10 things you need to know today: November 17, 2020

1.

President-elect Joe Biden criticized President Trump on Monday for refusing to cooperate on the presidential transition, saying “more people will die” if the two administrations don’t coordinate the response to skyrocketing coronavirus infections. “How do we get over 300 million Americans vaccinated? What’s the game plan?” Biden said. “It’s a huge, huge, huge undertaking.” Biden expressed shock that a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, Dr. Scott Atlas, tweeted that people should “rise up” against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s new restrictions aiming to curb infections. “What the hell’s the matter with these guys?” Biden said. “It’s totally irresponsible.” Biden also said he backed calls for a nationwide mask mandate. [The Washington Post, The New York Times]

2.

Local and state governments across the country on Monday continued to impose new restrictions on businesses and private gatherings to curb an unprecedented surge in coronavirus infections. California, Washington state, Michigan, and Oregon have renewed bans on indoor dining at restaurants, and imposed other restrictions. Chicago put a stay-at-home advisory into effect. Philadelphia imposed strict rules that included a ban on most indoor private gatherings. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who once called coronavirus restrictions “feel good” measures, reversed course Monday and issued a statewide mask mandate for all indoor public spaces as hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients. “If Iowans don’t buy into this, we’ll lose,” she said. “Businesses will close once again, more schools will be forced to go online, and our health-care system will fail.” [The New York Times, NPR]

3.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 surged to close at record highs on Monday after drug maker Moderna announced that its potential COVID-19 vaccine proved nearly 95 percent effective in late-stage trials. The Dow jumped by 1.6 percent. The S&P 500 rose by 1.2 percent, adding to gains that lifted it to a record close on Friday. The tech-heavy Nasdaq closed up by 0.8 percent. The three main U.S. indexes were mixed early Tuesday, with the Dow slipping by 0.3 percent. Stocks rose last week after Pfizer reported that its vaccine was highly effective in trials. “2020 is a year we won’t ever forget and yet somehow equity markets have completely erased it from their memory,” said Seema Shah, chief strategist at Principal Global Investors. [The Wall Street Journal, CNBC]

4.

Hurricane Iota hit the Nicaraguan coast late Monday with top sustained winds near 155 miles per hour, threatening catastrophic damage. Iota briefly strengthened into a Category 5 storm but weakened slightly, making landfall as a powerful Category 4. The storm hit about 15 miles south of where Hurricane Eta, also a Category 4, made landfall on Nov. 3. That storm devastated Nicaragua and Honduras, causing flooding and mudslides that killed more than 120 people. “I don’t know what we’ve done to deserve this treatment,” said Presly Coleman Alejandro, an activist with the Youth Indigenous Movement of La Moskitia. The Central American nations’ governments rushed to evacuate thousands of people before Hurricane Iota hit. Iota weakened as it pushed inland, with its top sustained winds dropping to 105 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 4 a.m. advisory. [The Associated Press, National Hurricane Center]

5.

Conservatives on Monday dropped four federal lawsuits challenging election results in the battleground states of Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The cases were all filed by ordinary voters who called for halting the certification of the vote counts in important counties due to alleged election improprieties. The lawsuits were overseen by James Bopp Jr., a conservative lawyer and former top Republican National Committee official. Bopp declined to comment on the withdrawal of the lawsuits, saying he didn’t want to give away his strategy in case he files more suits. The Trump campaign and the Republican Party were not involved in the cases, although Trump has encouraged supporters to challenge the election’s outcome. Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden, but has refused to concede. [The New York Times]

6.

President Trump plans to make significant troop reductions in Afghanistan and smaller cuts in Iraq before he leaves office in January, The Associated Press and other news outlets reported Monday, citing U.S. officials. The order runs counter to advice from military leaders, although it falls short of Trump’s promise to end America’s long wars altogether. An announcement could come as early as this week, and the Pentagon has reportedly notified military commanders to get ready for the withdrawal. There are around 4,500 troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq; Trump is reportedly aiming to get the number down to 2,500 in each country. The decision follows the departure of many leaders at the Pentagon, including former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who have been replaced with Trump loyalists who share his desire to clear out of war zones. [The Associated Press, CNN]

7.

The Trump administration is rushing to auction off oil and gas drilling contracts for parts of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January. A “call for nominations” being published Tuesday in the Federal Register will let companies pick tracts they want to bid on in an upcoming lease sale covering the refuge’s nearly 1.6 million acre coastal plain. The Interior Department plans to complete the sales before Inauguration Day. Trump has pushed to open public lands to drilling, mining, logging, and grazing. Biden strongly opposes the policies. A Republican-controlled Congress in 2017 authorized drilling in the Arctic refuge. [The Washington Post]

8.

Hate-crime killings in the United States surged in 2019 to 51, the FBI reported Monday. The total, a record in the three decades the FBI has tracked the data, was largely due to a mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart that left 22 dead. A 23rd victim not included in the report died of his injuries this year. The suspect told investigators he was targeting “Mexicans.” Without that shooting, bias killings increased to 29 from 24 in 2018. Anti-Semitic hate crimes rose by 14 percent. Overall, hate crimes rose by just under 3 percent. Civil rights groups said the problem is worse than it appears, noting that the FBI relies on voluntary reports, and many police departments don’t report hate crime data. [NPR]

9.

President Trump asked top advisers last week what his options were for attacking Iran’s main nuclear site, The New York Times reported Monday, citing four current and former U.S. officials. Senior advisers reportedly persuaded him to drop the idea of such a strike in the coming weeks. Among those who advised against it were Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They told Trump that such a strike could snowball into a broader conflict. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported Wednesday that Iran’s uranium stockpile was 12 times bigger than allowed under the nuclear deal Trump abandoned in 2018. [The New York Times]

10.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) said Monday that Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), have been pushing him to question the validity of absentee ballots that were legally cast. Raffensperger told The Washington Post he was stunned when Graham asked him if he had the power to throw out mail-in ballots in counties with higher rates of non-matching signatures. “It was just an implication of, ‘Look hard and see how many ballots you could throw out,'” he told CNN Monday night. Graham told CNN it’s “ridiculous” to suggest he wanted Raffensperger to toss legal ballots. Raffensperger also called Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) a “charlatan” and “a liar” for claiming President Trump’s loss in the state was due to voter fraud, and said he and his wife have been getting death threats. [The Washington Post, CNN]

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