The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Tuesday! The start of December! 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, 266,875; Tuesday, 268,087.

Congress gets back to work this week as the spread of COVID-19 hits new records and employers, economists and workers continue to beg lawmakers to succeed where they’ve failed since May and pass a coronavirus relief bill that President TrumpDonald TrumpMcCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden Biden, Trudeau agree to meet next month Trump planned to oust acting AG to overturn Georgia election results: report MORE would sign as soon as politically possible.


The odds of striking a stimulus deal before the close of the 116th Congress are incredibly low, but that has not stopped a bipartisan group of legislators from attempting to rekindle discussions after months of touch-and-go talks between the Trump administration and Democratic negotiators. 


According to The Hill’s Jordain Carney, the group includes Republican Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief MORE (Utah), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' MORE (Ohio) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief MORE (Maine) along with Democratic Sens. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Senators introduce bill to award Officer Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda MORE (Del.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden EPA asks Justice Dept. to pause defense of Trump-era rules | Company appeals rejection of Pebble Mine | Energy pick Granholm to get hearing Wednesday Nomination hearing for Biden Energy pick Granholm set for Wednesday Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief MORE (W.Va.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe next pandemic may be cyber — How Biden administration can stop it Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief Social media posts, cellphone data aid law enforcement investigations into riots MORE (Va.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetTop Democrat pushes for tying unemployment insurance to economic conditions 50-50 Senate opens the door to solutions outlasting Trump's moment of violence Build trust in vaccines by investing in community workers MORE (Colo.) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinOvernight Health Care — Fauci: Lack of facts 'likely' cost lives in coronavirus fight | CDC changes COVID-19 vaccine guidance to allow rare mixing of Pfizer, Moderna shots | Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda Hillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat. Specifically, the group is hoping COVID-19 relief provisions can be included as part of the must-pass government funding package. 


The deadline to fund the government with either a full-year budget or a short-term stopgap measure is Dec. 11.


The talks represent the first signs of life toward a fifth coronavirus-related package, with the most recent bill having been passed more than seven months ago. However, the gulf between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Democrats float 14th Amendment to bar Trump from office Biden signals he's willing to delay Trump trial MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDivide and conquer or unite and prosper Trump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday Roe is not enough: Why Black women want an end to the Hyde Amendment MORE (D-Calif.) remains as wide as ever. The GOP leader continues to eye a targeted package of roughly $500 billion, while Pelosi is still pushing for a bill in excess of $2 billion. 


The Associated Press: Congress returns with virus aid, federal funding unresolved.


Politico: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida scientist who accused state of manipulating coronavirus data tests positive for COVID-19, turns herself in Overnight Health Care: Testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing | Health workers refusing vaccine is growing problem | Incoming CDC director expects 500,000 COVID deaths by mid-February COVID-19 testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing MORE (R), a Trump ally, wants a COVID-19 relief bill to bolster relief for unemployment. 


Bloomberg News: Former Obama White House national economic adviser Austan Goolsbee on Monday said the U.S. economy is “inches away from having permanent damage that we did not have to have” when Congress and the Trump administration allowed provisions of the pandemic-focused CARES Act to expire. Goolsbee, an economist, said the hurdles for any agreement now turn on Georgia runoff elections in January, and GOP ambitions to retain the Senate majority. “The politics of this whole thing are quite complicated in the lame duck,” he lamented.





Senate Democrats on Wednesday will welcome a newcomer to their ranks: Arizona’s Mark KellyMark KellyBipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief K Street navigates virtual inauguration week Cindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' MORE, a Democrat and former astronaut who defeated Republican Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed MORE (Ariz.) on Nov. 3, will be sworn in as a senator at 12 p.m., his office said. 


More than a dozen members of the House and Senate tested positive for COVID-19 in the days before Thanksgiving, underscoring the risks when hundreds of lawmakers travel back and forth and gather to work in the Capitol. House Democrats delayed returning to session until Wednesday and are urging members to stay in Washington over the weekend, hoping next week to complete an overflowing agenda to end a dramatic 2020 (The Hill).


The Hill: Industry groups want Congress to extend reductions in alcohol excise taxes that expire at the end of the year.


More politics: Trump’s bashing of Georgia officials over presidential election results worries Republicans who think he could divide the state’s GOP ahead of Senate runoff contests on Jan. 5. Runoffs against two incumbent senators depend heavily on turnout (The Hill and The New York Times). Arizona on Monday certified Biden’s election victory (The Associated Press), and Wisconsin certified, too (Milwaukee Sun-Sentinel). Arizona Gov. Doug DuceyDoug DuceyNational Guardsmen begin leaving Washington following controversial deployment Cindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona's GOP governor to attend Biden inauguration MORE (R), who incurred multiple attacks from Trump on Monday, defended the state’s election process (CNN). … Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Murkowski didn't vote for Trump, won't join Democrats Trump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday MORE (R-Alaska) said on Monday that Trump should concede the election (The Hill). … Trump ally and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial Democrats formally elect Harrison as new DNC chair McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February MORE of South Carolina said the president should attend the inauguration for the good of the country — “if Biden winds up winning” (The Hill). … And here’s one giant reason Trump has not conceded: His fundraising appeals to supporters to help him battle false claims of election fraud fuel his political machine, which has already hauled in an astonishing $150 million to $170 million (depending on reporting), which can underwrite his political activities and some personal overhead after he leaves office (The Washington Post and The New York Times).  


CORONAVIRUS: In a world filled with doom and gloom, more promising news emerged on Monday as Moderna announced that it will be applying for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine, with the first doses set to be doled out shortly before Christmas. 


The pharmaceutical giant said that it will be applying for emergency use authorization with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with a group of FDA experts set to do a final review of Moderna’s vaccine on Dec. 17. The vaccine, which is 94.1 percent effective, according to the company, would then be distributed, with the first set of shots used to immunize Americans being released on Dec. 21. 


Stephen Hoge, the president of Moderna, told NBC on Monday night that there will be “trucks rolling within hours” of the vaccine receiving authorization. 


“We're quite optimistic actually, that the vaccine is — the data speaks for itself — and they'll be supportive,” Hoge told “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt.


The Moderna meeting will take place exactly a week after the same group meets to likely approve Pfizer’s vaccine, likely giving the U.S. authorization of two vaccines before Christmas. In a tweet, Trump called on the FDA to “ACT QUICKLY.”


The New York Times: Moderna applies for emergency FDA approval for its coronavirus vaccine.


Fox News: Novavax delays U.S. coronavirus vaccine phase three clinical trial.


White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day Trump leaves White House, promises to be back in 'some form' LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing MORE, who recently recovered from COVID-19 and is tracking his boss’s tweets, is concerned that FDA is not working fast enough to approve a Pfizer vaccine and summoned FDA Administrator Stephen Hahn to an in-person White House meeting today, Axios reports. Hahn for months has worked to hold ground for FDA scientists, and that’s the posture he took in a comment to Axios for its report: "We want to move quickly because this is a national emergency, but we will make sure that our scientists take the time they need to make an appropriate decision. It is our job to get this right and make the correct decision regarding vaccine safety and efficacy,” he said.


With the coming approvals, U.S. officials are growing optimistic about the prospect of vaccinating any and all who want to receive a vaccine by early summer. Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, the director of supply, production and distribution for Operation Warp Speed, predicted that 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be available by June. 


“100 percent of Americans that want the vaccine will have had the vaccine by that point in time,” Ostrowski told MSNBC. “We’ll have over 300 million doses available to the American public well before then.” 


NBC News: COVID-19 vaccines face a varied and powerful misinformation movement online. 





However, COVID-19 continues to spread at a rapid pace, leaving hospitals struggling to control the ever-climbing number of patients. In November alone, 4.2 million people in the U.S. tested positive for the virus — a 2.2 million increase over the October totals (NBC News). 


According to The Hill’s Peter Sullivan, the surging case count is threatening to overwhelm hospital systems across the U.S., with the likely post-Thanksgiving rise expected to make matters worse. According to the Transportation Security Administration, more than 1.1 million people were screened at airports on Sunday, marking the busiest travel day since mid-March. 


Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care — Fauci: Lack of facts 'likely' cost lives in coronavirus fight | CDC changes COVID-19 vaccine guidance to allow rare mixing of Pfizer, Moderna shots | Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda Fauci infuriated by threats to family Poll: Plurality of voters say coronavirus vaccine rollout slower than expected MORE, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that the country could see another spike "superimposed" on the already bleak situation following the holiday. As of Monday night, more than 93,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in this country, a record number that is growing.


CNN: The Wuhan files: Leaked documents reveal China's mishandling of the early stages of COVID-19.


The Hill: Rep. Austin ScottJames (Austin) Austin ScottCongress eyes 1-week stopgap, longer session to reach deal Alabama Republican becomes third House member to test positive for COVID-19 this week Thompson named top Republican on Agriculture MORE (R-Ga.) becomes the 26th House member to test positive for COVID-19.


The Hill: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWineMike DeWineRepublicans eye primaries in impeachment vote Shellshocked GOP ponders future with Trump Governors respond to violence at Capitol MORE (R) is the target of impeachment filings because of tough restrictions he ordered to battle COVID-19. 


The Washington Post: Lawmakers request new Government Accountability Office studies on the pandemic’s effects on the aviation industry.


> Departures: Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist, resigned on Monday from his post as the president’s special adviser on the coronavirus pandemic. Atlas was considered a special government employee when he joined the White House in August. He completed a 130-day detail this week.


As The Hill’s Brett Samuels notes, Atlas was a subject of criticism for many within and outside of the administration. Atlas, who is not an infectious diseases expert, pushed a widely disputed herd immunity theory in which some argue that older, at-risk populations should be protected while younger, healthier people would be free of restrictions.


The Washington Post: White House planning a packed season of holiday parties.


> Sports: The virus is also starting to wreak havoc on the NFL season, forcing the league to rejigger its schedule once again on Monday and displacing another franchise temporarily due to newly imposed restrictions. 


For a third time, the NFL postponed the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game, which is now set for Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. on NBC. The postponement also means there will be a pair of games on Monday night and one more on Tuesday night (ESPN). 


Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers will play its Week 13 and Week 14 home games in Glendale, Ariz., at State Farm Stadium, the home of the Arizona Cardinals. The move comes after Santa Clara County halted all contact sports for the next three weeks (ESPN). 


NEW ADMINISTRATION: Democratic senators on Monday urged their colleagues to hold confirmation hearings before Jan. 20 for former Federal Reserve Chair Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenOn The Money: Treasury announces efforts to help people get stimulus payments | Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury | Judge sets ground rules for release of Trump taxes Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage MORE, Biden’s pick to be Treasury secretary. By following a model also used to seat some Cabinet nominees in the past, early hearings would allow for a Senate floor vote on or soon after Inauguration Day. It was a signal that Yellen, to be introduced by Biden along with other economic team members this afternoon in Delaware, is a bipartisan shoo-in for a role critical to the government during a pandemic-driven economic downturn.


This year, however, it will not be certain until after runoff elections take place in Georgia which party will hold the Senate majority to control committees and floor votes for Biden’s nominees.


The Senate Finance Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury MORE of Oregon, told Reuters that Yellen’s confirmation hearing should take place before Biden is sworn in as president, as happened for Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinPence delivers coronavirus task force report to Biden Treasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of 'serious human rights abuse' Treasury Department sanctions inner circle of Russian agent Derkach for election interference MORE on Jan. 19, 2017, when Trump was president-elect.


Four years ago, the Senate confirmed Mnuchin on Feb. 2, 2017, by a vote of 51-48. But the chamber moved faster on Inauguration Day to approve Trump nominees James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Senate confirms Austin to lead Pentagon under Biden Overnight Defense: House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee | Biden to seek five-year extension of key arms control pact with Russia | Two more US service members killed by COVID-19 MORE to be Defense secretary and John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Three days later, the Senate confirmed Mike PompeoMike PompeoState Dept. to review Trump admin's decision to label Houthis a terrorist organization VOA reinstates White House reporter reassigned after questioning Pompeo Jilani: China 'sending clear message' to Biden officials with sanctions that opposition could lead to 'future pay cut' MORE to be CIA director.


Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDivide and conquer or unite and prosper Roe is not enough: Why Black women want an end to the Hyde Amendment National Guard back inside Capitol after having been moved to parking garage MORE (D-N.Y.) on Monday said, “The Senate should follow precedent and hold hearings on President-elect Biden’s nominees in January immediately after the Georgia elections, before the inauguration.” On Jan. 20, 2009, the Senate confirmed six of President Obama’s Cabinet picks, compared with seven for then-President George W. Bush on Jan. 20, 2001. Within weeks, Bush had his entire Cabinet through the Senate and in place (The Hill).


While Yellen’s approval by the Senate is seen as all but certain, the outlook for Neera Tanden, Biden’s choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget, is uphill. Criticized from all sides, Tanden (pictured below), the president and CEO of left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, faces the toughest confirmation battle among Biden’s nominees thus far, report The Hill’s Alexander Bolton and Naomi Jagoda.


A spokesman for Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Top Texas Democratic Party staffers to step down after underwhelming election results MORE (R-Texas) said Sunday that Tanden has “zero chance of being confirmed,” raising questions about why Biden would nominate someone for a key role who has been so unstinting and public when finding fault over the years with GOP senators. Tanden, a prolific presence on Twitter and television, also faces opposition from the left, including from allies of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Next steps in the Trump impeachment Sanders selling sweatshirts with his famous inauguration pose for charity Former Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' MORE (I-Vt.).


CNN: Is Tanden’s nomination doomed?





Biden’s latest economic nominees and appointees also include his choice to be deputy Treasury secretary (economist Wally Adeyemo) and a trio of labor economists to guide policy from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (Cecilia Rouse, Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey) (The Hill).


Biden’s reported choice to lead the White House National Economic Council, Brian Deese, has been widely praised by former Obama administration officials, but his post-government work advising Blackrock clients on sustainable and long-term investment returns has some progressives up in arms. At the very least, under the incoming administration’s ethics rules, Deese’s financial holdings would come under close scrutiny (The Hill).


Politico: The quiet frontrunner: How Biden landed on Yellen for Treasury secretary.


> The European Union on Monday invited Biden to an in-person summit next year in addition to a virtual gathering. The in-person meeting is to coincide with Biden's possible visit with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (Prensa Latina).


> Iran: Biden’s campaign pledge to engage with Tehran is complicated by Friday’s assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, which Iran blames on Israel. The organized and dramatic killing could limit Biden’s running room to put the United States back in the Iran nuclear deal, which is opposed by Israel’s government and by Trump (The Hill).  


Gerald F. Seib: Here’s where Biden will face early foreign-policy decisions. 


The Hill: Democrats who want Biden’s Cabinet to be as diverse as possible when all is said and done are keeping the pressure on the president-elect.


Government Executive: Biden’s transition agency review teams made contact or met with more than 50 agencies (as of the day before Thanksgiving), according to Jen Psaki, now the incoming White House press secretary.


Politico: Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSenators introduce bill to award Officer Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal An ally in the White House is good for abortion access, but not enough LeBron James says 'it would be great' for champion Lakers to visit Biden White House MORE announced an inaugural committee of their own to work with members of Congress and other Washington officials. Plans for the oaths of office, guest lists, customary afternoon parade and evening balls during a pandemic have not been revealed.

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 Biden can break the Senate stonewall, by Rahm Emanuel, The Wall Street Journal opinion contributor. https://on.wsj.com/2JgJPzc. (Note: The former Clinton-era White House adviser, former House member, ex-White House chief of staff for the 44th president, former Chicago mayor and more recently a paid TV political analyst is reportedly a potential Biden candidate to be Transportation secretary). 


Presidents should use the pardon power more — just not like Trump, by Charles Lane, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3qdoOG5 



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.


The House meets on Wednesday.


The Senate meets at 10 a.m. The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee is conducting a hearing titled “The Quarterly CARES Act Report to Congress” at 10 a.m. with testimony from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.


The president has no public events scheduled.


Vice President Pence leads a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting at 3 p.m.


Biden and Harris today will receive the President’s Daily Brief. They will introduce nominees and appointees formally announced by the president-elect and vice president-elect on Monday. The event showcasing members of the incoming administration’s economic team is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. in Delaware. 


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: Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, alleged during Monday’s funeral that Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the scientist who founded the Iranian nuclear program, that Israel used “electronic devices” to assassinate him. Israel has declined to comment on the killing (The Associated Press). 


TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced on Monday that he will formally depart the agency on Jan. 20. Pai said that his tenure atop the FCC was the “honor of a lifetime.” Biden will now have the opportunity to either promote one of the two Democrats on the commission — Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks — or bring in a new chair from outside the agency (The Hill).


SUPREME COURT: The conservative-majority Supreme Court on Monday sounded reluctant to issue an immediate ruling that would halt Trump’s plan to count — and later subtract — immigrants residing in the United States illegally from the once-per-decade population count used to apportion seats in the U.S. House and allocate federal resources to states. The question of whether Trump can lawfully exclude the undocumented population from the census may be more fully litigated in coming weeks (The Hill). 


And finally … Cyber Monday is set to be the biggest online shopping day in U.S. history, Reuters reports. American consumers, who drive the bulk of the economy, were on track to purchase $12.7 billion in goods online, surpassing Black Friday, according to the latest industry estimates. Because of the coronavirus, items such as groceries, alcohol and clothing went into customers’ digital shopping carts, along with electronics, phones and smart devices after weeks if not months of promotions to beat this year’s holiday shipping crush and accomplish the deal-hunting online.


Today, by the way, is “Giving Tuesday,” a worldwide cyber pause for generosity, donations, charitable giving and commitments to help those in need. If ever there was a year to share kindness and extra cash with others, this is it.