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Historian: After Trump, public and press should hold Biden to a high standard

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.
Image: Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden announces nominees and appointees to serve on his health and coronavirus response teams during a news conference in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 8, 2020.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Republicans certainly had their complaints about Barack Obama’s presidency.

They argued he was too politically inexperienced, spent too much, wasn’t transparent enough, issued too many executive orders, campaigned too much (including from the White House), disrespected allies and played too much golf.

Then many of them stayed silent as Trump took all of those criticisms to a whole new level — he was more politically inexperienced, spent way more, issued more executive orders, campaigned much more (including holding his convention from the White House and starting his re-election effort after his inauguration), disrespected more allies and played significantly more golf.

And it all raises the question: Where should the public and the political media set the bar for Joe Biden after Trump’s presidency?

NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss argues that the bar should remain high for Biden, especially when it comes to ethics and transparency.

“The wake of Watergate, for instance, was a great time for anyone who worried about a president grabbing for too much power and corruption at high levels,” he said. “If anything, our demand for high presidential ethics and transparency should now be louder than ever.”

Beschloss adds that Republicans who criticize Biden for committing transgressions — but who stayed silent when Trump did the same (or, as may likely be the case when it comes to corrosive political rhetoric, far worse) — should, at the very least, have an asterisk next to their criticism.

“Republican leaders may now complain about what President Biden is doing, but we must strictly set those complaints against the backdrop of what they did not complain about when President Trump was in office,” Beschloss said.

Bottom line: If you want guardrails in a democracy — for Democratic and Republican presidents — you can’t set them so low that they fail to work.

And you should reward those who have been consistent about the guardrails for both parties, not those who only want them for one party and not the other.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

5.5: The average number of Covid-related deaths per day between March and May in the most Democratic congressional districts, compared to 1.0 in the most Republican ones, according to the Pew Research Center.

3.2: The average number of Covid-related deaths per day between September and November in the most Republican congressional districts, compared to 1.4 in the most Democratic ones.

More than a third: The share of Americans who live in areas where ICU bed availability is critically low, per the New York Times.

15,256,688: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 219,305 more than yesterday morning.)

287,506: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 2,595 more than yesterday morning.)

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

104,600: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus

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

42: The number of days until Inauguration Day.

7,061,277: Joe Biden’s lead in the popular vote at the time of publication

House Dems’ bare majority

With the news that President-elect Biden has selected Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, to be his HUD secretary, it’s worth noting that House Democrats will have the barest of majorities next year when the new Congress convenes.

As of right now, the 2020 elections have reduced the Democratic majority to 222 seats. And with Fudge and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., departing for jobs in the Biden administration, that number will decline to 220 — just two more seats than a majority of a full Congress (218).

Now there will be special elections for the Fudge and Richmond seats, but they could take months before there’s a winner in these heavily Democratic districts.

And here’s what could be worrisome for Democrats: If Biden picks more House Dems to serve in his administration, or if other Democrats in the House resign or pass away, the party could potentially lose its majority.

That means it doesn’t look good for any other House Democrats to get a Cabinet nod — like New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, who’s a contender for Interior secretary.

It also means that even if Democrats do retain the majority, it won’t be an effectively governable majority, in which they’ll be able to pass big-ticket Dem agenda bills without GOP help — because they’re bound see defections from either the progressive or moderate wings on legislation.

Biden Cabinet/Transition Watch

State: Tony Blinken (announced)

Treasury: Janet Yellen (announced)

Defense: Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin (announced)

Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas (announced)

HHS: Xavier Becerra (announced)

UN Ambassador: Linda Thomas-Greenfield (announced)

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines (announced)

Attorney General: Doug Jones, Sally Yates, Merrick Garland

Interior: Deb Haaland

Agriculture: Tom Vilsack (confirmed)

HUD: Marcia Fudge (confirmed)

Labor: Andy Levin, Bernie Sanders, Marty Walsh

Education: Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Randi Weingarten. Sonja Santelises, Linda Darling Hammond

OMB Director: Neera Tanden (announced)

CIA: Michael Morell

Small Business Administration: Keisha Lance Bottoms

Chief of Staff: Ron Klain (announced)

National Security Adviser: Jake Sullivan (announced)

Climate Envoy: John Kerry (announced)

National Economic Council Director: Brian Deese (announced)

Surgeon General: Dr. Vivek Murthy (announced)

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Dr. Rochelle Walensky (announced)

Covid-19 Czar: Jeff Zients (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

There are a lot of reasons someone may want to vote in a Senate race. And today’s Runoff Watch is about one of the less common ones.

We have our eyes glued (thanks to Advertising Analytics) on all the TV ads that are inundating the Peach State this cycle, but one made a pretty uncommon argument — that a vote for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock is a vote against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s record on train safety.

Train safety is certainly an important issue (particularly for The Principles Project, the transportation-union funded group running the ad), but it’s not typically one you see highlighted on the airwaves.

That said, the spot is a reminder that with control of the Senate up for grabs and the specter of unified Democratic control a possibility, there are a lot of under-the-radar issues that folks are eying depending on which way the chips fall.

Pompeo heads to Georgia — not that Georgia

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is headed to Georgia today. Not Tbilisi, but Atlanta — to give remarks at Georgia Tech…coincidentally not less than one month ahead of Georgia’s Senate runoffs, NBC’s Ed Demaria writes.

Pompeo brushed off the accusation that he’s playing politics, saying the media had no problems when Secretaries Clinton and Kerry visited “coastal elite states,” but this is just the latest in a pattern of politically tailored stops for a secretary of state who could be planning his next elected role.

Pompeo’s RNC speech from Jerusalem raised tempers with the diplomatic corps; he spoke in Florida, Wisconsin and Texas just weeks ahead of November’s election; and he’s also met with key Republican donors and hosted high-profile dinners from the State Department.

If Pompeo does decide to run for president or another role down the line, his face won’t be so foreign to domestic Republicans.

The Lid: Shot in the arm

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at new data about coronavirus vaccine skepticism.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The White House is proposing lower unemployment benefits — but new stimulus checks. It’s almost certainly a non-starter for Democrats.

Despite Trump’s veto-threat, the new defense bill easily passed the House.

Other governments in the West aren’t asking their citizens to face coronavirus without a lot of economic aid.

The Supreme Court flatly declined to take up the Pennsylvania lawsuit that sought to nullify the state’s certification for Biden.

Biden has picked Marcia Fudge for HUD and Tom Vilsack for Ag. (And Doug Jones is the leading contender for AG.)

A top U.S. cybersecurity company says it was hacked.