The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Mastercard – US inoculations begin; state electors certify Biden; Barr is out
Presented by Mastercard
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, 299,181; Tuesday, 300,482.
For nearly a third of a million people in the United States who have died from COVID-19 this year and the tens of thousands in this country destined to become fatalities before the coronavirus is in the past, Monday’s cheering for a vaccine cure came too late.
The price of the pandemic has been steep. The danger is rising, forcing New York’s governor and New York City’s mayor to weigh new lockdowns. Public health experts are wringing their hands that too many Americans have grown complacent, impatient and ready to refuse vaccines. In 36 days, COVID-19 will be President-elect Joe Biden’s No. 1 challenge, according to the Electoral College, which officially determined on Monday that President Trump lost his bid for a second term.
In the midst of encouraging news about the nation’s first Pfizer inoculations, Trump on Monday evening announced that Attorney General William Barr will leave the administration on Dec. 23.
Barr — assailed by detractors for advancing Trump’s agenda and also criticized by the president for saying his department found no voter fraud that would alter Biden’s victory — submitted an effusively laudatory resignation letter that in its first paragraph said that “it is incumbent on all levels of government … to promote public confidence” in the outcome of the election. The president, who named Jeffrey Rosen as acting attorney general, tweeted that Barr “has done an outstanding job!”
The New York Times: Barr to depart in eight days. In his resignation letter, he said the Justice Department is pursuing unspecified allegations of voter fraud.
The Hill’s Niall Stanage writes that no matter how determined Trump may be to focus public attention on the election, the vaccine rollout is the final test of his presidency.
Earlier on Monday, the Trump administration had envisioned a day of positive PR about vaccine doses distributed around the country. Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens (pictured above), is believed to be the first U.S. recipient on Monday to receive Pfizer’s two-dose medication outside a clinical trial.
“I feel like healing is coming,” she said. “I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history” (The New York Times).
In Washington, D.C., five health care workers at George Washington University Hospital were the first people to receive the vaccine in the nation’s capital on Monday. The group of workers included emergency medicine nurses, anesthesiologists, and labor and delivery nurses. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams spoke about building public trust.
“We must now move from vaccines to vaccinations, and it would be a great tragedy if disparities actually worsened because the people who could most benefit from this vaccine won’t take it,” Adams said (The Washington Post).
NBC News: Hospitals opt for various methods to distribute scarce doses of the vaccine to their employees. Some chose the honor system.
The Associated Press: The first 3 million shots are being strictly rationed to front-line health workers and elder-care patients, with hundreds of millions more shots needed over the coming months to protect most Americans.
By the next spring or early summer, most Americans with no underlying health risks will “likely” be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told MSNBC.
Goldman Sachs has predicted the United States could achieve vaccination of half the population by April (CNBC).
The Associated Press: Internationally, the chances that coronavirus shots will be shared fairly between rich and poorer nations are fading fast, some experts say. Of the approximately 12 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines the pharmaceutical industry is expected to produce next year, about 9 billion shots have already been reserved by wealthy countries.
The Associated Press: Germany pushes for quick vaccine approval before Christmas by the European Union.
Restrictions: New York City (pictured below) should prepare for the possibility of a full shutdown, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said on Monday. New York is headed toward a second full shutdown if COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue at their current pace. “If we do not change the trajectory, we could very well be headed to shut down” all nonessential businesses, Cuomo said (Bloomberg News and CNN). … Boston is among the cities in Massachusetts set to close gyms, museums and movie theaters as soon as Wednesday amid the latest COVID-19 surge. Cities and towns are expected to join the effort to return to phase two, step two — a three-week pause that will begin in some communities as soon as Wednesday — reflecting how municipal leaders do not think the state is doing enough to control the spread of COVID-19. “Unfortunately, we are at the point where we need to take stronger action to control COVID-19 in Boston, and urgently, to ensure our health care workers have the capacity to care for everyone in need,” Boston Mayor Martin Walsh (D) said in a statement (The Boston Globe).
LEADING THE DAY
POLITICS: The Electoral College on Monday officially handed Biden his election victory, cementing him as the 46th president as some Republicans finally come around to that reality after weeks of declining to recognize the election results.
The Electoral College voting process commenced Monday morning with meetings in Indiana, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Vermont, with electors in other states meeting throughout the day (New York elector Cuomo is pictured below). California’s 55 electoral votes put Biden over the top and confirmed his victory (The Hill).
The Electoral College results will be certified by members of Congress on Jan. 6. Two weeks later, Biden will be sworn in. Speaking on Monday night from Wilmington, Del., Biden blasted Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 vote and called on the nation to move beyond the divisive election season following the certification.
“Respecting the will of the people is at the heart of our democracy even when we find those results hard to accept,” Biden said. “But that’s the obligation of those who have taken on a sworn duty to uphold the Constitution.”
“In this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed. … Faith in our institutions held, and the integrity of our elections remained intact,” the president-elect said. “And now it’s time to turn the page as we’ve done throughout our history, to unite and to heal.”
Gerald F. Seib: As electors gather, cold numbers show what really happened in 2020.
The New York Times: Four takeaways From Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Following the Electoral College developments, Republicans on Capitol Hill slowly started to concede that Biden is the president-elect, with many having declined to do so until Trump exhausts his legal avenues — which were largely shut off last week after two rulings by the Supreme Court — and Monday’s meeting. Among those include high-ranking GOP senators, including Sens. John Thune (S.D.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Roy Blunt (Mo.). Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in a statement Monday night that it is time to “respect the will of the voters.”
“The orderly transfer of power is a hallmark of our democracy, and although I supported President Trump, the Electoral College vote today makes clear that Joe Biden is now President-Elect,” Portman said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an ardent supporter of Trump, acknowledged Biden’s victory to reporters and proceeded to rattle off a number of nominees he can get behind in the new year, including Janet Yellen for Treasury secretary and Gen. Lloyd Austin to lead the Pentagon.
The Hill: Senate GOP leaders seek to put an end to election disputes.
However, the widespread support among Republicans for lawsuits attempting to overthrow the election results received some pushback on Monday as Rep. Paul Mitchell (I-Mich.), a retiring two-term lawmaker who once served in GOP leadership, announced that he was leaving the party and informed the House to change his party affiliation. In a letter addressed to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), he explained his departure, saying that politicians, including the president, must be willing to accept the outcome of elections whether they win or lose.
“It is unacceptable for political candidates to treat our election system as though we are a third-world nation and incite distrust of something so basic as the sanctity of our vote. Further, it is unacceptable for the president to attack the Supreme Court of the United States because its judges, both liberal and conservative, did not rule with his side or that ‘the Court failed him,’” Mitchell wrote. “If Republican leaders collectively sit back and tolerate unfounded conspiracy theories and ‘stop the steal’ rallies without speaking out for our electoral process … our nation will be damaged.”
He noted that he has “spoken out clearly and forcefully in opposition to these messages,” adding that the House GOP has moved in the opposite direction, with many supporting lawsuits pushing to overturn the election results.
“As a result, I am writing to advise you both that I am withdrawing from my engagement and association with the Republican Party at both the national and state level,” he added (The Hill).
Mitchell’s announcement comes as McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) face pressure to sign onto Rep. Mo Brooks’s (R-Ala.) incredibly long-shot effort to launch a floor fight next month to try to block Biden from becoming the next president at the Jan. 6 certification of the Electoral College.
The Hill: Requests for mail-in ballots top 1 million in Georgia as early voting begins in Senate runoffs.
Politico: Biden puts skin in the game in Georgia.
The New York Times: Claims of a “bleak” environmental justice record appear to topple Mary Nichols’s chances to nab the Cabinet post at the Environmental Protection Agency in the Biden administration. Reuters reports on possible Biden picks for EPA by Wednesday, including Michael Regan of North Carolina, plus lists for Interior secretary and White House environmental adviser.
The Hill: Senate GOP warns Biden against picking Sally Yates as attorney general.
CNBC: Among those who congratulated Biden on Monday: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CONGRESS: It’s crunch time on Capitol Hill as lawmakers work to secure agreements on a number of fronts, headlined by continued jostling toward securing an ever-so-elusive coronavirus relief deal by the end of the year.
With the clock ticking toward midnight, a bipartisan group of roughly a dozen lawmakers unveiled its $908 billion coronavirus relief package, splitting the proposal into two parts. The first is a $748 billion piece that includes another round of Paycheck Protection Program loan funds for small businesses, unemployment benefits, and more money for schools, vaccine distribution and other items.
The second part of the proposal includes $160 billion for state and local governments — a top priority for Democrats — and a liability shield for businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits, which is a priority of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Passage of that portion is expected to be a much steeper climb.
“I think we’ve had a Christmas miracle occur in Washington,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “These bills are not only bipartisan products; they are bicameral as well. My hope is that our hard work will spur our leadership on both sides.”
The text of the proposal came out two weeks after the lawmakers announced an agreed-to framework. It also comes as lawmakers reach the witching hour in talks, which have been headlined by negotiations that have stalled out on multiple occasions dating back to July.
Talks also continued at the highest levels on Monday as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke again with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and reiterated her opposition to the liability shield currently being discussed, which is the main obstacle to obtaining funds for states and cities.
The Washington Post: Bipartisan group of lawmakers readies two stimulus bills in effort to secure deal.
The Associated Press: Democrats squeezed as COVID-19 relief talks continue.
The Hill: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) steps up push for stimulus checks ahead of rollout of bipartisan relief legislation.
Elsewhere, lawmakers are on the verge of striking a deal on a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill as they look to fund the government before Friday’s deadline and avoid a shutdown.
Congressional leaders are expected to release legislative text as early as today, setting up a vote at some point in the coming days. The timing of the vote is up in the air due to a snowstorm set to hit parts of the country on Wednesday (Roll Call).
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
The governor who stole Christmas — and the California businesses fighting back, by Daniel Ortner, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2INxJgv
Build trust in vaccines by investing in community workers, by Rishi Manchanda and Claire Qureshi, opinion contributors, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3mjleqW
A MESSAGE FROM MASTERCARD
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.
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 3 p.m. for a pro forma session.
The Senate meets at 10 a.m. and resumes consideration of the nomination of Thomas Kirsch to be a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
The president has no public events scheduled.
Vice President Pence travels to Bloomington, Ind., to tour Catalent Biologics and hold a roundtable discussion this afternoon about COVID-19 and Operation Warp Speed. He returns to Washington tonight.
Biden will travel to Atlanta today to campaign for two Democratic challengers competing in Jan. 5 Senate runoff contests, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a former attorney general in California, will host a virtual meeting with Democratic state attorneys general.
INVITATION TODAY: The Hill Virtually Live event at 1 p.m. discusses “America’s Most Reliable Voter: New Year, New Leaders.” Joining the conversation are Rep.-elect Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii); Heather Booth, senior engagement director for the Biden-Harris campaign; Maggie’s List’s Jennifer Carroll; and more. America’s most reliable voters, the 50-plus community, made their voices heard, and newly elected officials all across the nation will soon take their seats. In part three of The Hill’s series, we look at how policymakers keep the promises made this year to older voters. Information is HERE.
INVITATION: The Hill Virtually Live at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, “COVID-19, Tech and Economic Resilience,” with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.); Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.); former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Zoom board member; former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk; Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel of the Federal Communications Commission; and Fred Humphries, vice president of U.S. government affairs for Microsoft. As a new administration prepares to take charge, which technology shifts are here to stay? How can policymaking keep pace to ensure the American economy retains its competitive edge? In the first of three virtual events, The Hill discusses the role of technology in reenergizing the American economy. Information is HERE.
Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. EST at Rising on YouTube.
➔ CYBERSECURITY: U.S. officials and experts are reeling from a devastating cyber attack aimed at the federal government by “sophisticated” nation state backers, with the attack on an IT vendor potentially exposing sensitive government date for much of the past year (The Hill).
➔ NEWS MEDIA: Fox News is facing new competition for conservative viewers from rivals on the right amid a clash with Trump as he leaves the White House. Fox News is still the cable news ratings behemoth, and there are enormous barriers to entry for upstart cable outlets trying to break in. But fledgling conservative outlets such as Newsmax and One America News (OAN) see an opportunity to challenge Fox by buying fully into the president’s claims that the election was stolen from him. Trump has promoted both Newsmax and OAN as conservative alternatives while railing against Fox for not being sufficiently loyal (The Hill). … PBS’s “Frontline” remains a master of the concise, deeply reported, topically intense documentary dive on a subject of social concern after more than 750 episodes since 1983, writes Hank Stuever, The Washington Post’s TV critic.
➔ ❄ SNOW: A blockbuster winter storm is expected to unfold in the Northeast today through Thursday and unload more a foot of snow or more in some spots, according to AccuWeather. The storm will have a wide coverage area, with snow expected to fall from southern Illinois to Atlantic Canada and cover major thoroughfares including Interstate 95 along the mid-Atlantic. The accumulation of white stuff will depend on the storm’s evolving track.
And finally … This bit of vaccination history seems worth a reminder. On this day in 1827, three decades after scientist and British physician Edward Jenner discovered a method to immunize the population against smallpox, the Boston School Committee voted to require public school students to show they had been vaccinated against the disease.
The committee decided that certificates to the board of health were issued where necessary for students to receive free smallpox vaccinations. More than two decades later, Massachusetts passed the nation’s first school vaccination law, followed by New York in 1862 and Connecticut in 1872.
The last case of smallpox in the United States was recorded in 1949. For four decades, the World Health Organization has considered smallpox eradicated from the planet.
COVID-19 won’t linger that long.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.