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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported this morning: 299,181.
Two events today will turn important pages in history, one representing the blazing speed of science and the end stage of a deadly pandemic and the other the slow-motion start of a new era in politics.
Arriving around the country today will be early doses of a vaccine that by summer could let Americans resume their pre-pandemic lives. Elsewhere, state electors will certify today that President-elect , not , won the November election in the Electoral College, even if the 45th president clings to denials.
Let’s begin with good news about the Pfizer vaccine, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last week for emergency use and will begin inoculating health care workers and senior residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Public health officials estimate that under current distribution plans — dependent on Americans’ cooperation — a large majority of the country could be inoculated against and immune to COVID-19 in six months.
Trucks rolled out Sunday morning as shipping companies UPS and FedEx delivered Pfizer’s vaccine to nearly 150 distribution centers across the states, said Army Gen. Gustave Perna of the administration’s vaccine program known as Operation Warp Speed (pictured above). An additional 425 sites will get shipments Tuesday and the remaining 66 on Wednesday. Initially, about 3 million doses were expected to be shipped nationwide, and each person inoculated needs two doses. The recipients of the first wave of the drug will be determined by health authorities (The Associated Press).
At the head of the line were to be current senior White House staff members, The New York Times reported. Trump intervened on Sunday night after publication of the report and said inoculations for staff should come “somewhat later, unless specifically necessary” (The Hill). The original goal was to prevent additional government officials from falling ill in the final weeks of the Trump administration following months of debate about whether the president and his staff have exercised sufficient caution to prevent virus transmission up to this point. The hope is to eventually distribute the vaccine to everyone who works in the White House.
The New York Times: How many doses of the first vaccine will your state receive?
The Sunday Shows: The focus shifts to the vaccine rollout.
Moderna’s version of a COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be approved by the government for emergency use by Friday, said Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed, during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” The two vaccine products combined are estimated to cover 40 million doses (or 20 million people) by the end of December.
Reuters: The United States, working in phases, expects by the end of March to have immunized 100 million people against COVID-19.
, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biden’s incoming medical director for pandemic response, told The Wall Street Journal that hurdles ahead include the frustrating fact that too many people do not believe COVID-19 is real. Their skepticism prevents uniformity of mitigating actions across states and cities. Other physicians and public health experts worry that too many Americans will refuse to be vaccinated, reducing the opportunity to snuff out COVID-19 through vaccine-induced “herd immunity.” That achievement requires inoculating 75 percent to 80 percent of the U.S. population.
The Associated Press: Inside nursing homes, they have not all been listening to the science. An undercurrent of vaccine doubt persists, sometimes fueled by divisive politics, distrust of institutions and misinformation.
As The Hill’s Peter Sullivan reports, deaths from COVID-19 in the United States now exceed 3,000 per day. Experts hope the promise of a cure will motivate people to practice precautions in the short term, or until they can be inoculated. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director warned on Thursday that fatalities from the coronavirus will surpass the death toll from the 9/11 terror attacks every day for the next two to three months.
Fox News analyst and columnist Juan Williams describes in an opinion piece for The Hill his experience after becoming ill with COVID-19 early this month. “So many people helped me to push back the fear,” he wrote.
The Hill: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said on Sunday that the Pfizer vaccine is worthy of celebration, but that the next few weeks are “going to be hell” in the United States when it comes to the damage caused by the virus.
International restrictions continue to be imposed in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, including in Germany, which is closing stores beginning Wednesday through Jan. 10, in the midst of the holidays. “There is an urgent need to take action,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said (The Hill). On Wednesday, German schools will be closed or will shift to homeschooling, and most non-food stores will be shuttered, as will businesses such as hairdressers that have so far been allowed to remain open. Restaurant takeout will still be permitted, but no eating or drinking can take place on-site. With the exception of Christmas, the number of people allowed to meet indoors will remain restricted to five, not including children younger than 14. The sale of fireworks traditionally used to celebrate New Year’s will also be banned, as will public outdoor gatherings on New Year’s Eve (The Associated Press).
As the country focuses on approved vaccines, the Electoral College will set in motion another transformation and formally elect Biden.
The Electoral College vote, which comes after all 50 states have certified their results, is not in doubt. Biden should finish with 306 votes, compared with 232 for Trump. But the vote will take place as the sitting president refuses to accept the outcome, a move that is unprecedented in modern times. Trump declared in an interview that aired on Sunday that his efforts to contest the election will continue.
“No, it’s not over,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade in an interview that was taped Saturday at the Army-Navy game at West Point (The Washington Post).
“We keep going, and we’re going to continue to go forward. We have numerous local cases. We’re, you know, in some of the states that got rigged and robbed from us,” Trump said, adding that he won Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia — which he did not.
The president’s efforts through the courts reached a crescendo last week as the Supreme Court smacked down two cases seeking to overturn Biden’s wins in battleground states. The Hill’s Jonathan Easley writes that Trump and his allies hope justices will agree to hear one last legal challenge. To get to that point, they encourage GOP state legislatures to consider protesting the Electoral College tally when lawmakers gather on Jan. 6 to certify the results.
The Hill: Electors meet to cast their votes: Here’s how it works.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board: Trump’s challenge is over.
The New York Times: Can Congress overturn the Electoral College results? Probably not.
Fox News: House Minority Whip (R-La.) not ready to accept Biden win: “Let the legal process play out.”
The Hill: Trump on attending Biden inauguration: “I don’t want to talk about that.”
Although the result is not in doubt, there still remain some open questions ahead of the Electoral College’s meeting, including whether there will once again be faithless electors. Four years ago, 306 of them were pledged to vote for Trump and another 232 were bound to . By the end of the process, Trump ended up with 304 electoral votes and Clinton finished with 227. Seven electors — from Hawaii, Texas and Washington State — went rogue and voted for someone other than the candidate they were pledged to support.
As The Hill’s Max Greenwood and Julia Manchester write, it appears unlikely there will be a redux this year. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that states can punish or remove electors who change their votes. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia also require electors to vote for the candidate for which they are pledged, though in states without such laws, there is nothing stopping electors from changing their votes.
The Hill: Former New Jersey Gov. (R) calls Trump’s legal team’s legal theory an “absurdity.”
The Hill – Sunday talk shows: Former Vice President says he has no second thoughts about conceding to former President George W. Bush 20 years ago.
More in politics … Brett Samuels and Reid Wilson, The Hill: Biden appointments give California Gov. (D) the chance to reshape his state’s political scene. … The Hill: Some of the presidential hopefuls eyeing 2024 are showcased in this month’s congressional battle with Trump over a must-pass defense policy bill.
LEADING THE DAY
CYBERSECURITY: Hackers believed to be part of the Russian government breached the Treasury and Commerce department email systems, according to reports on Sunday. Together with other breaches reported to involve U.S. national security-related agencies and now believed to be underway since last spring, the attacks may be the most sophisticated and perhaps the largest in five years (The New York Times). National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said the administration is “taking all necessary steps to identify and remedy any possible issues related to this situation.” According to Reuters, which first reported the attack, the extent of the information exposed or stolen by the hackers is still being assessed (The Hill and CNBC). U.S. government agencies have been ordered to scour their systems for malware and disconnect potentially compromised servers (The Associated Press). The Department of Homeland Security issued a warning on Sunday night.
CONGRESS: It’s the final countdown for lawmakers and their push to secure a deal on a fifth coronavirus relief bill before the end of the year as a bipartisan group of lawmakers makes a last-ditch effort to bridge the divide between the two parties.
The bipartisan Gang of Eight group is expected to roll out its latest proposal today but in a different form than it had planned on last week. According to The Hill’s Jordain Carney, the $908 billion proposal will be split in two pieces: a less controversial $748 billion portion that includes funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment benefits, vaccine distribution, schools and testing and a separate $160 billion bill for state and local governments that includes a liability shield.
Earlier Sunday, Manchin made a pitch for the group’s burgeoning proposal, urging lawmakers to rally behind the plan after more than four months of failed negotiations on another stimulus package.
“The plan is alive and well, and there is no way we’re going to leave Washington without taking care of the emergency needs of our people,” Manchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The bottom line is there’s a lot of parts to this. … You can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” (The Hill).
The idea behind the bipartisan group’s proposal also received a boost on Sunday as House Majority Leader (D-Md.) indicated that he is open to a slimmed down measure that does not include monies for states and localities in order to pass relief by the end of the year (The Hill).
“I mean, I think we need to get an agreement, and we need to get this bill passed,” Hoyer told CNN’s “Inside Politics.” “If we can get [state and local assistance], we want to get it, but we want to get aid out to the people who are really, really struggling and are at great risk.”
“We need to get the essential done,” Hoyer added. “We’ll have time to get stuff done that we didn’t include because we couldn’t get political agreement. We’ll have time to do that.”
However, one person who has not signed off on this is Speaker (D-Calif.). According to a Pelosi spokesman, the Speaker spoke with Treasury Secretary on Sunday and argued it is now “even more important” for any bill to include funds for state and local governments given the need to distribute the vaccine.
The Hill: Stimulus checks should take back seat to jobless aid, economists say.
The New York Times: Big week ahead for Congress.
Colorado Politics: Western governors advocate for equitable COVID-19 relief formula.
The chatter surrounding another relief plan comes at a perilous time for Congress, with lawmakers struggling to reach an accord on a massive year-end omnibus spending bill ahead of the Friday deadline to fund the government for fiscal 2021. It remains an open question whether they will be able to do so, with key lawmakers arguing that there are too many parts and too little time to nab a deal.
“Everybody is staring each other down right now, but we have a deadline coming up,” said Sen. (R-Texas), who has been involved in bipartisan negotiations (The Hill).
The New York Times: Trump again threatened to veto a military bill, days after it passed both chambers by veto-proof majorities.
NBC News: With a final push on judges, Senate Majority Leader (R-Ky.) will cement a lasting legacy for Trump.
The Hill: Trump faces bipartisan, international pushback on Western Sahara recognition.
The New York Times: Congress might ban surprise medical billing, and that’s a surprise.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
NEW ADMINISTRATION: Biden’s still-undisclosed choice of a nominee to be attorney general has become slightly more complicated. The president-elect, who envisions the job as law enforcement in service to the nation rather than the president, has been mulling candidates and timing for more than a month.
Hunter Biden, the son of the president-elect, is under investigation by the Justice Department, which would seem to call for departmental independence going forward. But it’s also a department that has seen a roller coaster of leadership under the 45th president, and the impact is evident. Trump, incensed that Attorney General kept news of Hunter Biden’s investigation quiet throughout the election, is again making his own behavior and threats to fire Barr a topic of the ongoing debate about how to depoliticize the department (The Washington Post and The New York Times).
On Friday, the spotlight swung back to New York Gov. (D) as a possible Biden choice to be attorney general. Just this week, he said in a public radio interview in New York, “I have no intention to run for president or vice president or go to the administration.” But he said the attorney general job “is really critical, especially now” (Bloomberg News and The Associated Press).
The Hill: Biden has drawn from a deep well of Obama-era officials as he resists plucking would-be nominees from the Senate, where any one vacancy could threaten Democratic strength in the upper chamber.
The Hill: Progressives have grown more frustrated with the diversity of Biden’s chosen Cabinet officials.
The New York Times: Pressure on the Democratic president-elect is intense, even as his efforts to ensure ethnic and gender diversity already go far beyond those of Trump. And it is coming from all sides.
The Washington Post: Biden’s Obama-era Cabinet picks frustrate liberals and civil rights leaders.
The Hill: A growing list of irregularities in the transition process is likely to impact Biden’s entry into office, according to former Obama administration officials and outside groups. The president-elect’s team says the hurdles were anticipated and that Biden wants to plow ahead and take the long view to what’s ahead in a few short weeks.
The Hill: Even those who say Biden couldn’t have selected a better candidate to help the incoming administration lead internationally on climate change, it will be tough for former Secretary of State to overcome U.S. vulnerabilities when it comes to action to curb greenhouse gases.
The Hill: Here’s what senators may want to ask about retired Gen. , Biden’s nominee to be Defense secretary.
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!
After the pandemic, a pile of IOUs, by Niall Ferguson, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/37fd7Y8
The 10 most important things I’ve learned about trust over my 100 years, by former Secretary of State George Shultz, opinion contributor, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/383jgWi
A MESSAGE FROM MASTERCARD
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House will meet at 1:30 p.m.
The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. to resume consideration of the nomination of Thomas Kirsch to be a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit to fill a vacancy created by ’s promotion to the Supreme Court (Fox News).
The president will have lunch with Vice President Pence and sign an executive order at 2:30 p.m. about the importance of economic and geographic mobility.
Pence will have lunch with Trump. At 4 p.m., he will chair a videoconference with governors to discuss COVID-19 responses.
Biden and Vice President-elect will receive the President’s Daily Brief and meet with transition advisers. In the evening, Biden will deliver remarks about the Electoral College’s certification of his victory.
INVITATION: The Hill Virtually Live event today at 1:30 p.m. discusses “Rebuilding the Federal Workforce.” Joining the conversation are Reps. (D-Va.) and (R-Fla.); author David Rohde; former Deputy Education Secretary Jim Shelton; former National Telecommunications and Information Administration Acting Administrator Diane Rinaldo and more. The federal workforce is losing senior talent. Of the 2.1 million current federal civilian employees, more than one-third are eligible for retirement in the next five years, and only 6 percent are under age 30, according to the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget. How can the government restore policy expertise to meet the challenges of governing? Information HERE.
INVITATION: The Hill Virtually Live event on Tuesday at 1 p.m. discusses “America’s Most Reliable Voter: New Year, New Leaders.” Joining the conversation are Rep.-elect Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii); Heather Booth, senior engagement director for the Biden-Harris campaign; Maggie’s List’s Jennifer Carroll; and more. America’s most reliable voters, the 50-plus community, made their voices heard, and newly elected officials all across the nation will soon take their seats. In part three of The Hill’s series, we look at how policymakers keep the promises made this year to older voters. Information is HERE.
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.
➔ TECH: Twin lawsuits filed against Facebook last week by the government and more than 40 state attorneys general are the most serious efforts to date to break up the social media giant. The cases focus on the allegation that Facebook’s acquisitions have stifled competition and ultimately worsened the quality of options available to consumers. The Federal Trade Commission’s case proposes a solution to that issue: divestiture (The Hill).
➔ INTERNATIONAL: Britain and the European Union stepped back from the void Sunday and agreed to continue Brexit trade talks, although both downplayed the chances of success. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen ditched a self-imposed deadline and promised to “go the extra mile” to clinch a post-Brexit trade agreement that would avert New Year’s chaos and costs for cross-border commerce (The Associated Press).
➔ SPORTS: The Cleveland Indians on Sunday announced plans to drop the team’s name of 105 years and will move ahead as the Cleveland Baseball Team for the foreseeable future, becoming the latest sports team to drop a Native American-based nickname amid accusations of racism. The move came after years of questions, which included the team dropping the “Chief Wahoo” logo almost three years ago (ESPN).
And finally … Random acts of art! Imagine you’ve sold your home and suddenly discover that a world-famous artist has stealthily painted a vivid portrait on the side of your property. That’s what happened recently in Bristol, England, when artist Banksy painted a mural depicting an elderly woman whose unmasked sneeze appears to be knocking down buildings.
The mural — titled “Aachoo!!” — by the elusive street artist was discovered on Thursday and has delayed an otherwise routine home sale that had been under contract. The owner is trying to ensure that the artwork on the side of the property will be preserved. Banksy, who began his career spray-painting buildings in Bristol and now commands art prices in the millions of dollars, confirmed through his publicist that the sneezing senior citizen, who appears on his Instagram account, is his handiwork (The Associated Press).
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