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Say goodbye to 2020, a historic and consequential year in politics

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: Supporters Of President Trump Gather In D.C. To Protest Election Results
People gather in support of President Donald Trump and in protest the outcome of the 2020 presidential election outside the Supreme Court on Dec. 2, 2020 in Washington.Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — No matter what happens in the next 13 days, we can safely say that this year will join 1968, 1941, 1929 and 1918 — as a historic, consequential and likely transformational year in this country.

That’s especially true for our politics.

The year brought us successes (a vaccine, the earlier congressional stimulus and a Congress on the cusp of a new stimulus deal).

Tragedies (the more than 300,000 Americans killed by the coronavirus; the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others; the passing of John Lewis).

Failures (the botched Iowa caucuses results, the failed initial coronavirus testing plan).

History-making events (an impeachment trial, a recession, the death of a Supreme Court justice, a president getting the coronavirus, a consequential election, and the first Black female vice president).

Unprecedented actions (an incumbent president not conceding an election he lost, a president who used the military to remove protesters, a president who stopped president-ing during a pandemic, and social media companies labeling communications from the White House as false or misleading).

And there’s still at least one unfinished piece of political businesses (the Georgia runoffs and control of the U.S. Senate for next year).

But maybe most important of all, 2020 will likely stand as a demarcation in our politics and society for years to come.

Is it when Americans — after realizing their political institutions and norms were breaking down — decided to fix them? Or instead opted to “stand back and stand by,” allowing them to get worse?

Did it close the door on alternative facts, political nepotism and demagoguery from the White House? Or did it only keep the door open?

And is it the year that forever transformed work, business, city life and education in this country? Or was it a one-time blip that will lead to a boom in pre-pandemic activities (like movie theaters, amusement parks, sporting events and churches)?

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

17,291,543: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 253,259 more than yesterday morning.)

311,684: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 3,541 more than yesterday morning.)

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

114,237: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus

20: The number of political appointees that Joe Biden has named, out of 756 being tracked by the Partnership for Public Service.

At least 40: The number of organizations hit by a Russian hacking campaign that’s been going on since March, according to Microsoft.

As much as $2,000: The amount of stimulus checks President Trump wanted to call for, per the Washington Post. (Aides talked him out of it.)

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

33: The number of days until Inauguration Day.

Tweet of the day

Biden pick leaves House majority hanging by a thread

Democrats will be holding a razor-thin House Majority while they await special elections to fill the seats of several of President-elect Biden’s Cabinet nominees (assuming those nominees are confirmed).

Biden’s choice for Interior secretary — New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland (who would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary) — leaves the third House vacancy to fill. The first two come from HUD nominee Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and White House adviser Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La.

If Haaland and Fudge are confirmed and resign their seats, the House majority could stand at 219 — just one seat more than a full majority. And unlike Fudge and Richmond’s seat, Haaland’s seat isn’t necessarily safe for Democrats.

Haaland won re-election in November by a 58-42 percent margin. In the 2017-2018 cycle (when Republicans held the House majority) Democratic candidates in special congressional elections usually outperformed the 2016 results by double-digit margins. So a special election in Haaland’s New Mexico-1 district could be competitive.

Want to hear more about Biden’s Cabinet picks? Our friends at NBC News Now launched #MeetTheCabinet where you can learn about the person behind the names. Click here to hear more about Biden’s Secretary of State designee Antony Blinken, and here for Treasury Secretary designee Janet Yellen.

Filled Cabinet positions

State: Tony Blinken (announced)

Treasury: Janet Yellen (announced)

Defense: Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin (announced)

Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas (announced)

HHS: Xavier Becerra (announced)

Agriculture: Tom Vilsack (announced)

Transportation: Pete Buttigieg (announced)

Energy: Jennifer Granholm (announced)

Interior: Deb Haaland (announced)

HUD: Marcia Fudge (announced)

Veterans Affairs: Denis McDonough (announced)

UN Ambassador: Linda Thomas-Greenfield (announced)

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines (announced)

EPA: Michael Regan (announced)

OMB Director: Neera Tanden (announced)

U.S. Trade Representative: Katherine Tai (announced)

Unfilled Cabinet positions

Attorney General: Doug Jones, Sally Yates, Merrick Garland

Commerce: TBD

Labor: Andy Levin, Bernie Sanders, Marty Walsh

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

CIA: Michael Morell

SBA: Diana Taylor

Other top Biden staffers

Chief of Staff: Ron Klain (announced)

National Security Adviser: Jake Sullivan (announced)

Climate Envoy: John Kerry (announced)

Domestic Policy Council Director: Susan Rice (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

Today’s Runoff Watch looks at the battle that’s brewing to define Raphael Warnock.

Republicans got a late start in this respect because GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s pre-Election Day attention was occupied by a rough intra-party battle. But now, the ads from Loeffler and outside groups paint a picture of a country in the balance between protecting Georgians’ livelihood and a “radical and dangerous” future ushered in by Warnock.

And on Fox News this week, we saw incoming North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn (who is campaigning in the state with The Club for Growth), try to paint Warnock, who grew up in Savannah and has been a pastor in Atlanta for more than a decade, as “coming down here and disguising himself as some moderate pastor from the South.” (Cawthorn, for what it’s worth, doesn’t appear to have spent any formative time in Georgia.)

How’s Warnock fighting that? A combination of direct-to-camera spots where he tries to frame his work as a pastor as a community service, and a series of silly spots featuring a puppy and him attempting to hang Christmas decorations — a clear attempt to counter the image Republicans are pushing.

How the electorate responds to this may decide the race (and potentially both runoffs). Warnock, who is Black, needs a coalition of voters of color and the white suburbanites who turned out in force for Biden in November.

The Lid: Money talks

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at the economic data underscoring the need for new coronavirus aid.

Happy Holidays

This is our final First Read newsletter of 2020. We’ll be back on Monday, Jan. 4 — right before those Senate runoffs in Georgia.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Biden advisers are warning that Trump may have been too optimistic in laying out his vaccine timeline.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was passed over for a spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Advocates say that changes to early voting in Georgia are suppressing turnout.

The Fed is at the center of the latest dispute over the economy.

Some Democrats say it’s hard to figure out who’s really in charge of Biden’s health team.

Cedric Richmond tested positive for Covid-19, and HHS chief Alex Azar’s wife is sick with it.