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The Morning Dispatch: Biden’s Coming Flurry of Executive Orders
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The Morning Dispatch: Biden’s Coming Flurry of Executive Orders

Plus: As Trump’s claims of election fraud fizzle, he fires CISA Director Chris Krebs by tweet.

Happy Wednesday! First off, a quick correction from yesterday’s newsletter. Only one of the two Senate races in Georgia—the special election to replace retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson—operated under a “jungle primary” system this year. The Perdue/Ossoff race is also heading to a runoff because neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As widely predicted last week, President Trump officially fired Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs via tweet. Krebs had spent the past several weeks debunking many of Trump’s false claims about widespread voter fraud.

  • Sen. Chuck Grassley—president pro tempore of the Senate—announced yesterday he tested positive for the coronavirus. Grassley, 87,  said he’s “feeling good” and that he “look[s] fwd to resuming [his] normal schedule soon.”

  • Senate Republicans failed to advance the confirmation of Judy Shelton—President Trump’s controversial nominee for the Federal Reserve’s board of governors—after Sens. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lamar Alexander announced their opposition. Shelton has in the past advocated for an open border with Mexico and endorsed the idea of returning to the gold standard.

  • The Food and Drug Administration last night issued an emergency use authorization for the Lucira COVID-19 All-In-One Test Kit, the first rapid coronavirus diagnostic self-test for home use. The test, however, is currently authorized for prescription use only.

  • President-elect Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and other world leaders in an effort to reaffirm ties with key global allies during the presidential transition period. Both Netanyahu and Modi recognized Biden as president-elect.

  • In a 5-2 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against the Trump campaign’s claims that Republican election monitors were thwarted from meaningfully observing the vote counting process in Philadelphia. The two dissenters the didn’t support Trump’s claims but argued that the whole thing was moot anyway because the observation period was over and made clear they would not have granted the remedy sought by the campaign.

  • The United States confirmed 142,630 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 9.8 percent of the 1,455,870 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 1,380 deaths were attributed to the virus on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 248,555. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 76,830 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

Biden’s Forthcoming Flurry of Executive Orders 

With control of the Senate hinging on two runoff elections in Georgia, President-elect Joe Biden will assume office in January either with his policy agenda at the mercy of Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans, or with the slimmest possible Democratic majority and no margin for error. 

A GOP Senate majority would present an impassable roadblock for much of Biden’s  progressive campaign platform. If Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler hang on to their seats, a 52-48 Republican Senate majority will almost assuredly render Biden’s proposed $2 trillion climate and infrastructure plan, $1.4 trillion health care plan, and estimated $300 billion proposed expansion of Medicare dead on arrival.

But even in that scenario, there’s plenty of things Biden can do through executive action—or, as former President Obama referred to it, governance by “a pen and a phone.”

With the country’s polarization deepening and Congress likely gridlocked, presidents on both sides of the aisle have relied on executive orders (EOs) to push key parts of their agendas. According to the American Presidency Project, President Bill Clinton averaged 46 executive orders per year during his term. President George W. Bush averaged 36, Obama 35, and Trump 51. (All of these figures are down dramatically from the mid-20th century, when President Herbert Hoover averaged 242 EOs per year and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt averaged 307.)

Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president 63 days from today. Let’s take a look at what he’s promised to do “on Day One” or shortly thereafter.

What executive orders offer presidents in terms of expediency, they lack in terms of durability—the next president can (generally) undo and reverse EOs with relative ease. The Biden administration will very likely do just that with a number of Trump’s actions. For starters, the president-elect has promised to reverse Trump’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries and reinstitute the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children to remain in the country.

Biden has also pledged to create via executive order a federal task force to reunite the more than 500 children yet to be returned to their parents after being separated from them at the border. Biden has said his administration will also immediately rejoin the Paris Climate Accords and the World Health Organization.

Ethics protocol is another tenet of Biden’s policy agenda where the incoming president is expected to move quickly. Whereas the Trump administration has expanded and publicly embraced the executive branch’s political power over federal prosecutions, Biden has pledged to issue a executive order “directing that no White House staff or any member of his administration may initiate, encourage, obstruct, or otherwise improperly influence specific DOJ investigations or prosecutions for any reason.” The president-elect has also pledged to create a new independent Commission on Federal Ethics and issue an executive order prohibiting White House officials from influencing government contracts.

Beyond preschool and K-12 education reform proposals, Senate Democrats are hoping that Biden will forgive billions of dollars in student debt through the Higher Education Act. “I have a proposal with Elizabeth Warren that the first $50,000 of debt be vanquished,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this month. “And we believe that Joe Biden can do that with the pen as opposed to legislation.” Biden has expressed an openness to $10,000 in student loan forgiveness for “economically distressed” borrowers, but has said that such action should be enacted by Congress.

The Post-Election Pretension Continues 

As of Tuesday night, the Trump campaign and its allies were—by Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias’ count—1 for 26 in their post-election lawsuits; the vast, vast majority of their claims of widespread voting irregularities or fraud have been rejected or dismissed by judges across the country.

The president’s main problem? He’s got his order of operations backward. Typically in litigation, plaintiffs will carefully and thoroughly collect evidence and build a compelling narrative that supports their case. Trump, conversely, started with the conclusion—that the election was stolen from him—and now his (dwindlingsupply of) lawyers are scrambling to backfill that claim with evidence that, thus far, does not exist.

One Pennsylvania lawsuit looking to stop the certification of results in the state, for example, was filed with only the promise of unearthing evidence of massive amounts of voter fraud at some point in the future. “Voters are currently compiling analytical evidence of illegal voting from data they already have and are in the process of obtaining,” the plaintiffs write. “They intend to produce this evidence at the evidentiary hearing to establish that sufficient illegal ballots were included in the results to change or place in doubt the November 3 presidential election results.”

Because Trump and his allies are working backward from his “stolen election” claim, no amount of evidence to the contrary will shake them. On November 12, Trump asserted that, once Georgia underwent a recount, he would win the state. Well, Georgia election officials ordered a recount, and Biden is still going to win the state. So now Trump is adamant that the “Fake recount going on in Georgia means nothing” and the real problem is a consent decree about ballot signatures that both parties agreed to back in March. Once that inevitably fizzles, it’ll be something else.

At some level, Trump’s self-deception is both entirely expected and entirely meaningless. Joe Biden will be sworn in on January 20 and the world will move on. 

But the president’s refusal to budge from his conspiratorial alternate reality is wreaking havoc in its wake—and not just by grinding the transition process to a halt. Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, said on November 8 that his office has received death threats for not buying into widespread election fraud conspiracies. Trump targeted him on Twitter three days later. After Trump—and GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perduewent after Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, he and his wife have been dealing with death threats, too.

And on Tuesday night, one of the most widely respected members of the Trump administration—CISA Director Chris Krebs—got the axe for doing his job: Protecting the integrity of the election and debunking misinformation about the electoral process, both foreign and domestic. The “Rumor Control” and “#Protect2020” websites his agency spearheaded have, by all accounts, been nothing but successful. “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history,” a joint statement from the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee read last week.

Krebs’ reward? “Effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency,” Trump tweeted just after 7 p.m. Tuesday. Krebs’ deputy reportedly resigned after the move as well, leaving Brandon Wales—a Krebs ally—as likely acting director.  

Elected officials who have worked with Krebs were quick to condemn the move. “Chris Krebs did a really good job—as state election officials all across the nation will tell you—and he obviously should not be fired,” Sen. Ben Sasse said in a statement to The Dispatch. “I’m particularly grateful for the work he did on the Cyber Solarium Commission to help the nation prepare for the future of war.”

Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin and a leading national security voice in the House of Representatives, echoed that sentiment. “Chris Krebs did his job and did it extremely well,” he told The Dispatch. “The country is safer and our elections more secure from foreign interference because of his leadership at CISA. He left a legacy of success that reinforces the Cyberspace Solarium Commission’s recommendations to strengthen CISA, maintain auditable paper trails for voting, and provide cyber education so Americans can better spot disinformation.”

“Chris Krebs is an extraordinary public servant and exactly the person Americans want protecting the security of our elections,” Democratic Sen. Mark Warner said last night. “It speaks volumes that the president chose to fire him simply for telling the truth.”

“Chris Krebs is an incredibly bright, high-performing, and dedicated public servant, who has helped build up new cyber capabilities in the face of swiftly-evolving dangers,” Sen. Angus King said. “By firing Mr. Krebs for simply doing his job, President Trump is inflicting severe damage on all Americans – who rely on CISA’s defenses, even if they don’t know it.”

Ethiopia on the Verge of Civil War

Ethiopia, considered an island of relative stability in East Africa for some years, has in a matter of months threatened to slide into a civil war between the federal government and a powerful northern state. According to state media, troops from the central government have invaded the northern region of Tigray—one of the 10 federated states that make up Ethiopia—capturing the strategic town of Alamata and advancing on the regional capital, Mekelle. Phone networks and the internet are shut off in Tigray, and tens of thousands of refugees have fled into northern Sudan, threatening to overwhelm humanitarian resources there. The United Nations Refugee Agency said yesterday that more than 4,000 Ethiopian men, women, and children have been crossing the border into Sudan every day since November 10.

The conflict displacing all these people stems from simmering tensions between the regional Tigrayan government and Ethiopia’s national government. In 1991, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) emerged victorious from the decades-long civil war in Ethiopia that eventually toppled the Communist Derg regime. The TPLF then led the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) governing coalition that ruled over Ethiopia from 1991 until 2018, when massive protests among the Oromo—the country’s largest ethnic group—led the chairman of the EPRDF to resign and brought current President Abiy Ahmed, an Oromo, to power. Ahmed dissolved the EPRDF in 2019, and would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for bringing the stalemated conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the TPLF’s rival, to a formal end.*

But the TPLF never fully accepted Ahmed’s rise to power and “the sense of having earned power [in 1991] is as important, if not more so,” than ethnic and regional conflicts between the Oromo and Tigrayan peoples, said the American Enterprise Institute’s Emily Estelle in an interview with The Dispatch.

When Ahmed delayed elections earlier this year—citing coronavirus concerns—the TPLF accused him of trying to undermine Ethiopia’s constitutional guarantees of regional autonomy. The region held its own election, and the federal government responded by condemning the election as illegal and blocking federal funding for Tigray. On October 29, a general in the federal army slated to assume control of forces in Tigray was refused entry, as Tigray mobilized its professional armed forces (allowed under the Ethiopian constitution). By November 4, federal and Tigrayan troops were clashing, with Ahmed ordering the army to respond to an alleged attack on a federal base.

Estelle said that given the competence of the Tigrayan military, the reluctance of the African Union to intercede so far, and the relative lack of diplomatic cooperation between Ethiopia and major powers, a swift resolution to the conflict is unlikely. The tension is also threatening to spill outside Ethiopia’s borders, as Tigrayan forces have launched rockets at an Eritrean airbase in what they say is retaliation for Eritrea allowing Ethiopian planes to use the base as a staging area. 

Ahmed’s three-day ultimatum for surrender expired on Tuesday, and he has characterized the push on the Tigrayan capital as the “final stage” of a law enforcement operation. But any prolongation of the conflict will threaten to create a larger humanitarian crisis: Amnesty International claims there have been massacres of civilians by armed groups in Amhara—a state that borders Tigray—and many Tigrayan refugees in Sudan say they were attacked by Amharans. It will be difficult to stop the violence, or even keep it within Tigray’s borders.

Worth Your Time

  • Ray Takeyh, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, takes to the pages of Foreign Policy to highlight an oft-overlooked success of President Trump’s term: His Middle East policy. From landmark peace deals between Israel and its Arab neighbors to the United States’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Takeyh argues the region is far more stable than it was four short years ago—and much of that restored stability is attributable to the president’s norm-breaking behavior. “Trump’s penchant toward disruption came in handy in a region that needed shaking up,” Takeyh writes. “He succeeded because only an iconoclastic president could have stabilized the Middle East.”

  • In her latest story for the New York Times, Patricia Cohen puts the spotlight on a too-neglected aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic’s damage: Women in the workforce. In contrast to typical recessions—in which male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction are the first to shed jobs—the coronavirus eliminated employment in retail, service, and health care sectors in which women make up most of the workforce. Compounding this: Many working women are unable to seek new employment given the closing of child care centers and K-12 schools. “Many women worry that the changes will sharply narrow women’s choices and push them unwillingly into the unpaid role of full-time homemaker,” Cohen writes. “And the impact could stretch over generations, paring women’s retirement savings, and reducing future earnings of children now in low-income households.”

  • With cities and states across the country beginning to roll out a patchwork of restrictions and guidelines to try to check the spread of the coronavirus, small businesses—particularly in the hospitality industry—are once again facing an uncertain future. In a piece for Reason, Christian Britschgi talked to several restaurant owners about how they plan to get through the next few months, and a few economists about what the government can and can’t do to help. “The case for some sort of aid from the government is stronger when the government in question is explicitly closing down businesses and preventing them from trading,” Cato Institute economist Ryan Bourne told Britschgi. But if the pandemic has permanently altered demand for dining out—unknowable at this point—Bourne said a restaurant bailout could “entail subsidizing businesses that may well not be viable in the near future, and that comes with an economic cost. It will take us longer for the economy to adjust to its new condition after the pandemic.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Sarah’s latest edition of The Sweep is a two-parter. First, she breaks down the latest in the Trump campaign’s increasingly futile legal efforts to overturn the election, concluding “Joe Biden will be the President-elect, regardless of how the lawsuits or recounts play out.” Then, she turns her attention to Georgia, interviewing two voters in the Peach State about their recent decision to support Donald Trump for the first time and what they’re planning to do in January’s runoff elections.

  • In Tuesday’s French Press (🔒), David—ever the optimist—argues one of the election’s main takeaways was the apparent rejection of both parties’ more extreme elements. “A narrow but decisive slice of voters found a way to both reject Donald Trump and to block leftist rule,” he writes. And “an increasing number of Democrats and progressives are now sounding off against the far-left—and proving that they can survive (and thrive) in open defiance of the most intolerant trends in American culture.”

  • In his latest Capitolism newsletter (🔒), Scott Lincicome looks at polling trends and election results to push back on claims that the economics of Trumpism will survive the Trump presidency. Despite the rebranding of the GOP as a “workers’ party” dedicated to protectionism and skeptical of immigration, there’s little evidence to suggest that Republican voters support economic nationalism, Scott argues. “It’s a neat and tidy story, for sure, but it doesn’t seem to me to be tethered to reality,” he writes.

  • Jonah’s out on the road somewhere—Texas, we think?—so David annexed Tuesday’s episode of The Remnantfor himself, inviting Atlantic contributor and Persuasion co-founder Yascha Mounk on. The duo talked about what to expect from the Biden administration, as well as the “mainstream media” and how reporters and journalists can work to lower the temperature of American discourse.

Let Us Know

It’s probably safe to say that most Dispatch members would approve of Congress clawing back some of the power and authority it has ceded to the executive branch over the past several decades. But given the current legislative state of play, how much do you fault presidents—of either party—for relying (perhaps over-relying) on executive orders to enact portions of their agenda?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), James P. Sutton (@jamespsuttonsf), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Correction, November 18, 2020: The EPRDF was dissolved in 2019, not ousted in 2018.