The Hill's Morning Report - Trump battles ballots; vaccine news boosts markets




Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Tuesday! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the co-creators, and readers can find us on Twitter @asimendinger and @alweaver22. Please recommend the Morning Report to friends and let us know what you think. CLICK HERE to subscribe!

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 237,584; Tuesday, 238,251.

President TrumpDonald TrumpBlinken holds first calls as Biden's secretary of State Senators discussing Trump censure resolution Dobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' MORE, out of public view on Monday, continued to contest ballots in Pennsylvania and other states while also firing Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command New Army hair and grooming standards allow for ponytails, buzz cuts and earrings Trump administration official Norquist sworn in as acting Pentagon chief MORE, adding new turbulence to an unsettled government nearly a week after Election Day.


In a day filled with leadership split screens, President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenDobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' Should deficits matter any more? Biden's Cabinet gradually confirmed by Senate MORE named a pandemic advisory board as part of his push for “bold action” to defeat the coronavirus, urging Americans to wear masks to help avert more fatalities. "It doesn't matter who you voted for,” Biden said. “It doesn't matter your party. We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months."


Trump and Biden separately cheered a breakthrough from Pfizer that set off a surge of optimistic trading in financial markets after the company’s CEO described an effective COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials (CNBC).


Elsewhere in the Trump administration on Monday, pediatric neurosurgeon Ben CarsonBen CarsonTrump's '1776 Report' released on MLK Day receives heavy backlash Biden has an opportunity to win over conservative Christians Ben Carson dismisses 25th Amendment talk: 'As a nation we need to heal' MORE, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, announced he contracted COVID-19, possibly during an election night celebration at the White House that included chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsTrump ex-chief says Senate vote signals impeachment effort 'dead on arrival' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day Trump leaves White House, promises to be back in 'some form' MORE, who is among staff members who have recently tested positive for the coronavirus (The Associated Press).


At NASA, Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineNASA demonstrates why rocket science is still hard with the SLS test Will Axiom Space provide a commercial space station replacement for NASA's ISS? NASA-Canadian agreement demonstrates how Artemis is an international moonshot MORE, a former GOP congressman from Oklahoma appointed by Trump in 2018, indicated he did not doubt that Biden would be the 46th president, announcing he would leave the agency anticipating ideological differences (Aviation Week).  


Trump’s decision to purge Esper, the second Defense secretary he has fired after disagreements, was not a surprise and may be part of a larger clearing-out still to come. Axios reported that next on the president’s chopping block may be FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Biden announces veteran diplomat William Burns as nominee for CIA director Meet Biden's pick to lead the US intelligence community MORE.


In a lengthy interview with Military Times, Esper said he has no regrets about how he handled Trump’s demands and resulting disagreements, arguing he tried to be a guardian for an apolitical military. “At the end of the day … you’ve got to pick your fights,” he said. “I could have a fight over anything, and I could make it a big fight, and I could live with that — why? Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real ‘yes man.’ And then God help us.”





The Associated Press: Christopher Miller, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, will serve as acting Defense secretary, sidestepping Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist.


The Washington Post: White House lawyer and former GOP political operative Michael Ellis has been selected to be the top lawyer at the National Security Agency. The appointment by the Pentagon general counsel was made under pressure from the White House. Ellis previously worked as chief counsel to Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesUndoing Trump will take more than executive orders GOP operative installed as NSA top lawyer placed on administrative leave: reports Pelosi raises alarm after Trump loyalist installed as top NSA lawyer MORE (R-Calif.).


Trump’s political appointees inside departments and agencies are being told that the election results remain in dispute and that a transition to a Biden administration has not begun (CNBC).


The Associated Press: At the General Services Administration, which by law provides federal transition office space and funding to an election winner, Administrator Emily Murphy has not yet “ascertained” that Biden is the president-elect. The reluctance to hand the transition keys to Biden and his team, under terms outlined in a memorandum of understanding signed by both parties months ago, is a puzzle to some members of Congress, who amended a 1963 law several times over the years to avoid exactly the kind of transition limbo created by lawsuits still pending and the president’s reluctance to concede defeat.


By law, the Trump administration has been preparing for a transition since the spring. (Find detailed background at the White House Transition Project website HERE, and the Partnership for Public Service Center for Presidential Transition HERE.)


The New York Times: GSA’s Murphy is the Trump appointee who stands between Biden and a smooth transition.


The New York Times: Trump plans to form a leadership political action committee, which can accept donations up to $5,000 from an unlimited number of contributors, in hopes of influencing his party when he’s out of office.


The Wall Street Journal: Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHumanist Report host criticizes 'conservative Democrats:' They 'hold more power' than progressives Dobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' Biden's Cabinet gradually confirmed by Senate MORE (R-Ky.) says Trump is within his rights to pursue legal challenges.


The New York Times: Attorney General William BarrBill BarrPoll finds 1 in 3 believe false claims voter fraud led to Biden win Trump pressed DOJ to go to Supreme Court in bid to overturn election: report Budowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated MORE waded into Trump’s election challenges on Monday by handing prosecutors the authority to investigate “specific allegations” of claims of voter fraud before the results of the presidential contest are certified. Barr opened the door to investigating unfounded Republican claims about ineligible voters in Nevada and assertions of backdated mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania. Within hours of Barr’s authorization, Richard Pilger, the Justice Department official who oversees investigations of voter fraud, stepped down from the post.


The New York Times: Some lawyers at two firms representing Trump in election-related lawsuits (Jones Day and Porter, Wright, Morris and Arthur) are worried that helping the president advance arguments that lack evidence may serve to undermine the integrity of American elections. Trump’s team is raising money to file new challenges.


Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial Trump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial Democrats formally elect Harrison as new DNC chair MORE (R-S.C.) said on Fox News Radio on Monday that he encouraged the president during a Sunday phone call to consider running for the presidency again in 2024. "I would encourage President Trump ... to not let this movement die, to consider running again," he said. Trump is discussing the idea with advisers (Axios).


Axios: Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinUS, Russia making 'remarkable' progress on extension of nuclear arms control treaty, diplomat says How socialism saved America US joins G-7 in condemning Russia over 'politically motivated' arrest of Putin critic MORE declines to congratulate Biden while Trump contests the election. 


The Hill: Republican Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenators discussing Trump censure resolution Senate GOP signals it's likely to acquit Trump for second time Just five GOP senators vote Trump impeachment trial is constitutional MORE (Maine), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyJust five GOP senators vote Trump impeachment trial is constitutional Senate committee advances Biden's DHS pick despite Republican pushback Press: The case against Citizen Trump MORE (Utah), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate GOP signals it's likely to acquit Trump for second time Just five GOP senators vote Trump impeachment trial is constitutional Portman's exit underscores Republican identity crisis MORE (Alaska) and Ben SasseBen SasseJust five GOP senators vote Trump impeachment trial is constitutional Senate committee advances Biden's DHS pick despite Republican pushback Juan Williams: Let America be America MORE (Neb.) offered their congratulations to Biden as president-elect. 





CORONAVIRUS: The U.S. finally experienced a breakthrough on the coronavirus front on Monday as Pfizer Inc. announced that the late-stage clinical trial data for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate was more than 90 percent effective, boosting optimism as cases continue to rise across the country.


Pfizer is expected to apply in the coming weeks to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use approval, with the first round of doses hopefully being delivered before the end of the year. Widespread distribution of the vaccine, which Pfizer is developing with BioNTech, is expected in 2021. 


Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: Biden takes steps to boost number of vaccine doses sent to states | CDC researchers find 'little evidence' of major school outbreaks, with precautions | Eli Lilly says antibody combo significantly cuts COVID-19 death risk Biden takes steps to boost number of vaccine doses sent to states World surpasses 100M coronavirus cases MORE, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, hailed the reported efficacy of the vaccine as “extraordinary,” having said last year that a vaccine with 60 percent efficacy would be acceptable. 


“Not very many people expected it would be as high as that,” Fauci said, referring to the 90 percent figure. “It’s going to have a major impact on everything we do with respect to COVID” (The Associated Press).


The vaccine news sent the markets into overdrive, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average topping out at gains of 1,600 points before finishing up 835 points (nearly 3 percent) after a tech selloff. The S&P 500 gained 1.2 percent. The Dow futures market was also up more than 100 points as of press time, foreshadowing gains at the opening bell (CNBC). 


The Pfizer vaccine is one of four undergoing large-scale trials in the U.S. A vaccine produced by Moderna is likely not far behind, with the company also expected to file an application with the FDA by the end of the month.


The Associated Press: Testing timeline: What’s ahead for COVID-19 vaccines.


Peter Sullivan, The Hill: 5 things to know about the Pfizer vaccine news.


Reuters: Pfizer, BioNTech initial vaccine results impress, but scientists remain cautious.


Praise came in from all sides of the aisle for the development, including from Vice President Pence, who lauded the public-private partnership forged by the president as part of Operation Warp Speed -- the U.S.’s effort to develop and distribute a vaccine to the masses. However. Pfizer was not a participant in that program, having decided against receiving funding from the U.S. government since development on the vaccine began. 


However, the two sides agreed in July on a deal for the U.S. to purchase 50 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine for nearly $2 billion, contingent on clearance with the FDA. In September, Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive officer, told “Face the Nation” that Pfizer and BioNTech did not sign on with Operation Warp Speed to free the company of political pressure. 


“I wanted to liberate our scientists from any bureaucracy. When you get money from someone that always comes with strings. … I didn't want to have any of that,” Bourla said. “Basically, I gave them an open checkbook so that they can worry only about scientific challenges, not anything else. And also, I wanted to keep Pfizer out of politics.”


Bloomberg News: Pfizer vaccine’s funding came from Berlin, not Washington.


The Hill: Biden lauds Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine news, but urges country to remain cautious.


The New York Times: Eli Lilly’s antibody treatment gets emergency FDA approval.





Meanwhile, case numbers continue to climb across the U.S., having hit the 100,000 new infections mark for the fifth day in a row on Sunday.


Bloomberg News also reported that David Bossie, a longtime Trump ally who was tapped to run the president’s post-election legal effort across multiple states, tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday. Bossie, along with Carson, was at the election night event at the White House.


The New York Times: New York City is dangerously close to a second wave of COVID-19, the mayor says, as new rules loom.


Reuters: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky contracts coronavirus.


CONGRESS & MORE POLITICS: Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosFive centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name Speaker AOC v. Pelosi: Round 12? MORE (D-Ill.) announced Monday that she will step down from her post atop the House Democratic campaign arm after an underwhelming campaign cycle where House Democrats sustained unexpected losses after projecting that they would gain seats ahead of the 117th Congress. 


In a statement, Bustos announced that she will not run for a second term atop the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as the party airs grievances over who to blame for the unforeseen losses, which erupted in a House Democratic Caucus call late last week. 


“For the first time in a decade, our Caucus will serve in a House Majority with a Democratic President. After four years of this Administration’s chaos and broken promises, there is now no limit to what we can achieve as we work to Build Back Better for the communities we serve,” Bustos said. “That is why, rather than seek a second term as Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, I will instead focus my work on exciting legislative possibilities in the years to come.”


According to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, Democrats hold a 222-205 advantage over the GOP in the lower chamber, with Republicans leading in six of eight races that are still up for grabs. The GOP is on the verge of earning its ninth seat pick-up as Republican Michelle Steel leads Rep. Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaCalifornia was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success Here are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day MORE (D) in California’s 48th Congressional District. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Steel leads by a 1.8-percent margin.


Following Bustos’s announcement, two House Democrats launched bids to take over the DCCC for the 2022 cycle: Reps. Tony Cárdenas (Calif.) and Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.). The closed-door, secret-ballot leadership elections are set for next week (The Hill).


The New York Times: The races that haven’t been called.


> Senate battle: Georgia Republican Sens. David PerdueDavid PerdueState-level Republicans wracked by division after Trump's loss Suburbs pose challenge for GOP in post-Trump era Democrats swear in three senators to gain majority MORE and Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerState-level Republicans wracked by division after Trump's loss Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Suburbs pose challenge for GOP in post-Trump era MORE launched a joint offensive against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), calling on him to resign over accusations that he failed “to deliver honest and transparent elections.”


In a joint statement, Perdue and Loeffler, who are both facing runoff elections in January, said that Georgia’s elections had become “an embarrassment,” and that the 2020 general elections had “shined a national light on the problems.”


“We believe when there are failures, they need to be called out – even when it's in your own party,” Perdue and Loeffler said. “There have been too many failures in Georgia elections this year and the most recent election has shined a national light on the problems. While blame certainly lies elsewhere as well, the buck ultimately stops with the Secretary of State” (The Hill).


Shortly after, Raffensperger fired back, saying that the state was a “resounding success” from “an election administration perspective” even though the president trails Biden in the state. He added that he will not resign and argued that Perdue and Loeffler should focus on their own races rather than his job status. 


“Let me start by saying that is not going to happen. The voters of Georgia hired me, and the voters will be the one to fire me,” Raffensperger said. “I know emotions are running high. Politics are involved in everything right now. … My job is to follow Georgia law and see to it that all legal votes, and no illegal votes, are counted properly and accurately. As Secretary of State, that is my duty, and I will continue to do my duty. As a Republican, I am concerned about Republicans keeping the U.S. Senate. I recommend that Senators Loeffler and Perdue start focusing on that.”


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Citing no evidence, Georgia’s U.S. senators demand elections head resign.


> Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinHumanist Report host criticizes 'conservative Democrats:' They 'hold more power' than progressives McConnell: Sinema told me she won't nix the filibuster The Hill's Morning Report - Biden argues for legislative patience, urgent action amid crisis MORE (D-W.Va.), a lonely Democrat in a red state, shot down the ambition voiced among some progressives (including Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHumanist Report host criticizes 'conservative Democrats:' They 'hold more power' than progressives Bush-, Obama-era officials urge Senate to swiftly confirm Biden's DHS pick OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court upholds ruling invalidating Dakota Access, but doesn't shut down pipeline | Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency | Biden seeks to bolster consultation with Indian Country MORE of New York) of expanding the Supreme Court beyond nine justices and/or jettisoning the legislative filibuster next year. "That won't happen because I will not be the 50th Democrat voting to end that filibuster or to basically stack the court," Manchin told Fox News on Monday (The Hill).


The Hill: Most Republicans avoid challenging Trump on election. 


The Hill: Senate roadblocks threaten to box in Biden. 


The Hill: State-level elections marked by unprecedented stability.




The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE! 


How Vaccines Prove Their Safety, by Kevin N. Sheth and Serena Spudich, opinion contributors, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3n87fVx  


Republicans: Unshackle yourselves from the Trump craziness, by Matt Bai, contributing columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/35gebKd 


The House meets at 10 a.m. on Thursday and will not meet for votes until Monday.


The Senate meets at noon and will resume consideration of James Ray Knepp II to be a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. 


The president has no public events.


Vice President Pence will join Senate Republicans for lunch in the Capitol at 1 p.m. He is expected to leave for a vacation in Sanibel, Fla., through Saturday.


Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoBiden (mostly) builds on Trump's foreign policy China: US military presence in South China Sea a threat to peace, stability White House installs new leadership at federally-funded international broadcasters MORE will take questions from reporters at 1 p.m. at the State Department.


President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSen. Patrick Leahy returns home after being hospitalized What the shift in Senate control means for marijuana policy reform Vice President Harris receives second dose of COVID-19 vaccine MORE will discuss the Affordable Care Act and a GOP challenge before the Supreme Court today. Biden will speak in Wilmington, Del., at approximately 2 p.m. 


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


FUTURE FOCUSED: The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports on five defense issues that could quickly crop up for Biden, including the Pentagon budget, U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the New START treaty with Russia. … Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador refuses to acknowledge the results of the U.S. election because he is a Trump ally. U.S.-Mexico relations pose a challenge for the Biden administration and Congress (The Hill). … Biden is expected to take a tough stance with Russia, which could impact the congressional debate about funding for future election security measures (The Hill). … On energy and climate change, Biden is expected to place early markers in 2021 with executive orders and a push for investments in clean energy initiatives (The Hill).   


PARKS & PERKS: The Veterans Affairs Department granted veterans and Gold Star families lifetime free passes to U.S. nationals parks, wildlife refuges and public lands controlled by the Interior Department beginning on Wednesday, in honor of Veterans Day (NPR).


SUPREME COURT: Justices will hear arguments today dealing with the latest GOP challenge to ObamaCare, with a ruling anticipated in June. Court watchers say a number of outcomes are possible with a 6-3 majority. The most extreme scenario would be a ruling to strike down the entire law (The Hill).





I’M LOVIN’ IT?: McDonalds announced on Monday that it will test a meat-free burger in a number of markets, calling it the “McPlant.” The fast food giant is expected to use the burger to expand its plant-based menu options (CNBC). 


And finally … Call it a Major moment for rescue pets. News media around the world are all a-wag about Biden’s adopted German shepherd, who was initially fostered by the Biden family as a pup. In a long line of White House pets, Major will live in the executive residence, snoozing beside handsome Biden canine Champ, who joined the family first and was purchased from a breeder. 


The duo have their own Twitter account, in case you missed it.


News reports celebrate Major Biden as the first rescue dog to live in the White House, adopted from the Delaware Humane Society (The Washington Post and News10). Former President Lyndon Johnson’s beloved dog Yuki (found as a stray in a Texas gas station) was just as lucky, but without the middleman. 


Chelsea Clinton’s cat Socks also was a rescue pet who received fan mail from children and made the cover of the 1998 book, “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy.”