the election, and he explained that his team frequently briefed everyone from local election officials to Cabinet agencies and the White House about CISA's efforts. "Everybody, for the most part, got it," he said.

"I had a job to do, we did it right, I would do it over again 1,000 times," Krebs said. "CISA did the right thing. ... State and local election officials did the right thing." Peter Weber

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