This was excerpted from the December 1 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
(CNN)President-elect Joe Biden's hopes of reviving the Iran nuclear deal may already be coming undone.
The assassination last week of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, apparently in a covert operation featuring a remote-controlled machine gun --was a new blow to Iranian pride following the US killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a January airstrike. Both incidents could wreck prospects for diplomacy.
Tehran's clerical leaders now have a conundrum. Do they respond aggressively -- against the country accused of perpetrating the attack, Israel -- and risk a damaging escalation with the United States? Or do they absorb the politically embarrassing blow and hope dialogue with Biden could ease Trump administration sanctions that have strangled their economy?
President Donald Trump would likely respond to Iranian military action. And a conflict would not just hand Biden an immediate crisis, it also would probably kill off any talks between Washington and Tehran. That is one reason why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has always opposed the nuclear deal, might have ordered the Fakhrizadeh attack.
US hawks claim Trump's "maximum pressure policy" has handed Biden new leverage in negotiating with Iran after Trump pulled out of an Obama-era nuclear deal in 2018 that even US intelligence said Iran was respecting. But since then, Tehran has accumulated 12 times the amount of low enriched uranium permitted under the 2015 deal, according to a UN report in November, and is closer to the point at which it could break out toward a nuclear bomb. US sanctions, while inflicting terrible economic pain, show no sign of catalyzing the regime change hoped for by Trump's hardliners.
Even if Biden is willing to return to the terms of the Iran nuclear deal, the case for diplomacy has been weakened by the Trump-ordered US strike that killed Soleimani. And how could pragmatists sell a new deal with the US that a future Republican President would likely ditch? An Iranian election next year, meanwhile, could deliver a new hardline president who opposes dialogue with the US.
So critics of the deal in the US and Israel may well make it impossible for Biden to work with Iran. That will leave future US presidents with an awful choice — between living with the possibility of an Iranian bomb or ordering military action that could start a disastrous new war in the Middle East.
The Covid bowl
Playing American football without a quarterback is almost as pointless as playing without a pigskin.
But the Denver Broncos played with one hand behind their backs Sunday when their quarterbacks were ruled out of their game against the New Orleans Saints after being flagged as high-risk Covid-19 contacts and forced into quarantine. Not surprisingly, saddled with a rookie wide receiver in the crucial role that carries out complicated pre-drawn plays and sometimes changes tactics on the fly -- the Broncos lost 31-3. Their plight is the most extreme manifestation of the worsening pandemic's impact on the league, but there are so many incidents that doubts are growing that the NFL will make it to the Super Bowl early next year.
The Baltimore Ravens thrice had a Thanksgiving game against the Pittsburgh Steelers called off. They are due to play Wednesday but could be without more than 20 players ruled out by positive Covid tests. The San Francisco 49s must now play in Arizona after officials in their home Santa Clara County banned contact sports amid a Covid spike. The Saints have been stripped of a draft pick and fined $500,000 for not wearing masks in the locker room.
The NFL, which is a massive, television-driven business as well as America's favorite sport, has not opted to play its games in the kind of bio-secure bubble that helped NBA basketball and NHL hockey finish their delayed seasons. The NBA will face similar challenges in a nation wracked by out-of-control Covid cases when it comes back at Christmas playing in teams' home cities. The NHL, targeting an early 2021 puck drop, is mulling a unique Canadian division since the closed border with the US will make international travel impossible.
Hopefully, by the time the NFL returns next September for its 2021 season, the promise of Covid-19 vaccines will have been fulfilled and will mean that playing and going to games will again be a ritual that everyone will take for granted.
'The virus is not red or blue'
The Rev. Raphael Warnock -- a Democratic candidate in one of two US Senate runoff elections in Georgia in January, which will decide which party controls the Senate -- on Monday bemoaned how even the coronavirus pandemic is viewed through a partisan lens.
"It's unfortunate that this virus has become a political issue. The virus is not red or blue. And the things that we need to do should be based on science and not on politics. ... For me it's as basic as love your neighbor. Love your neighbor, love your country, love yourself. Socially distance, wear a mask, wash your hands," Warnock said.
Trumps' last Christmas at the White House
Despite her scathing assessment in recently released audiotapes of hosting the festive season at the White House (in which she commented, "who gives a f*** about the Christmas stuff"), first lady Melania Trump wants it to be known she was the driving force behind decking the halls of the presidential mansion with boughs of holly this year.
The theme for what, to quote George Michael, is the Trumps' "Last Christmas" at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is "America the Beautiful."
CNN's Betsy Klein reports that highlights this year include a tribute to essential workers in the Red Room, including a light-up ceramic post office, and a tree with ornaments celebrating front-line workers, including a trash truck, scientist, caregiver, lab coat and nurse hat.