I’m dying to know the backstory on how this very conventional and responsible briefing, probably the single best thing the White House has done since Election Day, came together given the office politics affecting the task force. Last I checked, Scott Atlas had the run of the place, Anthony Fauci was at risk of being fired, and Deborah Birx was so disgusted by Atlas’s ignorance that she left town. She’s been on the road for months, speaking to local officials about how to contain their outbreaks.

Now suddenly here they are, side by side with Mike Pence, with neither Atlas nor Trump anywhere in sight. Watching this, you would think it was late March again.

What happened? Did Pence pull off a coup of his own?

Step one today: Explaining to Americans that the state of the pandemic right now is much worse than it was in spring. It’s not as bad in New York, where Cuomo’s terrible policies already thoroughly culled the herd in March and April, but it’s a nightmare everywhere else.

Step two: Having Fauci reassure Americans that no corners were cut in the development of the vaccines. That’s a major hurdle in convincing people to get vaccinated. When Gallup surveyed Americans recently about the vaccine, a plurality of the group that said it would refuse to get the jab named “concerns about rushed timeline” as the reason why. Among anti-vax Democrats, 54 percent gave that as their explanation. It fell to Fauci, the official with the most credibility among the public, to explain today that no, nothing was rushed. The vaccine happened quickly because the mRNA strategy used by Pfizer and Moderna was innovative, because biotech firms are throwing everything they have at solving COVID a la the Manhattan Project, and because the federal government was supporting researchers with Operation Warp Speed.

Step three: Ducking all questions, in particular, the question of why the task force isn’t cooperating with Biden’s team on the transition.

Speaking of which, Politico had an interesting piece this morning about Team Biden’s ambivalence about keeping Birx on next year. Fauci will remain, as he’s established a certain degree of independence from Trump. Birx was more docile about contradicting the president, which soured many lefties on her. My guess is that the Biden White House will retain her because the contacts she’s made around the country on her road trip are useful (“Her understanding of the delivery system and what the resources are at state and local levels is probably really high right now”) but she probably won’t be in a visible role. Biden has his own people, and Fauci, for that.

One other notable takeaway from the briefing:

Whether it’s necessary or not isn’t the question in New York City, as health officials there reportedly agree that schools don’t need to close right now. The question is whether the city’s supreme ruler, the teachers’ union, is willing to let its members work when the positivity rate exceeds three percent. It isn’t, so kids will just have to live with it.

I’ll leave you with a rare point of agreement today between Team Trump and Team Biden. Our administration isn’t going to do a national lockdown, Pence declared at the briefing. Hundreds of miles away, Joe Biden insisted that his administration won’t do a national lockdown either. We’ve never actually had a “national” lockdown and any attempt to impose one would almost certainly be unconstitutional, but it’s nice that all sides can come together on this critical non-issue before Thanksgiving.