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Good morning. The Trump administration has started the transition to Joe Biden’s presidency.
Many Americans have spent weeks, if not months, asking some version of this question: What if President Trump refuses to leave office?
The main answer to the question has always been the same: It’s not up to him.
As long as other parts of the government — like Congress, the courts and the military — insisted that he honor the election’s outcome, he would have to do so. He could do so quickly and cleanly, as all of his predecessors have done. Or he could make it messy, discrediting American democracy along the way. But he would eventually need to leave the White House.
Last night, he took a big step toward doing so.
Emily Murphy, a Trump appointee who runs the agency in charge of presidential transitions, formally designated Joe Biden as the election’s apparent winner. Murphy’s move provides Biden with federal funds for his transition and authorizes Biden’s aides to begin working with Trump administration officials.
On Twitter, Trump signaled that he accepted the decision, but he did not concede. He also indicated that he would continue his legal efforts to overturn the election result, but they have shown no sign of success. (Election officials in Michigan and multiple Pennsylvania counties yesterday certified their election results.) In every substantive way, the Trump presidency is now coming to an end.
All of which is a reminder of how much influence our system of government gives to people other than the president.
At times, a president can seem all-powerful, and Trump’s presidency had an especially consuming quality to it, for both his supporters and detractors. Even members of Congress, especially Republicans, liked to claim during the past four years that they were powerless to change Trump’s behavior.
But that’s not how the U.S. government really works. As Matt Glassman, a Georgetown University political scientist, has told me: “Presidents compete with numerous actors — Congress, the courts, interest groups, political appointees in the departments and agencies, and career civil servants — for influence over public policy. The president must rely on his informal ability to convince other political actors it is in their interest to go along with him, or at least not stand in his way.”
When a president fails to do so, he often ends up being powerless to act. And that’s what happened to Trump. Hundreds of local election officials refused to bend to him. Over the past few days, several congressional Republicans publicly told him that he needed to acknowledge reality. (Many other congressional Republicans were only mildly supportive of him, giving credence to his lies but doing nothing concrete to support his efforts to change the result.) Business groups — traditional Republican allies — also told him to begin the transition.
In the end, Trump did as they told him to do.
For more: The Times’s Matt Flegenheimer and Maggie Haberman write about what Trump liked about being president. One thing he seemed to genuinely enjoy: pardoning turkeys.
THE LATEST NEWS
The Presidential Transition
Janet Yellen is Biden’s choice for Treasury secretary, which would make her the first woman to hold the job. She was already the first female head of the Federal Reserve, which she ran from 2014 to 2018. (We recommend this 2013 profile of her, by Binyamin Appelbaum.)
Biden will nominate Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban-born immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security, and he named Avril Haines, a politically moderate national security professional, to be his director of national intelligence.
John Kerry, the former secretary of state, will be Biden’s international envoy on climate. “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat that it is,” Kerry said.
More than one million travelers passed through U.S. airports on Sunday, the most on any day since March — a sign that Americans are resuming activities even as the virus continues to surge.
Political leaders from both parties have recently blamed informal social gatherings for spreading the virus. But data suggests that restaurants, workplaces, prisons and long-term care facilities continue to be bigger problems.
New York will reopen an emergency hospital on Staten Island to address a new surge of virus cases that is straining the borough’s hospitals.
England will allow gyms, stores and hair salons to reopen next week after almost a month. In the hardest hit areas, pubs and restaurants will stay closed.
Other Big Stories
A mass shooting at a party in Brooklyn over the weekend killed one woman and wounded six people, part of a stark rise in shootings in New York City.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, 87, will step down as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee next year. She angered some progressives when she praised Republicans’ handling of Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination.
General Motors dropped its support for a Trump administration lawsuit challenging California’s stricter fuel economy rules. The company also signaled that it would work with Biden to reduce climate-warming emissions from cars and trucks.
Five N.B.A. players met with Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss social justice efforts. They gave him team jerseys and a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.
Ken Jennings, a former “Jeopardy!” champion, will be the game show’s first short-term guest host after the death of Alex Trebek.
Modern A.I.: After analyzing nearly a trillion words of human language, an artificial intelligence system called GPT-3 can write its own poetry and much more. It has even written a few “Modern Love” columns.
From Opinion: Drawing down U.S. troops in the Middle East acknowledges what members of the military have long wrestled with: We failed, writes Timothy Kudo, a former Marine captain. And Bret Stephens and Jamelle Bouie have columns.
Lives Lived: Lady Elizabeth Anson, a cousin to Queen Elizabeth II, was a party planner to rock stars and royals. Among the many, many events she oversaw: Margaret Thatcher’s 80th birthday and Sting’s second wedding. She died at 79.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
Beware the ‘Covid cabanas’
On a recent walk through a business district near my house, I was excited to see that several restaurants were building heated tents — tents that seemed to offer the promise of an occasional restaurant meal this winter. When I got home, I told my wife about them. She replied, “How is that different from indoor dining?”
A lot of people seem to be asking that question this week. James Hamblin, a doctor who writes for The Atlantic, posted this tweet:
Patrick LaForge, a Times editor, responded by calling them “Covid cabanas.”
To make sense of this, I asked Apoorva Mandavilli, a Times science reporter, for guidance. Her answer: “Outdoors is safe because moving air would instantly dilute any virus that is exhaled. But the second you start adding ‘walls’ to the outdoor space, you cut off the air circulation, and increase the chances of the virus accumulating in that space.”
Apoorva added: “A tent with heaters and with the sides open may be safe enough, and maybe even a space with one ‘wall.’ But those fully zipped up tents? Shudder. They are like virus incubators if anyone infected enters the space with you.”
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
What to Read
The Times Book Review released its list of the year’s 10 best books. It includes novels by Ayad Akhtar, Brit Bennett, James McBride, Lydia Millet and Maggie O’Farrell, as well as nonfiction by Robert Kolker, Margaret MacMillan, Barack Obama, James Shapiro and Anna Wiener.
What to Watch
A campy holiday musical with original songs by Dolly Parton, who plays a homeless angel with lessons for the town Scrooge, played by Christine Baranski. Yes, such a movie exists: “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square.”
Read an in-depth conversation with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
The late-night hosts had a lot to say about Trump’s legal team.