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Biden's transition challenges grow by the day

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 25, 2020.Chandan Khanna / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — For President-elect Joe Biden, the easy part was defeating an incumbent president nearly four weeks ago.

The hard part is his transition into office during a pandemic that’s only getting worse, amid destabilizing events overseas, as President Donald Trump continues to make baseless accusations of election fraud, and with control of the U.S. Senate still up for grabs.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday alone (Thursday through Sunday), the United States saw more than 600,000 new coronavirus cases and nearly 5,000 deaths. And health experts say it’s about to get worse — even with distribution of vaccines now in sight.

“What we expect, unfortunately, as we go for the next couple of weeks into December, is that we might see a surge superimposed upon that surge that we're already in,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said on “Meet the Press” yesterday.

Also over the Thanksgiving holiday, Iran’s top nuclear scientist was assassinated, which complicates any attempt by Biden to rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement that Trump scuttled.

“I'm hopeful that President-elect Biden can actually reach in and calm the waters, but I think this heightens tension significantly,” Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, added on “Meet” yesterday.

(Mullen also said he was concerned about Trump loyalists who have moved into top positions at the Pentagon. “There are some real Trump loyalists there now, in charge and it's pretty difficult to think that over the course of 50 or 60 days you can do something constructive, but you can do something that's really destructive.”)

Meanwhile, the defeated president of the United States continues to hurl baseless and debunked allegations that the election was somehow stolen from him – despite trailing Biden nationally by more than 6 million votes, with ballots still to be counted in New York.

That only makes it more difficult for Biden to reach out to, and get legitimacy from, the millions of voters who backed Trump.

And to top it all off, two Jan. 5 runoffs in Georgia will determine whether Democrats or Republicans will control the U.S. Senate, which could determine the fate of many of Biden’s cabinet picks, judicial nominees and legislative priorities.

No one said being president was ever easy.

But Biden’s job — 51 days before his inauguration — couldn’t be more challenging.

And now he’s got to do it all while wearing a boot after suffering hairline fractures in his foot.

Safe and sound

As for Trump’s unfounded accusations about the integrity of the election, the Trump administration’s top official in charge of cybersecurity for the election (until Trump fired him after the election) said the election was secure and not compromised.

“We can go on and on with all the farcical claims that, alleging, interference in the 2020 election, but the proof is in the ballots,” Christopher Krebs said on “60 Minutes” last night.

“The recounts are consistent with the initial count, and to me, that's further evidence, that's confirmation that the systems used in the 2020 election performed as expected, and the American people should have 100 percent confidence in their vote.”

Trump blasted the “60 Minutes” interview with Krebs, and he called the 2020 election “probably our least secure EVER!”

But here was Krebs’ rebuttal in his interview: “There is no foreign power that is flipping votes. There's no domestic actor flipping votes. I did it right. We did it right. This was a secure election.”

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

6,185,406: Joe Biden’s lead in the popular vote at the time of publication

87: The number of additional votes counted for Biden in the Trump-requested partial recount in Wisconsin.

$3 million: How much the Trump campaign spent on that partial recount.

13,454,330: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials.

267,596: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far.

191.15 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

93,219: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus

36: The number of days until the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs.

51: The number of days until Inauguration Day.

Tweet of the day

Breaking up the Boy’s Club

Whether it’s women for Treasury secretary (Janet Yellen), OMB director (Neera Tanden), POSSIBLY Defense secretary (Michèle Flournoy), as well as an all-female press operation, Joe Biden is sending an unmistakable message:

He’s breaking up the Boy’s Club.

Biden Cabinet/Transition Watch

State: Tony Blinken (announced)

Treasury: Janet Yellen (confirmed)

Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas (announced)

UN Ambassador: Linda Thomas-Greenfield (announced)

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines (announced)

Defense: Michèle Flournoy, Jeh Johnson, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth

Attorney General: Doug Jones, Xavier Becerra, Sally Yates

HHS: New Mexico Gov, Michelle Lujan Grisham, Calif. Rep. Raul Ruiz, Calif. Rep. Karen Bass, Dr. Vivek Murthy

Interior: Deb Haaland

Agriculture: Heidi Heitkamp

Labor: Andy Levin, Bernie Sanders, Marty Walsh

Education: Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Randi Weingarten

OMB Director: Neera Tanden (confirmed)

CIA: Michael Morell

Chief of Staff: Ron Klain (announced)

National Security Adviser: Jake Sullivan (announced)

Climate Envoy: John Kerry (announced)

White House Communications Director: Kate Bedingfield (announced)

White House Press Secretary: Jen Psaki (announced)

VP Communications Director: Ashley Etienne (announced)

VP Chief Spokesperson: Symone Sanders (announced)

Georgia Runoff Watch by Ben Kamisar

Today’s Runoff Watch takes another look at how difficult it is to fight with one foot stuck in the past.

It’s been almost four full weeks since Election Day, and yet President Trump and his top allies continue to press unsubstantiated and far-fetched claims of voter fraud. And it’s clear that ill-fated effort threatens the party’s ability to move forward and address its current problem — staving off Democrats’ push for the Senate majority.

During a Saturday event, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel faced questions from Trump supporters seizing on the unfounded voter fraud accusations and even asking why they should even be turning out if the election is already decided, per NBC’s Julia Jester and other reporters tracking the presser.

On Sunday, the president dealt even more damage to party unity in Georgia by declaring he was “ashamed” to have endorsed Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp because he’s done “nothing.” And he issued yet another broadside on the integrity of mail in ballots, even while Republicans will need those ballots to win in the runoffs.

So while Republicans try to stave off another pivotal loss in Georgia, a key message to its core supporters appears to be: The last election was “rigged,” and top Georgia Republicans are doing nothing. But vote for us in this election with the same “rigged” system.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Alex Seitz-Wald checks in on the state of the Ossoff/Perdue race.

What exactly is Joe Biden’s relationship with Mitch McConnell — and could it help break through the gridlock?

Biden’s White House communications team will be made up entirely of women.

Biden’s Cabinet picks are signaling a return to a foreign policy establishment that is relieving close U.S. allies abroad.

The Supreme Court will take up Trump’s proposal to exclude undocumented immigrants from redistricting.

The New York Times looks at how Newsmax is hoping to capitalize on Trump fans who are growing suspicious of Fox News.