The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - So many questions about COVID-19 vaccines

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Monday! 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 this morning: 282,312.

An imperfect storm of coronavirus tragedy is forming. Infections, hospitalizations and deaths are reaching new crisis proportions. Too many Americans shrug off warnings to stay in place, refuse masks and say they mistrust science. U.S. officials tout vaccine cures that will remain well out of reach for most people and in short supply for others. And amid the misery, the government is about to change hands.


As of this morning, more than 14,760,624 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and more than 282,000 have died. The country has set records for cases, deaths and hospitalizations in recent days even as officials impose new restrictions seeking to curb the virus’s spread (The New York Times).


Against that backdrop, the Trump administration’s leader in charge of the vaccine-focused Operation Warp Speed predicts that in four or five months, vaccines can restore a sense of normalcy. “I think we may start to see some impact on the most susceptible people probably in the month of January and February, but on a population basis, for our lives to start getting back to normal, we're talking about April or May,” Moncef Slaoui said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday (The Hill).


Politico: Governors will let health care providers sort out thorny questions about who gets COVID-19 vaccines first.


The Hill: U.S. officials await COVID-19 vaccines. 


The New York Times: Amid pending vaccine triage and federal guidelines, nursing home residents could be given a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of year.


Only about one-tenth of vaccine doses the U.S. government initially promised for distribution this month will be delivered. Federal officials have slashed the amount of coronavirus vaccine they plan to ship to states in December because of constraints on supply, and the shortages highlight how the early promises of a vast stockpile before the end of 2020 are falling short in the United States (The Washington Post).


The New York Times: Want to find out where you may stand in the vaccine line? 


To top it off, state and local governments say they are still billions of dollars short of funds required for an effective vaccination campaign (The Hill). After spending more than $10 billion supporting the development of COVID-19 vaccines, the Trump administration spent just $340 million on state and local efforts to distribute such breakthrough drugs. The worry is that the United States will not be ready to distribute any vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration.


“We knew vaccines would be in development, so it’s not a surprise we would need to build up the deployment system. Now we could be weeks away from the first doses going out, and we really haven’t invested in any of that work,” said Adriane Casalotti, chief of government and public affairs at the National Association of County and City Health Officials.


As the crisis worsens in the United States, all eyes are on the United Kingdom and Russia, where preparations are well underway to inoculate millions of people with vaccines approved in those countries even as research trials continue.


The Associated Press: The coronavirus vaccine developed by American drug manufacturer Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech will be administered in the United Kingdom beginning on Tuesday as part of an immunization program that is being closely watched around the world (pictured above). In a not-so-subtle reference to World War II, British officials refer to Tuesday as “V-Day.”


BBC: Russia was set over the weekend to begin inoculations for COVID-19 in Moscow, a city of 13 million people. Thousands of Russians registered to get the first of two shots, but it is unclear how much vaccine Russia can manufacture. Producers are expected to make only 2 million doses by the end of the year. Moscow has reported 2.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Russia and 42,675 deaths, a fraction of what the United States has recorded.


The Associated Press: In China, provincial governments are placing orders for experimental, domestically made coronavirus vaccines, though health officials have yet to say how effective they are or how they may reach the country’s 1.4 billion people. Developers are speeding up final testing.


The Wall Street Journal: Long a holdout from COVID-19 restrictions, Sweden ends its pandemic experiment.


The Hill: Five questions and answers on COVID-19 vaccines.


CBS News: Scott Gottlieb says U.S. could near 4,000 deaths a day as virus surges.


The Associated Press: Will the United States ever have a national COVID-19 testing strategy?


On the workforce front, the imminent arrival of multiple vaccines has employers weighing whether to mandate employees to receive one in the coming months as they believe they are on firm legal ground to do so. However, as The Hill’s Alex Gangitano reports, enforcement will nonetheless be a challenge, as some in the U.S. have opposed mask mandates and there remains the anti-vax community. 


New polling shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans said they would get the vaccine, a 10-point uptick since September but still far below the amount needed to fuel a robust economic recovery.


“While there are likely legal concerns with blanket mandates, if any of our members believed that a requirement at their company was the right thing to do, we would certainly support that within the bounds of the law. Because America's future depends on folks rolling up our sleeves in a new way,” said Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.


The Wall Street Journal: Your boss can restrict your holiday plans in the pandemic. 


The Hill: Hackers threaten to disrupt COVID-19 vaccine supply chain.


> State Watch: In California, more than 30 million residents are under stay-at-home orders today. The nation’s most populous state reported more than 25,000 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, an all-time, single-day high, and critical care hospital beds have filled up. Under a plan announced last week by Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomBiden turns focus to winter storm with Texas trip The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - J&J A-OK, Tanden in Trouble California law will send 0 direct payments to low-income residents MORE (D), regions with less than 15 percent capacity for ICU beds must enact a stay-at-home order (The Washington Post). As the coronavirus slams rural California, many residents still pan the restrictions (The Associated Press). … In New Mexico, the spread of COVID-19, despite tough restrictions and urgent official pleas to residents to cooperate with guidelines, is swamping hospitals. Gov. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamNew Mexico fines two megachurches K each over packed Christmas Eve services CHC urges Biden to choose Latinos to head Education Department, SBA: report Hispanic Caucus ramps up Cabinet pressure campaign MORE (D) says she will soon be forced to allow hospitals to move to “crisis standards,” which frees them to ration care depending on patients’ likelihood of survival (The Washington Post).


> Trump World outbreak, cont.: Former New York City Mayor Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiBiden administration buys 100,000 doses of Lilly antibody drug NAACP president accuses Trump of having operated under 'white supremacist doctrine' MyPillow CEO says boycotts have cost him M MORE, 76, the president’s lead personal attorney who has traveled extensively to help the president contest state election results, tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to a Washington hospital with symptoms of the virus. 


Trump announced Giuliani’s diagnosis on Sunday afternoon. Andrew Giuliani, the former mayor’s son and a White House aide who contracted the virus last month, tweeted that his father is “resting, getting great care and feeling well.”


In recent weeks, Giuliani made appearances, usually unmasked, in Michigan and Georgia. Giuliani was present at a press conference at Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington on Nov. 19. His son, who was also present, tested positive a day later. Boris Epshteyn, who stood close to the former mayor, tested positive on Nov. 25. 


The Hill: Arizona legislature shuts down after Giuliani, who testified there last week, contracts COVID-19. 





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POLITICS & CONGRESS: The battle to determine the Senate majority has reached the final month, and big money is flooding Georgia as Republicans look to retain their advantage in the upper chamber for the 117th Congress. 


According to The Associated Press, campaigns and outside groups have spent and reserved $329 million in advertising since Nov. 3, with the expectation that the figure could soar close to $500 million before Jan. 5. 


The situation in Georgia took multiple notable turns over the weekend as the president made his first post-election appearance on the campaign trail to stump for Sens. David PerdueDavid PerduePlease, President Trump: Drop your quest for revenge and help the GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan Georgia's GOP-led Senate passes bill requiring ID for absentee voting MORE (R-Ga.) and Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerKelly Loeffler's WNBA team sold after players' criticism Please, President Trump: Drop your quest for revenge and help the GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan MORE (R-Ga.). During the Saturday night rally in Valdosta, Trump aired a number of grievances about his loss to Biden in the battleground state, which supported a Democrat for the first time since 1992. 


The event took place a night before Loeffler’s first one-on-one debate against Democrat Raphael Warnock. As Max Greenwood writes, the two candidates sparred over a long list of issues during the hour-long event, with Loeffler repeatedly accusing Warnock of support for “socialist” policies and airing out a number of tried-and-true GOP talking points to attack her Democratic opponent.


As for Warnock, he alleged that the incumbent Republican has used her position to profit from her office. However, Trump’s ongoing efforts to dispute the election outcome dominated the conversation. Loeffler declined to say whether she supported the president’s claims of a “rigged” election, adding that the president had a right to seek recourse in the courts. The president roared in his support, saying it was a “great debate” for the sitting Republican.


Earlier in the night, Democrat Jon Ossoff appeared for a scheduled debate against Perdue, who declined the offer to take part. Instead, Perdue’s spot was represented by an empty podium (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). 


Recently, the incumbent Republican has been under fire over stock transactions, with Democrats accusing him of benefiting from his official position in Washington. Perdue says his trades have already been investigated and that he has been exonerated by the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Senate Ethics Committee, but new information has come to light, putting Perdue on the defensive (The Hill). 


The New York Times: The suburbs helped elect Biden. Can they give Democrats the Senate, too?


The Associated Press: Trump’s tactics to overturn the election results could have staying power.


Peter Baker, The New York Times: Trump’s final days of rage and denial.


The Hill: Georgia's GOP lieutenant governor: “Facts” show Biden won state.





While focus centers on the Georgia contest, Trump’s campaign appearance was also a preview of potential coming attractions as he considers a 2024 White House bid. As The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels report, chatter about a possible third bid for the presidency threatens to freeze the prospective field in place.  


“Trump is the 800 pound gorilla in the Republican Party right now. For the time being, everyone else is going to make room for him,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist and former top aide to Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDeSantis derides 'failed Republican establishment' at CPAC The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Mehdi Hasan gets MSNBC Sunday prime-time show MORE (R-Fla.). “I think if you’re somebody who is considering a 2024 presidential bid, in many ways you need to wait and see what Trump does because that will clearly impact what sort of campaign you run, if you run one at all.”


Niall Stanage: The Memo: Trump casts long shadow over 2024.


The Wall Street Journal: Trump’s possible 2024 bid leaves other GOP candidates in a bind.


Juliegrace Brufke, The Hill: Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerTrump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged Trump endorses former aide against pro-impeachment Republican Taylor Swift celebrates House passage of Equality Act MORE (R-Ill.) says he isn’t scared of Trump.


Paul Kane and Scott Clement, The Washington Post: The Post contacted 249 Republicans in the House and Senate. More than 220 have been silent about Biden’s victory in the month since the election, trying to avoid crossing Trump.


> COVID-19 relief: Talks on a fifth coronavirus-related relief package could come to a head this week as centrist senators expressed optimism on Sunday that a bill will be passed before the end of the year. 


Sen. Bill CassidyBill CassidyRepublicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars Overnight Health Care: Johnson & Johnson vaccine safe, effective in FDA analysis | 3-4 million doses coming next week | White House to send out 25 million masks Koch-backed group launches ads urging lawmakers to reject COVID-19 relief bill MORE (R-La.), part of the bipartisan group of lawmakers that has rolled out a $908 billion proposal, told “Fox News Sunday” that language for the bill will be released this week, as Trump has thrown his support behind the package.


President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE has indicated that he would sign a $908 billion package. There was only [one] $908 billion package out there, and that's ours,” Cassidy said (The Hill). 


For now, all eyes are on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Hawley gets boisterous ovation at CPAC for Electoral College objection   Why Congress must invoke the 14th Amendment now MORE (R-Ky.), who has yet to back the bill but has argued in the past week that lawmakers need to pass something sooner rather than later. For months, McConnell has supported a “targeted” $500 billion package. 


Politico: Hell week bears down on Congress. 


Time is winding down on the 116th Congress, but the work is not done, as lawmakers still have a number of big-ticket items on the agenda outside of stimulus talks. Included in them is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as Congress could be on the verge of delivering the outgoing president a major rebuke. 


As The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports, both chambers are set to bring up the annual defense bill this week, which is chock-full of policy disagreements that break with presidential stances. Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA over the tech and Confederate names fights. However, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package Key Democrat unveils plan to restore limited earmarks Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission MORE (D-Md.) maintained this week that there are enough votes in the lower chamber to override a veto, though the situation in the Senate remains up in the air.


Outside of the tech and Confederate name issues, the NDAA also takes aim at a number of Trump-related topics, including his troop withdrawals in Germany and Afghanistan, his relationship with Turkey, and his signature border wall.


The Hill: Power struggle sparks tensions among Senate Democrats.


Reid Wilson, The Hill: Why the polls weren't as wrong as you think.


The Baltimore Sun: Former Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), Maryland who championed protection of Chesapeake Bay, dies at 87.


NEW ADMINISTRATION: Biden has decided on California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden vs. Trump, part II The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Republicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars MORE, a former member of the House, to serve as his secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), choosing a Latino lawyer and politician rather than a governor to help oversee the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic (Politico and The New York Times). Becerra, 62, is a former chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. He has never served in a health policy position or managed anything as large as a department with 82,000 employees responsible for $94 billion in discretionary domestic spending and $1.3 trillion in mandatory spending. 


Biden has selected Rochelle Walensky, the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Harvard University Medical School professor, to run the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency within HHS based in Atlanta, Politico reported on Sunday and the transition team confirmed this morning in a news release.  


The Hill: Biden’s health team takes shape.


Today and Tuesday, members of the Biden transition team are expected to get their first briefings from the Trump Defense Department following days of back-and-forth about how soon the outgoing administration would start to cooperate with President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Biden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot MORE and his transition advisers. The Pentagon's intelligence agencies will begin information sharing today, CNN reported.


While preparing to inherit an economy Biden last week called “grim,” his advisers are tasked to craft policies that can assist Black and other minority communities that have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic. It’s viewed as an uphill battle, The Hill’s Marty Johnson and Sylvan Lane report.


On Sunday, Chicago Mayor Lori LightfootLori LightfootChicago teachers approve agreement to return to class America is learning the devastating power of teacher unions Atlanta students who fell behind during pandemic may face mandatory summer school MORE (D) told CBS News’s “Face the Nation” that while her city is 30 percent Black, the pandemic’s toll has fallen most heavily on minorities. “We're seeing people of color, both Black and Latinx, leading in the number of cases infected but also leading in deaths,” she said. Illinois recorded more coronavirus deaths than any other state in the past seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


As Biden weighs candidates to lead the Justice Department, his choice will face confirmation pressures from all sides, reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. Attorney General William BarrBill BarrMajority of Republicans say 2020 election was invalid: poll Biden administration withdraws from Connecticut transgender athlete case Justice Department renews investigation into George Floyd's death: report MORE’s decision before the election to give U.S. Attorney John DurhamJohn DurhamSpecial counsel investigating Russia probe to retire as US attorney Biden administration withdraws from Connecticut transgender athlete case Garland seeks to draw sharp contrast with Trump-era DOJ MORE the sway of a special counsel while probing the origins of the investigation into Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign in 2016 will be an issue among senators. Republicans want assurances that Durham will not be fired, while Democrats say Biden's attorney general should terminate Durham's role as a special counsel. 


Meanwhile, Barr is said to be weighing whether to leave the Justice DepartmentDOJ before Inauguration Day. Trump was unhappy when the attorney general said during a recent interview that U.S. attorneys and the FBI uncovered no evidence of election fraud that would alter Biden’s victory (The New York Times).


The Washington Post: In its final weeks, the Trump administration accelerates a push to lock in policy and staffing gains.




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! 


The other Arizona election challenge: Can voters ignore the state constitution when passing an initiative? by The Wall Street Journal editorial board. https://on.wsj.com/33Leonu


Most presidents build libraries to burnish their legacies. Trump is constructing an alternate universe, by Karen Tumulty, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3ov6HcX 


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The House meets at noon.


The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and will resume consideration of Stephen Schwartz to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.


The president at 10:30 a.m. will award Iowa wrestling icon Dan Gable the Medal of Freedom. Twenty-three members of the Gable clan are traveling to the White House for the event (The Courier). The president will eat lunch with Vice President Pence.


Pence will join the president for the Medal of Freedom event and for lunch. At 2 p.m., the vice president will lead a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting in the Situation Room.


Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisExclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren To unite America, Biden administration must brace for hate Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm MORE will receive the President’s Daily Brief and meet with transition advisers. 


INVITATION TODAY: Join The Hill’s Virtually Live discussion, “Aspiration & Resilience: Arab Youth in the COVID-19 Era,” at 1 p.m., featuring students and regional business leaders. Like much of the world, the economy of the Middle East region has taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment has been a top issue among young Arabs, and they are looking beyond traditional government and private sector jobs, but COVID-19 has made that more difficult. What are the opportunities in the region that may lead to improving economic growth and why should Americans care about the economic outlook for young Arabs? RSVP HERE


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INTERNATIONAL: SpaceX successfully launched a new Dragon resupply mission on Sunday, sending an upgraded cargo craft to the International Space Station for NASA. The launch marked the company's 21st cargo mission and its 24th launch of the year. It was also a milestone — the 100th successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket spanning 101 missions for SpaceX (Space.com).


COURTS: Last week, a federal judge gave immigrants a big win and rebuked the Trump administration over its long-running “acting” secretary at the Homeland Security Department, who is deemed to have exceeded his statutory clout. Separate from the immigration policy battlefield, the ruling may have the effect of complicating Biden’s future executive sway to fill top federal vacancies in cases where the Senate will not or has not confirmed nominees (Vox).


HOLIDAY & COMMERCE: Companies tell their customers that holiday shipments and deliveries will be on time (The Hill), although such assurances may be hope over reality. An estimated 3 billion packages will move through the nation’s strained shipping infrastructure, or about 800 million more deliveries than at this point in 2019 (The New York Times).





And finally … New York City is still talking about the sprucing up of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, which received some extra branches to give the conifer a fuller appearance after widespread public drubbing that the 75-foot-tall Norway spruce was a towering but beaten-up specimen of holiday majesty. Makeover trivia: The tree guzzles more than 90 gallons of water each day during its first week on display (New York Post).


With the addition of expert pre-lighting infrastructure adjustments (wired-in branch weaves), the tree won plaudits, even from 2020’s most pandemic-fatigued Scrooges.