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There's a common thread in America's crises — a president who's not leading

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: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks at the Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit on Dec. 8, 2020 in Washington.Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

WASHINGTON —You have a deadly virus that’s grown out of control in this country. (In just the past week, more than 16,000 Americans have died, and the CDC director says we’re going to have more daily deaths than 9/11 over the next 60 to 90 days.)

You have congressional leaders who’ve been unable so far to come to any agreement on providing new economic relief to Americans who’ve been hurt by the coronavirus.

And you have a Republican Party that’s been split into two — Republicans who’ve come to accept that Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, versus those who believe (falsely) that it was stolen from him. (And that divide is happening less than a month before the Georgia runoffs that will decide control of the Senate.)

What these three different stories all have in common is a lack of leadership, all starting with the president of the United States.

Trump continues to say and do nothing about the spike in coronavirus cases and deaths — other than tout a vaccine that for months will be unavailable for most Americans.

The president has shown no leadership in getting a bipartisan deal on coronavirus relief. (If he wanted a deal, he could get it.)

And if you want to see who’s responsible for dividing the Republican Party over the election’s outcome, look no farther than the man who currently sits in the Oval Office.

Of course, like with most failures, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, for example, haven’t played particularly strong hands with the coronavirus relief.

But if you want to see why the United States seems so rudderless right now — and so without leadership — you have to start at the very top.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

15,659,815: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 177,941 more than yesterday morning.)

292,902: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 2,286 more than yesterday morning.)

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

107,258: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus

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

40: The number of days until Inauguration Day.

18: How old Brandon Bernard was when he took part in a double murder in Texas in 1999, for which he was killed by lethal injection last night at the age of 40.

7,060,412: Joe Biden’s lead in the popular vote at the time of publication

106: The number of GOP House members who signed on to an amicus brief supporting a Texas lawsuit that would overturn election results in four states.

Tweet of the day

Six observations about Biden’s emerging Cabinet

With Biden’s Cabinet now almost complete — save for his picks for attorney general, Education secretary and Transportation secretary — we can now make some broader points about it.

1. It has strong ties to the Obama Era: Obama’s former chief of staff, Denis McDonough, is Biden’s selection to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs; Obama’s old No. 2 at the State Department, Tony Blinken, will be Biden’s No. 1; Obama’s Fed chair, Janet Yellen, is Biden’s pick for Treasury secretary; Tom Vilsack will be reprising his role as Ag secretary; John Kerry is back; and so is Susan Rice – this time as director of the Domestic Policy Council.

2. It represents the broad swath of the Democratic Party: You have African Americans (Lloyd Austin, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Marcia Fudge), Latinos (Xavier Becerra, Alejandro Mayorkas), those will progressive backing (Becerra, Fudge) and Asian Americans (Neera Tanden, Katherine Tai).

3. Yet there isn’t much of a bridge to a younger generation: Yellen is 74; Vilsack is 69; Fudge is 68; Austin is 67; and even Becerra is 62.

4. It’s largely a Team of Managers: Many of Biden’s picks have managerial experience, even if they don’t have expertise in their new jobs. McDonough is a former chief of staff, and Rice was a former national security adviser.

5. It’s also a “Team of Buddies,” as the New York Times puts it: Biden has strong ties and past relationships with the likes of Blinken, Vilsack and Austin.

6. And it’s coming together faster than Trump’s first Cabinet did: This is especially true for second- and third-tier posts.

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)

Agriculture: Tom Vilsack (announced)

HUD: Marcia Fudge (announced)

Veterans Affairs: Denis McDonough (announced)

OMB Director: Neera Tanden (announced)

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

Attorney General: Doug Jones, Sally Yates, Merrick Garland

Interior: Deb Haaland

Labor: Andy Levin, Bernie Sanders, Marty Walsh

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

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)

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

We’ve talked before in the Runoff Watch about the unprecedented amount of money being spent in Georgia for the two Senate runoffs ($177 million already spent on TV and radio, more than $400 million spent and booked in both runoffs combined). But it’s sometimes hard to fathom what that number really means, particularly for Georgians.

Our friends at AdImpact (formerly known as Advertising Analytics) helped provide a useful metric — every adult across the state aged 35 and older has seen a Senate runoff ad about 328 times.

328 times. And the race is only halfway over.

That’s what happens when there’s record-level saturation in two races in the same race at the exact same time, and its why some Georgians are already lamenting how they’re being inundated with TV ads.

It also raises the question: Is there a point where these ads could start hitting diminishing returns? Could the flooding of the airwaves to this degree end up turning voters off?

The Lid: Fight Club

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at a looming veto fight over a major defense bill.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Don’t miss a special report on about the state of the coronavirus in America.

Here’s the status of coronavirus relief negotiations. (Spoiler: It’s not great.)

Politico offers a grim assessment of how dysfunctional Washington is right now.

Sen. Mike Lee is standing in the way of moves to approve a national Latino museum and a women’s museum.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are Time Magazine’s person of the year.

Student loan cancellation is likely to be an early flashpoint between Biden and congressional Dems.

The newly-minted speaker of the House in New Hampshire has died of Covid.

The U.K. is up against a Brexit deal deadline, and businesses are begging for resolution.

Here’s what you need to know about Morocco normalizing ties with Israel.