Cabinet Picks, Michigan Vote, Vaccines: Your Monday Evening Briefing

Here’s what you need to know at the end of the day.


By Victoria Shannon and Sandra Stevenson

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.

1. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Janet Yellen, the first woman to lead to the Federal Reserve, as Treasury secretary.

If confirmed, Ms. Yellen would also be the first woman to lead the Treasury in its 231-year history. As one of the most recognizable figures in Washington’s economic spheres, Ms. Yellen would most likely bring with her a preference for government help for struggling households and for slightly tighter financial regulation.

Mr. Biden also plans to name several top national security picks on Tuesday, including the first Latino to lead the Department of Homeland Security, the first woman to head the intelligence community and a former secretary of state, John Kerry, to be his international climate czar, a cabinet-level position.

2. Michigan’s electoral board certified its presidential vote tally, paving the way for President-elect Joe Biden to receive the state’s 16 electoral votes.

Resisting pressure from President Trump to delay the process, the board’s approval officially delivers to Mr. Biden a key battleground that Mr. Trump had wrested away from Democrats four years ago, and rebuffs the president’s legal and political efforts to overturn the results with false claims of voter fraud. Above, a protest in Lansing, Mich., today.

In Pennsylvania, counties are individually certifying results. Philadelphia is planning to vote tonight after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in a case involving roughly 8,000 ballots that had signatures but problems with the date or address.

We are tracking the states that have certified their election results, and here is our timeline of state deadlines.

3. The safest refuge for some Republicans struggling to cope with election reality has been to say they are waiting out the results of court cases.

But that defense is weakening as President Trump’s legal effort collapses. “At some point,” said Senator Shelly Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, “the 2020 election must end.”

More than 100 prominent national security experts who are Republicans or served in Republican administrations implored G.O.P. members of Congress to demand that Mr. Trump concede the election, saying that his refusal to do so risked the nation’s security.

At the same time, 160-plus top American executives asked the administration to begin the transfer of power.

And G.M. said it would no longer back the White House’s lawsuit to nullify California’s fuel economy rules, signaling that corporate America is ready to work with a new administration.

4. The world could be on its way to three working coronavirus vaccines to help curb the pandemic.

The British-Swiss drugmaker AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford said an early analysis of late-stage clinical trials showed that their inexpensive and easy-to-produce vaccine appeared to be effective. Pfizer and Moderna have both said that their vaccines were about 95 percent effective in advanced testing. Above, the labs used in Oxford.

In other vaccine developments:

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, is behind a vaccine initiative to help protect poor nations from the coronavirus. The success of the effort is not at all certain.

The Ad Council, which led a polio vaccine campaign in the 1950s, is working on a $50 million advertising blitz to persuade skeptical Americans to immunize themselves once vaccines are ready.

Here’s how the U.S. plans to distribute the first Covid-19 vaccines, and here’s our vaccine tracker.

5. The U.S. just set a pandemic record for air travel.

At U.S. airport security checkpoints on Sunday, more travelers were screened — over one million people — than on any day since the pandemic took hold in March, a sign that those flying to visit their families for Thanksgiving could increase the spread of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has strongly discouraged holiday travel. Above, waiting for a flight at New York’s La Guardia Airport.

Although household get-togethers do contribute to transmission of the virus, the data suggest the leading sources of spread are long-term care facilities, food processing plants, prisons, health care settings, and restaurants and bars.

And the day after Thanksgiving “is going to be a Black Friday unlike any other,” one retail consultant forecast. We look at what several national store chains are doing to avoid turning the biggest American shopping day of the year into a superspreader.

6. China dictates its economic terms.

With the U.S. and others wary of its growing dominance, China wants to become less dependent on the world for its own needs, while making the world as dependent as possible on China.

It’s globalization with Communist characteristics: The Chinese government promotes the country’s openness to the world, even as it adopts increasingly aggressive and at times punitive policies that force countries to play by its rules. Above, President Xi Jinping addressing the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen today.

And it’s a strategy born out of a strong Chinese economy, compounding the challenge that the country will pose for the incoming U.S. administration.

7. “I thought it was a fraud email that I got.”

Kyle Korver, who plays basketball for the Milwaukee Bucks, was surprised to see an invitation from Pope Francis, inviting him and other members of the players’ union to discuss their efforts toward social justice and economic inequality.

But the invitation was real. Today, a delegation of five N.B.A. players and officials met privately at the Vatican with the pope, above, offering him a book documenting their community and social initiatives as well as jerseys and a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.

“He said sport is such an opportunity to unify, and he compared it to a team, where you have a common goal and you’re working together, but you all use your own personalities,” Korver said.

8. A violent video game is becoming widely played across Afghanistan as its 19-year-old war grinds on.

PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds (known as PUBG and pronounced pub-gee) is a smartphone game that eerily seems to mimic the conflict there despite continuing peace negotiations.

“If you can’t fight in the real war, you can do it virtually,” according to Abdul Habib, who runs a video gaming den in a West Kabul shopping center.

9. Can a computer devise a theory of everything? Maybe, physicists say.

A brand of artificial intelligence known as neural networking, which consists of computers designed to learn as they go, aims to discover new laws of physics.

At the moment, a machine can retrieve the fundamental laws of physics from a pile of data, but it cannot yet come up with the deep principles that underlie them.

“Ultimately, I want to have machines that can think like a physicist.” said Jesse Thaler, a particle physicist and the director of an M.I.T.-based institute devoted to physics and A.I.

10. And finally, more people are playing chess than ever before.

The combination of a hit Netflix show about a child chess prodigy and a pandemic-inspired thirst for at-home diversion has lifted board sales, club memberships, online playing and tournament streaming.

An estimated 16 million to 17 million chess games are played online every day, compared with around 11 million played at the start of the year. And sales of chess sets and accessories on eBay have skyrocketed 215 percent since the series “The Queen’s Gambit” debuted last month.

“It’s easy enough to be fun to play, but also complex enough to pose a challenge,” a chess federation official said. “It is nerdy, but also cool and fashionable.”

Have a strategic evening.

Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Want to catch up on past briefings? You can browse them here.

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