The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Coast-to-coast fears about post-holiday COVID-19 spread

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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported this morning: 266,875.

The nation is bracing for a post-Thanksgiving surge in new coronavirus infections and climbing hospitalizations as the days get darker and the weather gets chillier in the coming weeks. 


On Sunday, a horde of top Trump administration officials sounded the alarms that the pandemic shows no signs of letting up despite the initial round of Americans set to receive vaccines in the coming weeks. In the last week alone, more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. tested positive for the virus, including a single-day record set on Black Friday with 197,000 new cases.


Making matters worse, the daily death count is reaching record-breaking levels, with Wednesday’s total of more than 2,300 closing in on the single-day mark set in mid-April. 


“The travel that has been done has been done,” Anthony FauciAnthony FauciThe Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Ex-Trump doctor turned GOP lawmaker wants Biden to take cognitive test MORE, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC’s “This Week.” “Having said that, we have to be careful now because there almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel.”


“We may see a surge upon a surge,” he added, noting that Americans will be traveling again in the coming weeks for the holiday season (The Hill). The second travel bonanza will take place after what has been by far the biggest travel event since the pandemic started (The Wall Street Journal).


Deborah BirxDeborah BirxEx-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Tulane adds Hunter Biden as guest speaker on media polarization The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Supreme Court announces unanimous rulings MORE, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, added on Sunday that those who traveled for Thanksgiving should assume they have been infected and get tested after returning to their domicile (CBS News). Birx added that she is “deeply worried” about the virus’s spread in the weeks after Thanksgiving (The Hill). 


According to The New York Times, 44 states have set weekly case records in November, with 25 states having set weekly death records during that time.


The Sunday Shows: Health officials warn pandemic is “going to get worse.”


Surgeon General Jerome Adams: Pandemic is “going to get worse,” actions now “will determine how bad it is.”


The Hill: White House testing czar promotes mask-wearing, social distancing: “Testing alone will never solve this issue.”


In a positive development, the first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine were shipped to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport over the holiday weekend as the effort to distribute the coming remedy is ramped up. The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that the first “mass air shipment” was transported to Chicago from Brussels as the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10, with the first doses being doled out hours after (USA Today). 


Scott Gottlieb and Mark McClellan: Deploying big data to determine how well vaccines work.


The Hill: United Kingdom to approve Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine next week.


CNN: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 vaccine advisers call emergency meeting to discuss distribution.


Despite the virus’s spread, New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioAdams, Wiley lead field in NYC mayoral primary: poll New York City moving thousands of people from hotels back to shelters The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters MORE (D) announced on Sunday that the city will reopen its elementary schools after being forced to shutter them on Nov. 18. The mayor also will disregard the 3 percent positivity rate benchmark that was set to determine whether to keep schools open, with middle schools and high schools remaining closed for the time being in the nation’s largest public school system (The New York Times).


In Colorado, Gov. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisColorado legislature approves measure to ban styrofoam, add fee to single use products Colorado to offer ,000 scholarships for young people to get vaccinated Supreme Court justice denies Colorado churches' challenge to lockdown authority MORE (D) revealed that he tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. Polis and his partner, Marlon Reis, who also tested positive, are asymptomatic and “feeling well” (ABC 7 Denver). 


The Washington Post: Rhode Island shuts bars and gyms as the coronavirus surges — but not schools.


The Hill: Airlines set sights on digital passports for COVID-19 vaccine.





NEW ADMINISTRATION: With little more than seven weeks left to round out a White House senior staff and the top-tier framework of Cabinet departments, President-elect Joe BidenJoe Biden 64 percent of Iowans say 'time for someone else' to hold Grassley's Senate seat: poll Philadelphia shooting leaves 2 dead, injures toddler Ron Johnson booed at Juneteenth celebration in Wisconsin MORE starts out this week (and more to come) with his foot in a walking boot after suffering hairline fractures on Saturday while playing with one of his two dogs, according to his spokesman and his doctor. Biden, 78, who has been known to romp outdoors (sometimes wielding Super Soakers) with his canines, grandchildren and adults decades his junior, sought diagnostic scans and treatment on Sunday in Delaware (The Associated Press).


Biden plans this week to focus on his economic team and other personnel selections. Today, Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe U.S. and Mexico must revamp institutions supporting their joint efforts Harris signals a potential breakthrough in US-Mexico cooperation Watch live: Harris delivers remarks on vaccination efforts MORE will join Biden in their first look in 2020 at the President’s Daily Brief with cooperation from Trump aides. Members of the White House coronavirus task force also may brief the Biden team today on the outgoing administration’s vaccine distribution plan.


The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that Biden selected Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The news immediately raised eyebrows in expectation of Senate Republican opposition to Tanden in a role that encompasses every federal dollar, management of the executive branch, input into economic and domestic policy, regulatory review and negotiations with members of the House and Senate Budget committees.


The Hill: Senate Republicans have to decide how they intend to oppose Biden’s appointments and Cabinet picks. 


Tanden, who has long ties to former President Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Monica Lewinsky responds to viral HBO intern's mistake: 'It gets better' Virginia governor's race poses crucial test for GOP MORE and has worked inside the Clinton and Obama administrations and on campaigns, is known as an outspoken and decidedly left-leaning and prolific commentator on TV, on Twitter and in emails (as revealed by Wikileaks during Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid). Tanden, in a private email at the time, referred to the Democratic nominee’s political instincts as “suboptimal.”


The Journal also reported that Biden chose labor economist Cecilia Rouse to lead the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Rouse, now a professor at Princeton University, previously served as a member of the council during the Obama administration and early in her career worked in the Clinton White House. Tanden, if confirmed, and Rouse would work with economist and former Federal Reserve Chair Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenOn The Money: Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle | White House rules out gas tax hike Inflation concerns spark new political fights Irish finance minister seeks compromise on global minimum tax MORE, expected to be Biden’s nominee to lead the Treasury Department.


The New York Times: Biden also picked Brian Deese, a veteran political and economic adviser in the Obama White House and former OMB deputy director, to lead the National Economic Council. Deese currently works as global head of sustainable investing for BlackRock. 


Recognizing that the news media and governing environment in Washington remain in upheaval after four years of President TrumpDonald TrumpHead of firms that pushed 'Italygate' theory falsely claimed VA mansion was her home: report Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting VA moving to cover gender affirmation surgery through department health care MORE and Vice President Pence, Biden on Sunday announced a collection of experienced (and female) press and communications professionals to help explain his decisions and join with Harris to manage what is expected to be a high volume of criticism and uncertainty during a pandemic and wobbly economy. They named Jen Psaki as White House press secretary, taking advantage of her experience in international and domestic policy, politics and messaging. She previously served as White House communications director and chief spokeswoman at the State Department during the Obama administration. Kate Bedingfield will be communications director for the incoming president, expanding on responsibilities she had during the campaign (The Associated Press).


Biden and Harris also named Symone SandersSymone SandersHarris discusses voting rights with advocates in South Carolina White House 'looking into' woman claiming to be reporter at Harris press conference Harris's plane forced to return to Andrews after 'technical issue' MORE to be a senior adviser and chief spokeswoman for Harris. Ashley Etienne will be communications director for the incoming vice president.


Dan Balz, The Washington Post analysis: With urgent problems facing him, Biden cannot afford early missteps.


The Hill’s Niall Stanage: The five biggest challenges facing Biden (pandemic, economy, Congress, polarization and defining his presidency).


Inside the OMB, the outgoing Trump administration is working to reclassify career employees at key agencies to strip their job protections and leave them open to being fired before Biden takes office (The Washington Post).


As The Hill’s Brett Samuels reports, Biden is drawn to career government officials for Cabinet posts who will face high hurdles: implementing policy and restoring executive branch morale after four years of the Trump administration.


The Hill: Biden is expected to swiftly repeal Trump’s ban on transgender military service members.


The Hill: Early the new administration, Biden has promised policy changes to forgive federal student loan debt. The total amount to be erased has become a flashpoint among Democrats. And Biden critics want to see how the new administration proposes to pay for such a plan and who would benefit.


Ambassadors: Biden is reported to have selected Cindy McCain, widow of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West Five takeaways from the Biden-Putin summit MORE (R-Ariz.), and a prominent Republican who endorsed his presidential bid in a state he captured against the odds, to be U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom (The Times of London and The Hill).





Trump on Sunday said he is not of a mind to concede the election to Biden and would like to challenge the results to the Supreme Court (The Hill).


The Washington Post: Inside Trump’s failed quest to overturn defeat. “This election was lost by the Democrats,” Trump has said, falsely. “They cheated.”


The Hill: Arkansas Gov. Asa HutchinsonAsa HutchinsonDOJ to states: Bans on transgender youth health care are unconstitutional The states taking steps to ban critical race theory Overnight Health Care: Biden asks intel community to 'redouble' efforts probing COVID-19 origins | Democrats announce plan to begin crafting public option insurance bill | Lawsuit challenges Arkansas abortion ban MORE (R) commended the president on Sunday for approving the transition process, which he said is more “significant” than a Trump concession.


The Hill: Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntExcellence Act will expand mental health and substance use treatment access to millions Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision MORE (R-Mo.), who is the chairman of the inaugural ceremony at the Capitol on Jan. 20, said on Sunday that he hopes Trump attends Biden’s swearing-in as the 46th president.





POLITICS & CONGRESS: Wisconsin completed its election recount and confirmed that Biden defeated the president there to take home the state’s 10 electoral votes. 


The president-elect’s margin of victory was roughly 20,600 votes, including a gain of 87 votes after the recount. Even before the state completed the recount, Trump indicated plans to appeal the result in a continuation of his legal challenges, most of which have fallen flat across battleground states. 


“As we have said, the recount only served to reaffirm Joe Biden’s victory in Wisconsin,” Danielle Melfi, who led Biden’s campaign in Wisconsin, told The Associated Press.


> Beyond 2020: Fresh off their defeat of Trump, Democrats believe they need to prepare multiple major course corrections to remain competitive in future campaign cycles, pointing to a need to rely on something other than anti-Trump sentiment to push voters to the polls. 


As The Hill’s Jonathan Easley writes, Democrats are alarmed by various soft spots in the party’s voter coalition, including non-college-educated voters and Latinos. Party officials are skeptical they will consistently be able to turn out affluent white suburbanites who opposed Trump earlier this month. 


Some Democrats also argue that the party must attempt to fill the void of economic populism with Trump out of office, and that Biden must rebuild the Democratic National Committee and turn the party’s attention to state legislative contests that have been GOP-dominated.


“The 2020 election was a referendum on Donald Trump, plain and simple,” said Robert Reich, a Labor secretary under Clinton and an economic adviser to former President Obama. “Democrats really have not had to worry about their message or having substantive policy proposals over the last four years. But going forward, Democrats can’t just rely on being against Trump. The question is, who do Democrats stand for and what do they stand for now in the post-Trump era?”


Mike Lillis, The Hill: Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold?


The Hill: Congress set for chaotic year-end sprint.  


Those efforts could start off in early January as Democrats look to retake the Senate for the first time since losing control in 2014 with a pair of crucial contests in Georgia between Sen. David PerdueDavid PerdueLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Georgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock Georgia Republican secretary of state hits Loeffler as 'weak,' 'fake Trumper' MORE (R) and Democrat Jon Ossoff, and between Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Herschel Walker skips Georgia's GOP convention Georgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock MORE (R) and Raphael Warnock (The Hill).


However, Democrats are by no means the only ones hoping to use the Georgia contests as a political springboard. As Max Greenwood writes, the Peach State is turning into a proving ground for Republicans with an eye toward the 2024 presidential primary.


Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who just landed the chairmanship at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, are among the prospective 2024 contenders who have visited Georgia in recent weeks. Pence and Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonThe Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? Court fines baker 0 for refusing to make gender transition cake Nikki Haley warns Republicans on China: 'If they take Taiwan, it's all over' MORE (R-Ark.) are also in the group and made stops there on Friday. 


Republicans hold a 50-48 advantage at the moment, with a victory by one of the two incumbent senators cementing a GOP majority for the foreseeable future. However, the runoffs also give the GOP’s 2024 prospective candidates a chance to show off their leadership chops and political influence at an odd time for the party as it prepares for Trump’s January departure, which will take place more than two weeks after the Georgia races. 


The GOP is running into an issue in Georgia: Voters who worry that the race is “already decided” after presidential cries of widespread voter fraud and a “rigged” election. During a campaign appearance in Marietta, Ga., on Saturday, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielRNC's McDaniel launches podcast highlighting Republicans outside of Washington The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Citizens' Climate Lobby - Deal or no deal? Biden, Capito continue infrastructure talks RNC warns it will advise presidential candidates against future debates if panel doesn't make changes MORE called on voters to turn out en masse for Perdue and Loeffler, but found herself on the defensive after a Georgia Republican wondered what the point of devoting “money and work when it's already decided.”


“It's not decided. This is the key it's not decided,” McDaniel told Republicans, with the session devolving into a complaint session surrounding Biden’s victory (CNN).


Paul Kane: Awaiting Georgia runoffs, U.S. Senate and its committees have been plunged into uncertainty. 


The Hill: Groups seek to get Black vote out for Democrats in Georgia runoffs.


NBC News: The most important relationship in Washington? Biden and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have a history.


The Hill: Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under Biden presidency.




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! 


Dear Joe, it’s not about Iran’s nukes anymore, by Thomas L. Friedman, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3likQbG  


Why did the Florida Latino community swing to Trump? It’s complicated, by Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-PowellStephanie Murphy won't run for Senate seat in Florida next year Hispanic Democrats slam four Republicans over Jan. 6 vote in new ads Colombia's protests are threat, test for US MORE (D-Fla.), opinion contributor, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/37kqiFL 



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The House meets on Wednesday.


The Senate will reconvene at 3 p.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of Taylor McNeel to be United States district judge for the Southern District of Mississippi.


The president has lunch with the vice president at 12:30 p.m.


Pence joins Trump for lunch, then leads a video conference about COVID-19 responses with governors at 2 p.m.


The Supreme Court today will hear arguments in a legal challenge to Trump’s order that seeks to block people who are undocumented from being counted in the U.S. census. The case is Department of Commerce v. New York. On Sept. 10, a federal court in New York blocked the Trump order, prompting the administration’s appeal to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS blog).


Biden and Harris will have access for the first time during the transition to the president’s daily classified briefing memo. Both plan to 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: White House senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerKushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 The Israel-Hamas ceasefire is holding — what's next? Eric Trump buys .2M home near father's golf club in Florida MORE and a team from the administration departed on Sunday for Saudi Arabia and Qatar. With 51 days left in office, Kushner and his team are hoping to negotiate agreements with more countries after reaching previous normalization deals between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan (Reuters). … In Afghanistan, a car bombing in Ghazni on Sunday killed at least 30 Afghan security force personnel (The Guardian). … Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, leader of Tehran’s covert attempts to assemble a nuclear weapon, was ambushed and killed near the capital on Friday, the latest casualty in a campaign of covert attacks that Iran blames on Israel (The Associated Press). The operations present Tehran with a choice between embracing the demands of hard-liners for swift retaliation and an opening to make a fresh start with the United States through the Biden administration (The New York Times).


David E. Sanger, The New York Times: Assassination in Iran could limit Biden’s options. Was that the goal? 


Barbara Slavin, The New York Times opinion: Why was Iran’s top nuclear scientist killed?





TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: China’s top chipmaker SMIC and national offshore oil and gas producer CNOOC will be added to a U.S. blacklist of alleged Chinese military companies, according to Reuters. U.S. investors will be barred from buying securities of the listed firms starting late next year, escalating tensions with Beijing weeks before Trump leaves office. The news rattled financial markets. ... A new Treasury Department proposal that could force banks to finance fossil fuel activities is dividing fossil fuel-supporting conservatives from free market groups (The Hill). The Trump administration is furiously putting out new rules and regulations as it seeks to leave an enduring stamp on the government before Jan. 20 (The Hill). 


➔ FELINE: In the Biden household, Major the rescue German shepherd may have tripped up his master over the weekend after hearing news from future first lady Jill Biden that the first family wants to add a cat to the White House next year (The New York Times). The residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. has seen plenty of felines over the years, including the late Socks, who belonged to Chelsea Clinton, pictured here in 1994.





And finally … If readers were up really early this morning in some locations and gazed skyward, they may have already noticed the pairing of a full moon and penumbral lunar eclipse. In Washington, D.C., for example, it was supposed to be visible at 4:42 a.m. (if it had not been raining). Those living in Bangkok, on the other hand, will be able to see the effect at 5:52 p.m. today. A penumbral eclipse occurs when the moon moves into Earth's penumbra, or outer shadow, causing the moon to look darker than normal. This is the last penumbral eclipse of the year and was visible to those in North and South America, Australia, and parts of Asia (CNN).