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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 299,181; Tuesday, 300,482; Wednesday, 303,849; Thursday, 307,501; Friday, 310,782.
Congress is looking at overtime as it plans to convene for a rare weekend session in an effort to pass a gargantuan bill that includes COVID-19 relief and an omnibus spending package to wrap up its business for the year.
Congressional leaders continued to barrel toward a wide-ranging package, which would include $900 billion in relief funding and a $1.4 trillion omnibus deal that will keep the government open through Oct. 1 and fund fiscal 2021.
However, the timing remains in question as lawmakers prepare to work throughout the weekend in order to complete their business by the end of the year, which could result in a temporary government shutdown if a stopgap measure is not passed by tonight at midnight.
“There’s still just a lot of loose ends we’re trying to tie down. … It’s a little bit of whack of mole, whack it here and something else pops up. There’s a lot of interaction between the moving parts of all this,” said Sen. (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.
Lawmakers had hoped to break for the holiday season and complete their business on Friday, but without a deal, McConnell urged lawmakers to remain in town. However, even if an accord is completed before the midnight deadline, the two chambers will likely need multiple days in order to pass legislation, The Hill’s Jordain Carney writes.
“The Senate is not going anywhere until we have COVID relief out the door. We’re staying right here until COVID relief is out the door. In the meantime, we’re going to stay productive while these negotiations are going on, so for the information of all my colleagues, we should expect continuing votes on nominations throughout the weekend,” Senate Majority Leader (R-Ky.) said on Thursday, saying the two sides were “close” on a deal.
The continued push for a deal came amid news that jobless claims last week rose by 885,000, according to the Labor Department, marking the largest total since September (The Associated Press).
The Washington Post: Stimulus talks could spill into weekend as lawmakers scramble to complete deal.
Politico: Congress flirts with short shutdown as negotiators near stimulus deal.
With a deal still increasingly likely to get done, Democrats argue that the expected fifth coronavirus-related package is a “down payment,” with more funding expected to arrive in the coming months after President-elect takes office on Jan. 20, as The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes.
However, Republicans are downplaying the chances that a sixth COVID-19 related piece of legislation will be needed, bringing the looming runoff battle in Georgia to the forefront and who will control the upper chamber come next month.
“We’ll have to wait and kind of see what circumstances are like,” said Sen. (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell. “Hopefully with more people getting vaccinated, more people getting back to work and the economy opening up there will be less need for Congress to come in.”
As The Morning Report noted on Thursday, McConnell used the Georgia races as an argument for the current bill, telling the Senate GOP conference that Sens. (R-Ga.) and (R-Ga.) are harmed without a deal, and new polling backs up his point. According to a top Republican strategist working on Senate races, private polling shows that 62 percent of likely voters in Georgia say it’s extremely or very important for Congress to pass a stimulus bill by the end of the year.
A second GOP operative added that a bill’s passage in the coming days will help Republicans neutralize attack ads backed by Democrats as millions of dollars pour in to help bolster both parties ahead of Jan. 5.
“Having a huge win 2 1/2 weeks out from the election is really nice,” said the operative, who is familiar with the Georgia runoffs, noting however that relief has not been the “driving force of conversation” on the GOP side.
On Thursday, the campaigns of Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock launched a new ad on Biden’s push to rebuild the country from the virus.
The Washington Post: White House aides talked out of last-minute demand for stimulus checks as big as $2,000.
Reuters: Republicans in Congress are seeking legislative language to firmly bury expiring Federal Reserve coronavirus lending programs, complicating negotiations.
More in Congress … Members of Purdue Pharma’s Sackler family defended themselves before the House Oversight committee Thursday while testifying about their company’s role in the deadly opioid epidemic. Sackler family members have tried to settle thousands of civil claims filed against them and Purdue Pharma, the company that pleaded guilty to fraud and kickback conspiracies in a settlement with the Department of Justice (The Hill).
LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: A second COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday moved one step closer to receiving emergency use authorization in the United States. An independent advisory group with the Food and Drug Administration voted in favor of recommending the vaccine from Moderna, a biotechnology company based in Massachusetts, to be allowed for emergency use in individuals 18 years and older. The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee determined that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks if used in adults, and the FDA is expected to approve the second COVID-19 vaccine within days.
Moderna’s vaccine, like Pfizer’s, is made from the messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), which is a genetic code that tells cells how to make protein. The protein is a small part of the virus, which is thought to help the body’s immune system make antibodies to fight the pathogen that causes COVID-19. Moderna’s vaccine version, like Pfizer’s, requires two doses for maximum effectiveness (The Hill and Michigan Live).
The Associated Press: FDA administrator says government plans to approve the Moderna vaccine in response to panel’s approval.
“The evidence that has been studied in great detail on this vaccine highly outweighs any of the issues we’ve seen,” said Hayley Gans of Stanford University Medical Center (The Associated Press).
Vaccine doses are also starting to move through the halls of Congress. McConnell said in a statement on Thursday night that he will receive one “in the coming days” after being informed by the Office of the Attending Physician that he is eligible to be inoculated. McConnell, 78, is a polio survivor and has consistently advocated for mask wearing and social distancing practices since the spring (The Hill).
Pelosi also announced shortly after that she will receive the vaccine in the “next few days,” with the Capitol’s physician’s office announcing that Senate and House members are eligible to receive them (The Hill).
> The AstraZeneca-Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine candidate has a better immune response when a two full-dose regime is used rather than a full-dose followed by a half-dose booster, the university said on Thursday, citing data from early trials (Reuters).
> Governors of Washington, Illinois, Maryland and Florida say the administration advised them their states will not receive the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses originally planned. “This is disruptive and frustrating. We need accurate, predictable numbers to plan and ensure on-the-ground success,” Washington Gov. (D) wrote on Twitter (The Hill). The confusion has prompted speculation in the states that the administration’s timetable to distribute sufficient doses to inoculate 20 million people by the end of 2020 is inaccurate. Pfizer released a statement Thursday saying the company faced no production difficulties and had many more doses immediately available than were being distributed (The Washington Post).
Hospitals and health care systems nationwide are taking extraordinary steps to secure shipments of the coronavirus vaccines amid fears of a gray market that could help the wealthy get access before their turn in line, The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports.
Chicago Tribune: Walgreens, CVS predict COVID-19 vaccines will be available to the general public by appointment at pharmacies by spring.
The New York Times: Who decides which health care workers and first responders receive COVID-19 vaccine doses, and when?
The Washington Post: For college freshmen, pandemic results in a first-year experience unlike any other.
> Infections: Rep. (D-La.), a Biden adviser who is poised to join the White House staff in January, tested positive for the coronavirus, it was announced on Thursday. Based on federal guidelines, Richmond is not considered a “close contact” with the president-elect, although the two men traveled to Georgia on Tuesday for campaign events (The Hill). Biden tested negative for the virus after disclosure of Richmond’s infection (Reuters). … Rep. (R-Ala.) announced on Twitter on Thursday that he tested positive for COVID-19 (CBS42 and The Hill). … Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Thursday evening that his wife Jennifer contracted the virus, but that he and his children have tested negative (The Hill).
> Sports: The Australian Open tennis championship will begin on Feb. 8, three weeks later than planned, as part of a pandemic-altered 2021 calendar released this week by the men’s professional tour (ESPN).
POLITICS: Despite a plea from McConnell, Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) suggested this week that he backs a challenge of the electoral vote count on Jan. 6 when a joint session of Congress convenes to certify the Electoral College results.
Tuberville made the revelation while appearing on the campaign trail this week with Loeffler and Perdue ahead of the twin runoffs on Jan. 5.
“You see what’s coming. You’ve been reading about it in the House. We’re going to have to do it in the Senate,” Tuberville said.
The comments come as fellow Alabamian Rep. (R) readies a challenge in the House. The incoming Alabama senator did not say whether he would bring up the challenge on his own. Earlier this week, McConnell publicly congratulated Biden on his Electoral College victory and further called on Senate Republicans to avoid this fight, with the vast majority of the Senate GOP conference considering the case closed (The Washington Post).
Meanwhile, the Georgia runoffs are prompting a new legal war as voting rights groups have filed lawsuits in four counties for failing to offer what they argue is mandatory early voting on Saturdays during the three-week early voting period, as The Hill’s John Kruzel, Max Greenwood and Julia Manchester write.
On the GOP side, lawyers are pushing for new restrictions on absentee voting. The dueling strategies mark a new phase in the political battle that is set to decide the fate of the Senate majority for the foreseeable future.
The Washington Post: Top Republicans offer conflicting messages about Trump’s loss while campaigning in Georgia.
Reid Wilson, The Hill: Legislative survey shows deep GOP divide on election.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
NEW ADMINISTRATION: To lead the Interior Department, Biden selected Rep. (D-N.M.), who, if confirmed, would be the first Native American to take the reins of an agency with significant responsibility to tribes.
Haaland chairs the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands and was strongly supported for the job by many of her House colleagues.
“It’s a mystical opportunity for this agency to do something historic,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who had initially been backed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for the Interior job before it threw its weight behind his colleague.
“The agency that was set up eons ago, Interior, to basically disenfranchise and colonize Indigenous America, for Deb to be secretary, America will have its first Indigenous person in a Cabinet but more historic, in Interior, in the agency that was set up for that purpose. Maybe I’m naive but there are certain political scripts that are almost written for you,” he said.
New Mexico law doesn’t require Haaland to vacate her seat until she is confirmed for a new position, at which point the state would have a maximum of 91 days to hold an election. Biden’s selection of a Democrat from the House to join his administration further shrinks the party’s majority early next year (The Hill).
The Washington Post: Biden’s selection of Haaland marks a prominent turning point for the U.S. government’s relationship with the nation’s Indigenous peoples.
The president-elect also made up his mind among candidates to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, selecting Michael Regan, who is North Carolina’s secretary at the Department of Environmental Quality. If confirmed, Regan would be the first Black man to run EPA, which was signed into existence in 1970 by former President Nixon (The Hill and The Washington Post).
Biden is making good on promises to progressives and wants to convey with his nominees that the federal government intends to tackle the inequities shouldered by low-income and minority communities when it comes to polluted air and water. The president-elect’s emerging team for the environment, public lands, climate policy and transportation is in stark contrast to Trump’s choices for those agencies, including downgraded “acting” secretaries and Cabinet heads enlisted from corporations and industry groups.
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: [email protected] and [email protected] We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
Biden’s energy and climate appointments: A return to “the swamp,” by Jason Hayes, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3mtAh1f
Federal executions: The man I saw them kill, by Elizabeth Bruenig, opinion writer, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3amW20o
As the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of electronic payments, Mastercard has also been working with businesses and consumers to deliver innovative solutions that extend beyond the card, and we are working tirelessly to ensure our financial system is inclusive. Learn More.
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m.
The Senate at 10 a.m. will resume consideration of the nomination of Fernando Aenlle-Rocha to be a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
The president meets with acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller at 3:30 p.m.
Vice President Pence at 8 a.m. will receive the COVID-19 vaccine with second lady as a televised event, becoming the highest profile politician in the country to be inoculated (CNN). At 3:30 p.m., the vice president will join Trump in the meeting with Miller. At 4 p.m., Pence will celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Space Force.
Biden has no scheduled public events today. Vice President-elect will meet with transition advisers.
Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. EST at Rising on YouTube.
➔ INTERNATIONAL: More than 300 Nigerian boys kidnapped from their boarding school by Boko Haram on Friday were handed over to security agencies late on Thursday, prompting outpourings of relief and joy across Africa’s most populous nation after fears they would become long-term hostages of jihadist militants (The Wall Street Journal). … Iran is building at its underground nuclear site at Fordo amid tensions with the United States. The purpose of the construction is unclear (The Associated Press).
➔ HACK: The nation’s cybersecurity agency warned of a “grave” risk to government and private networks following a long-undetected intrusion into U.S. and other computer systems around the globe that officials suspect was carried out by Russian hackers (The Associated Press). … The Energy Department and its National Nuclear Security Administration, charged with maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons, were part of a major foreign cyber breach of U.S. data carried out beginning in the spring (The Hill). … The Energy Department says there is no threat to national security after its internal probe of the hack revealed it was localized to its business networks (Reuters). … Trump has been silent about the hacks, potentially leaving reprisals to his Oval Office successor (The Associated Press).
➔ SPORTS: The Court of Arbitration for Sport on Thursday banned the use of Russia’s name and flag at the next two olympic games and at world championships over the next two years as part of a long-running case accusing the country of state-ordered tampering of a testing laboratory database in Moscow. The World Anti-Doping Agency initially issued a four-year ban, with that being halved by the court on Thursday. Russian athletes will still be able to take part in next summer’s Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as long as they have not been implicated in doping (ESPN).
➔ STORMY: “Unbelievable amount of snow.” Some parts of the Northeast received three times as much snow on Wednesday as seen during all of 2019. At least four deaths were blamed on the winter storm. Forty inches of snow fell in parts of New York and Pennsylvania, triggering animated discussion about power outages, the challenges of COVID-19 vaccine distribution to hospitals and long-term care facilities, deliveries of packages and mail for Christmas and treacherous driving (and plowing) conditions (NBC News). By Thursday morning, some people were happy to stroll (below).
And finally … Champions all! Cheers for this week’s winners of the Morning Report Quiz, which focused on recent headlines involving “Drs.” (Much applause and cork popping for the gaggle of regular readers who expertly played all year. We promise lots more trivia questions ahead beginning on Jan. 7!)
Here’s who aced the final puzzle of 2020: Daniel Bachhuber, Paula Hassinger, Lou Tisler, Patrick Kavanagh, Mary Anne McEnery, David Jory, Candi Cee, Tom Chabot, William Chittam, Lori Benso, Donna Nackers, Susan Kahil, Jim Dykstra, Robert Zerrillo, Pam Manges, John Donato, Terry Pflaumer, Fran Motroni, Matthew DeLaune, Luther Berg and Randall S. Patrick.
They knew that Fox News personality slammed Jill Biden this week for using her doctor of education degree as a title. He compared her to Dr. Pepper.
Food and Drug Administration chief , M.D., came under intense pressure from the White House to speed up federal approval of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 — or else.
, M.D., said during an ABC interview this week that Trump should be among the first Americans inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine, although the president previously contracted the novel coronavirus.
A gazillion Americans during this holiday season became irate when they discovered that Netflix — in December — removed the 2018 version of Dr. Seuss’s “The Grinch” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” from its platform.
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