Early Edition: November 24, 2020

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours.

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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN’S TRANSITION OF POWER

President-elect Joe Biden can officially start his formal transition to the White House after the General Services Administration (GSA)’s Administrator Emily Murphy yesterday acknowledged Biden as the “apparent” winner of the 2020 election. President Trump responded to the move via posts on Twitter, where he attempted to take credit for the decision, although he stressed this was not a sign of him conceding. With the GSA’s acknowledgement, Biden’s transition team will now have access to over $7 million in public funds, and gain access to federal office space, intelligence and security briefings, and other necessary government resources. Matthew Choi, Gabby Orr, Meridith McGraw and Nancy Book report for POLITICO.

Murphy, in her letter to Biden stating that her office has formally started the transition, said: “I have dedicated much of my adult life to public service, and I have always strived to do what is right. Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official — including those who work at the White House or GSA — with regard to the substance or timing of my decision. To be clear, I did not receive any direction to delay my determination. I did, however, receive threats online, by phone, and by mail directed at my safety, my family, my staff, and even my pets in an effort to coerce me into making this determination prematurely. Even in the face of thousands of threats, I always remained committed to upholding the law.”

Biden formally announced yesterday his national security team. Among those nominated are: Alejandro Mayorkas to serve as Homeland Security secretary; Avril Haines as director of national intelligence; Antony Blinken to serve as secretary of State; Linda Thomas-Greenfield to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.; and Jake Sullivan to serve as the White House’s national security advisor. Laura Kelly and Morgan Chalfant report for The Hill.

Biden intends to choose Janet Yellen, former chair of the Federal Reserve, as his secretary of the Treasury, according to sources with knowledge of the pick. If Yellen is confirmed by the Senate, she will become the first woman to hold the position. Nick Timiraos, Kate Davidson and Ken Thomas report for the Wall Street Journal.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry has been nominated by Biden to serve as the presidential envoy for climate, reporting directly to Biden as part of the National Security Council (NSC). Brady Dennis, Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin report for the Washington Post.

Who Biden will pick as his secretary of Defense remains unclear. Initially, Michèle Flournoy was anticipated to be announced to fill the position, but she was not mentioned yesterday, with a number of people close to the transition confirming that Biden was not entirely sold on her. Another potential pick is Jeh Johnson, former President Barack Obama’s second secretary of Homeland Security, the people said. Johnson and Flournoy have not responded to calls for comment, and the transition team also declined to comment. Lara Seligman, Natasha Bertrand and Bryan Bender report for POLITICO.

A group of over 100 former Republican national security officials, “Former Republican National Security Officials for Biden,” yesterday demanded in a statement that Republican party leaders denounce Trump for his refusal to concede the presidential election and also criticized congressional republicans for not taking action to pressure Trump’s concession. “The delay in allowing transition teams to meet and confer with officials on the Coronavirus Task Force and at the National Security Council, the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, and the other departments and agencies critical to U.S. national security means that the incoming Biden Administration will be less prepared to defend America’s security when it assumes power in 59 days,” the statement read. Tim Reid reports for Reuters.

A host of Democratic leaders of key House and Senate panels yesterday said that Murphy’s refusal to acknowledge Biden’s win was undermining national security. Among those who sent separate letters to Murphy detailing their concerns were: House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (CA), House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (MS), House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (NY), and Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner (VA). These letters were sent before Murphy officially announced her acknowledgement of Biden’s apparent win. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke with Biden yesterday, marking the first conversation between the president-elect and an Arab leader. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

Taiwan and Biden are having “good interactions,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said today. Reuters reporting.

TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND US ELECTION RESULTS

Georgia is today set to start its recount of election votes in the state following a request by President Trump’s campaign, although it had already certified its results Friday, the secretary of state’s office announced. “The state certified results on Friday showing President-elect Joe Biden carried Georgia, and the state’s ballots have already been counted twice: first during the initial count, and then by a re-tally conducted by hand during a statewide audit that checked the accuracy of the initial machine count. As a result, the recount — a machine re-tally of the vote — is unlikely to change the result,” reports Zach Montellaro for POLITICO.

The four-member Michigan Board of State Canvassers yesterday certified Biden’s victory in a 3-1 vote. Both Democrats, Jeannette Bradshaw and Julie Matuzak, voted to certify the vote, along with Republican Aaron Van Langevelde, although Republican Norman Shinkle abstained. Dartunorro Clark reports for NBC News.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 12.42 million and killed over 257,700 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have now been over 59.30 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.39 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the US is available at the New York Times.

US and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Trump administration is apparently pushing for new measures against Beijing, including the creation of an informal alliance of western nations in an effort to retaliate when China misuses its trading power to coerce countries, senior administration officials have said. Those officials say the move was prompted by China’s recent economic pressure on Australia. “China is trying to beat countries into submission by egregious economic coercion,” said one senior official, adding, “The West needs to create a system of absorbing collectively the economic punishment from China’s coercive diplomacy and offset the cost.” The new alliance, in response to any Chinese boycotts on imports, would agree to purchase the goods or pay compensation, or the group could together agree to assess tariffs on China for the loss of trade. Bob David reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Libya’s warring sides — namely, the UN-supported government and rival authorities in the east of the country — yesterday began their second round of talks regarding a mechanism to choose a transitional government that would lead the country to elections in December 2021, the United Nations confirmed, with U.N. acting envoy for Libya Stephanie Williams leading the online meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum. AP reporting.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen today said that the country is building a new fleet of domestically-developed submarines in an effort to defend the island’s sovereignty, an important project supported by the United States to counter China. Ann Wang reports for Reuters.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern today over reports of “a heavy build-up of tanks and artillery” around Tigray’s capital after the Ethiopian government issued an ultimatum to surrender before it attacks. Bachelet urged all sides to give “clear and unambiguous orders to their forces” to not endanger civilians. Reuters reporting. 

About the Author(s)

Siven Watt

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter (@SivenWatt)