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Newsletter: Essential Politics: Politics be damned, the pandemic marches on

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The disconnect between the nation’s politics and the global pandemic feels especially strong at the beginning of the second week since the 2020 election.

As the votes left to count shrink and the number of COVID-19 cases marches ever higher, there are too few signs of elected officials focused on the job at hand or understanding that the public often looks to them to lead by example.

And that dilemma is playing out both on the national scale and here in California.

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There is no COVID-19 presidential transition

As the nation hit 11 million confirmed coronavirus cases over the weekend — 1 million new cases in less than a week — there seemed to be little (if any) communication on pandemic response plans between the administration of President Trump and advisors to President-elect Joe Biden, including on distribution of a potential vaccine.

“There are people at [the Department of Health and Human Services] making plans to implement that vaccine,” said Ron Klain, whom Biden has tapped to be his White House chief of staff. “Our experts need to talk to those people as soon as possible, so nothing drops in this change of power we’re going to have on Jan. 20.”

Klain’s comment was made during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” On ABC, Admiral Brett Giroir, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, confirmed a sobering report from the Washington Post: Trump hasn’t attended a task force meeting in at least five months.

The president was back on the golf course Sunday and busy firing off a volley of misleading tweets — including one in which he seemed to acknowledge that Biden had “won” before quickly reacting to news coverage of the posting by writing a follow-up tweet in which he said, “I concede NOTHING!”

Biden, of course, was projected Friday as victorious in Georgia. Winning there and the other states called in his favor would give the Democrat the same electoral college tally that Trump won in 2016 — a victory former White House advisor Kellyanne Conway tweeted four years ago (also prior to the official end of the vote counting) was a “landslide” and a “blowout.”

By Sunday night, as Times staff writer Chris Megerian noted, Trump was emailing supporters a message that said he is “the American people’s ALL-TIME favorite President.”

Newsom’s meal leaves political heartburn

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom will undoubtedly face tough questions this week about his decision to attend the Nov. 6 private birthday dinner of a longtime advisor, gathering with at least a dozen people from several families.

“While our family followed the restaurant’s health protocols and took safety precautions, we should have modeled better behavior and not joined the dinner,” Newsom said in a statement Friday after the story broke in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The timing of the news was particularly bad for the governor, coming the same day Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, unveiled new guidance for Californians when it comes to gatherings with people outside their immediate family.

“We have the guidance and the tips for a reason,” Ghaly said Friday. “We believe they are the strategies to keep ourselves and our communities safe, and we hope and expect people to take them seriously.”

The social media criticism of Newsom has been fierce, made that much more intense by the fact that the event took place at one of Napa’s most exclusive and pricey restaurants. And Republicans were happy to add it to the fact that the governor’s children, who attend a private school in Sacramento, have access to in-person learning, while millions of public schools kids do not.

“His kids can learn in person. But yours can’t,” tweeted San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “He can celebrate birthday parties. But you can’t. He can dine on a $350 meal at one [of] California’s fanciest restaurants during the worst recession in generations. But you definitely can’t. Can you believe this? I can’t.”

Faulconer’s criticism is especially noteworthy, given that the soon-to-be-ex-mayor of the politically diverse city remains the person many Republicans hope will challenge Newsom in 2022.

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National lightning round

— Trump supporters and far-right groups gathered Saturday in Washington, largely to echo the president’s baseless claims of election fraud.

— Republican leaders in four critical states won by Biden say they won’t participate in a legally dubious scheme to flip their state’s electors to vote for President Trump.

— The incoming president is expected to take a historic step and select Michele Flournoy, a politically moderate Pentagon veteran, as defense secretary.

— Biden won his race by performing strongly in the nation’s suburbs, building large margins among Black voters and chipping into Trump territory.

— The former vice president may have ended Trump’s hurricane-force presidency, but his victory extends a broader trend away from relative stability to a time of remarkable political upheaval.

— Biden’s victory has only antagonized Portland anarchists — and exposed their differences with the Black activists they claim to support.

— Biden may be president-elect, but Democrats are consumed by infighting and finger-pointing after failing to win hoped-for gains in Congress and state legislatures.

— The incoming vice president, House speaker and minority leader are all Californians. What might that mean for the state?

— The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a property rights challenge to a 45-year-old California labor law that allows union organizers to go on farmland to speak with workers at the start of their day or during a lunch break.

Today’s essential California politics

— California’s stem cell agency will receive an infusion of $5.5 billion in new research funding after voters approved Proposition 14.

— A four-decade quest to downsize Proposition 13, California’s famed limit on property taxes, has come up short after supporters failed to convince a new generation of voters to pass Proposition 15 and force businesses to pay more and help fund schools and local services.

— California voters’ approval of Proposition 19 means a new property tax break for older homeowners in the state, easing their tax burdens if they move.

— The supermajority of seats in the California Legislature held by Democrats will be even bigger when lawmakers reconvene early next month.

— A coalition of civil rights and voting advocacy groups lashed out Friday at Alameda County election officials after poll workers wrongly told more than 150 voters that their paper ballot was only a receipt and that it could be taken home, leading to those votes not being counted.

Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education, is heading the education transition team for the president-elect.She is expected to emphasize support for teachers and traditional public schools.

— Pandemic and personnel challenges have made things tough lately for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, which fuels speculation about a possible role in the new Biden administration.

— A three-member judicial appointments commission has confirmed Justice Martin Jenkins to the California Supreme Court.

A quick programming note: The Essential Politics newsletter will be off Friday.

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