The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Moderna vaccine nears US approval; Congress cites 'progress' toward relief bill

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Wednesday! 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; Wednesday, 303,849.


There have been enough U.S. fatalities from COVID-19 to fill the Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor three times, or decimate an entire city the size of Cincinnati.

Against a welcome backdrop of anticipated U.S. approval of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, congressional leaders on Tuesday vowed to stay in Washington until they enact legislation this month to help constituents scarred by the pandemic. 


At the same time, leading Republicans in the nation’s capital reached out to Joe BidenJoe BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE as the 46th president, nudging President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE and his unfounded histrionics about election fraud further behind them. 


Findings that the Moderna vaccine is 94 percent effective set the stage by the end of this week for emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. Approval of Moderna’s version means Americans could soon have two highly effective drugs that produce immunity, after the first shots of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine were given to health care workers on Monday (NBC News).


Anthony FauciAnthony FauciCOVID-19 is a precursor for infectious disease outbreaks on a warming planet Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration Fauci: Approval of AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines likely 'weeks away' MORE, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biden’s incoming medical adviser for the pandemic, recommended during an ABC News interview that Trump, Vice President Pence, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden-Harris team unveils inauguration playlist Trump approval rating relatively unchanged in wake of Capitol rioting: NBC News poll Harris to resign from Senate seat on Monday MORE be vaccinated “for security reasons” against the coronavirus as soon as possible.


CNN: Pence is to receive the first dose of a vaccine on Friday.


Biden should be vaccinated right away to build up immunity by the time he takes office, Fauci said. “You want him fully protected as he enters into the presidency in January,” he added. 


The physician and immunologist, who will be 80 on Christmas Eve, said he hopes to get vaccinated in public in the coming weeks in order to try to allay Americans’ concerns about safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine currently distributed to hospitals and nursing homes throughout the country. 


Deliberations about which VIPs and officials are at the head of the line to receive inoculations include lawmakers. Members of Congress are grappling with whether they should be prioritized as essential workers when it comes to continuity of government (The Hill).


BBC: A COVID-19 virus “variant” was reported this week in the United Kingdom. It needs more scientific research to determine if it should raise alarm bells.


The Associated Press: Midwestern states see a drop in new COVID-19 cases.


The Hill’s Marty Johnson reports that the NAACP will hold a town hall meeting this morning focused on the coronavirus, urging that communities get vaccinated despite serious skepticism about vaccinations endorsed by the government. 


Testing: The FDA on Tuesday authorized the first coronavirus test that people will be able to buy at a local store without a prescription and use for immediate results at home. The test, made by Australian company Ellume, will cost about $30 and be available by January (NPR).


Workplace: Biden’s challenge will be creating a COVID-19-free White House. His team’s prudence about the virus will be tested by technology and tradition when he arrives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Jan. 20 (The Associated Press).


Trend: Tyson Foods hired its first chief medical officer, highlighting a growing trend among major companies. Businesses that have been in the spotlight throughout the pandemic have hired in-house health care professionals to deal with safety and wellbeing issues (The Hill).  





CONGRESS: Leaders of the House and Senate struck an optimistic tone late Tuesday night after hours of negotiations on an expansive COVID-19 relief and government spending package as they race to pass a bill by the end of the year. 


Despite not securing a deal or revealing any details of a potential agreement, lawmakers indicated that they were closer to consensus as staff on each side of the aisle exchanged legislative proposals. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump Rove: Chances of conviction rise if Giuliani represents Trump in Senate impeachment trial Boebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters late Tuesday that he expects a deal “soon.”


“We're making significant progress and I’m optimistic that we're going to be able to complete an understanding sometime soon,” McConnell said. “Everybody wants to get a final agreement as soon as possible. We all believe the country needs it. And I think we're getting closer and closer.”


When asked if he agreed with the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse GOP lawmaker: Trump 'put all of our lives at risk' Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Democrats seize on GOP donor fallout MORE’s (R-Calif.) that a deal was close, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCowboys for Trump founder arrested following Capitol riot Graham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump Biden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs MORE (D-N.Y.) replied that they were “closer.”


“We're exchanging paper and ideas back and forth, making progress and hopefully we can come to an agreement soon,” Schumer said. “I think there is a genuine desire to come to an agreement by all four parties.”


Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCowboys for Trump founder arrested following Capitol riot Retired Army general: 'We can't have demonstrators showing up at a state Capitol with damn long guns' Graham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump MORE (D-Calif.), McConnell, Schumer, and McCarthy met throughout Tuesday afternoon and evening in the Speaker’s office, breaking only for a brief intermission before reconvening at 7:30 p.m. 


As The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports, the absence of an agreement and an approaching deadline means there is pressure today to file text for omnibus legislation to keep the federal bureaucracy funded. Leaders are hoping to attach a stimulus package to the massive $1.4 trillion spending measure. The spending package would keep the government’s lights on until Oct. 1. Without an accord, the government could shut down before Christmas. 


The Washington Post: Congressional leaders meet, cite progress in spending and stimulus talks.


The Associated Press: Negotiators report progress on long-delayed COVID-19 aid bill.


NBC News: McConnell says Senate won't leave until COVID-19 aid is passed.


The Washington Post editorial board: Congress’s pandemic bill is late, imperfect — and needed. Pass it now.





Pelosi and Schumer are under increasing pressure. The effort to get a deal progressives favor has failed since House Democrats passed a $3 trillion measure in May and since talks with Republicans began in earnest in July. As The Hill’s Alexander Bolton and Scott Wong write, moderate Democrats are running out of patience and want to pass a relief measure before next week’s holiday, even though it could mean less leverage next year when Biden is president.


The Hill: Democrats see stimulus checks as winning issue in Georgia runoffs.


Reid Wilson, The Hill: Ex-Capitol Hill staffers build food pantry in pandemic.


POLITICS: McConnell congratulated Biden on Tuesday, calling him the president-elect and declaring that the Electoral College “has spoken” as the president continues to lob unfounded volleys claiming rabid voter fraud across the country. 


With the remarks, McConnell became the highest profile Republican to say outright that Biden will become the 46th president, ending weeks of silence from him about the results, having said that Trump had the right to take his case through the court system. McConnell and McCarthy are not on the same page about the presidential election results.


“Many of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result. But our system of government has the processes to determine who will be sworn in on Jan. 20. The Electoral College has spoken, so today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden,” McConnell said. “The president-elect is no stranger to the Senate. He's devoted himself to public service for many years” (The Hill and The Associated Press).


Shortly after McConnell’s address on the Senate floor, Biden told reporters that the two spoke Tuesday morning. The former VP thanked McConnell, a longtime Senate colleague, for his words as they prepare to work together in the coming years. 


“I called him to thank him for the congratulations,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Del. “I told him that while we disagree on a lot of things there are things we can work together on. We agreed to get together sooner than later. And I'm looking forward to working with him” (The Hill). 


With Biden’s victory in the rearview in McConnell’s mind, he pleaded with Senate Republicans not to object when Congress certifies Monday’s Electoral College vote on Jan. 6. McConnell’s request came during a caucus call on Tuesday, according to two sources, and as House Republicans are eyeing a challenge to the results during the joint session of Congress. 


A Republican senator who participated in the call said that McConnell, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP For platform regulation Congress should use a European cheat sheet Streamlining the process of prior authorization for medical and surgical procedures MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntUS Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots Senate to be briefed on inauguration security after Capitol attack This week: Democrats barrel toward Trump impeachment after Capitol attack MORE (Mo.) all urged colleagues not to object to states’ electoral votes when they are received on the House floor next month. The GOP leader argued that any Senate Republican who signs on to an objection by a House Republican would then force the Senate to debate and subsequently vote on the objection, putting fellow GOP senators in a bad spot. 


An objection “isn’t in the best interest of everybody,” McConnell said. No Senate Republicans indicated during the call that they are currently planning to object (The Hill).


The Hill: Senate GOP to Trump: The election is over.


Politico: How McConnell and the GOP let Trump down gently.


McConnell was not the only Senate Republican to speak with Biden on Tuesday. Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (Utah) revealed that he spoke over the phone with the incoming president, congratulating him for his victory and discussing the “challenging environment” that lays ahead (The Washington Post).


Politico: Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators call for commission to investigate Capitol attack Wisconsin Democrats make ad buy calling on Johnson to resign Efforts to secure elections likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress MORE (R-Wis.) gambles his political future on Trump.


> Georgia: On Tuesday, Biden made a rare post-election appearance outside of Delaware as he campaigned for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and pleaded with voters to hand him a Democratic majority in the Senate weeks ahead of the crucial Georgia Senate runoffs. 


“Send me these two men and we’ll control the Senate and change the lives of the people of Georgia,” Biden said at an outdoor car rally in front of the Pullman Yard in Atlanta.


Victories by Ossoff and Warnock would give Democrats 50 senators, providing them with a majority, with Harris serving as the tiebreaker.


Politico: “Vote like your lives depend on it”: Biden makes urgent plea in Georgia Senate races.


The Hill: Georgia GOP senators dig in on refusal to recognize Biden win.


The Washington Post: Palm Beach neighbors delivered a letter from an attorney on Tuesday to the town and to the U.S. Secret Service asserting that Trump cannot legally use his Mar-a-Lago club as his post-presidency residence because of an agreement he signed in the 1990s.  







NEW ADMINISTRATION: Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegOn The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits Buttigieg confirmation hearing slated for Thursday James Murdoch predicts 'a reckoning' for media after Capitol riot MORE, 38, who painted Biden during the Democratic presidential primary as an amiable Washington fossil, is the president-elect’s choice to be secretary of Transportation, Biden said in a statement late on Tuesday. It is Biden’s first LGBTQ Cabinet appointment and the youngest nominee to date (CNN). 


The president-elect also plans to select former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) to lead the Energy Department, and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyBiden's chief aide says president wants teams, no rivals Biden builds team to get aggressive on regs OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten air quality standard for smog | Green groups sue over Trump bid to open Alaska's Tongass forest to logging MORE to serve in a new White House role as a domestic climate policy coordinator (The Associated Press).


“Buttigieg is a barrier-breaking public servant from the industrial Midwest with a track record of trailblazing, forward-thinking executive leadership,” Biden said. “Jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate all come together at the DOT, the site of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better. I trust Mayor Pete to lead this work with focus, decency, and a bold vision — he will bring people together to get big things done.


Despite having governed a city of barely 100,000 people, Buttigieg as mayor was credited with transforming traffic with his Smart Streets initiative, a three-year project to convert 8 miles of multilane thoroughfares into two-way routes that enhanced South Bend’s downtown. The project received awards for environmental protection. Though on a far smaller scale than the nation’s transportation systems, the project, as well as Buttigieg’s initiative to convert the city’s sewers to a smart-flow system, demonstrate what supporters praised as Buttigieg’s next-generation infrastructure vision (The Associated Press).


The Washington Post: If confirmed, the first Washington chapter of Buttigieg’s fast rise in national politics will be at a sprawling agency long viewed as a solid, if unflashy, perch that could provide an opportunity to make a lasting mark. The job is currently held by Elaine ChaoElaine ChaoMcMaster: Trump running again would be 'terribly divisive' Azar in exit letter to Trump says Capitol riot could 'tarnish' legacy READ: Departure letter from HHS Secretary Azar to Trump MORE, McConnell’s wife.


CNN analysis: Why does Buttigieg, a wonk who was a Rhodes scholar and speaks at least half a dozen languages, want to be Transportation secretary? Answer: It offers prominent executive experience on the way to bigger things.


Other ex-mayors were considered for DOT, including former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served as White House chief of staff to former President Obama after serving in the House. He helped former President Clinton win the White House in 1992 and advised the former president and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRep. John Katko: Why I became the first Republican lawmaker to support impeachment Can we protect our country — from our rulers, and ourselves? For Joe Biden, an experienced foreign policy team MORE in the West Wing.


The top candidate to lead the Interior Department, Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandTrump sold off the Arctic Refuge — Biden can help save it OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Nine, including former Michigan governor, charged over Flint water crisis | Regulator finalizes rule forcing banks to serve oil, gun companies | Trump admin adds hurdle to increase efficiency standards for furnaces, water heaters Biden's chief aide says president wants teams, no rivals MORE (D-N.M.), is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and one of the first Native American women elected to Congress. She has emerged as Biden’s leading choice — amid intense lobbying by her supporters to get her the job (Reuters).


Inauguration update: Biden and Harris will be sworn into office from the west side of the Capitol, as is traditional, and Biden will deliver his inaugural address surrounded by a small contingent of invited guests, but nearly everything else will change on Jan. 20 (The Washington Post). The president-elect’s transition team and the Inaugural Committee are asking people to celebrate at home and not to travel to Washington for fear that COVID-19 will spread if people congregate (The Hill).




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 White House should order production of 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, by Ben Smilowitz, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2Ko3j4Z


What Trump has done to America, by Jonathan Rauch, contributing writer, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/37mN7dn



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The House returns to work at 2 p.m. for legislative business.


The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of Katherine Crytzer to be United States district judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee.


The president holds a Cabinet meeting at 11:30 a.m.


Vice President Pence participates in a Cabinet meeting at 11:30 a.m. At 2 p.m., he hosts an event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Pence at 4 p.m. will lead a White House coronavirus task force meeting.


Biden and Harris will introduce Buttigieg as Transportation nominee at 11:45 a.m. The event will be livestreamed. 


The Federal Reserve will release a policy statement at 2 p.m. at the conclusion of a two-day meeting. Chairman Jerome Powell will speak to the news media at 2:30 p.m. The Hill’s Sylvan Lane reports that Powell is poised for the Biden era in which he’s unlikely to face a barrage of presidential attacks and has an easy rapport with Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenOn The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits The Hill's Morning Report - How many Republicans will vote for Trump's impeachment? On The Money: Sanders will be gatekeeper for key Biden proposals | Senate majority gives Biden path to student loan forgiveness | Confirmation hearing for Yellen expected next Tuesday MORE, chosen to steer the Treasury Department.  


Economic indicator: The U.S. Census Bureau reports at 8:30 a.m. on retail sales in November. Analysts are watching for a monthly drop, which would be a first since April. 


INVITATION TODAY: The Hill Virtually Live at 1 p.m., “COVID-19, Tech and Economic Resilience,” with Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday McConnell says he's undecided on whether to vote to convict Trump McConnell won't reprise role as chief Trump defender MORE (R-S.C.); Rep. Suzan DelBeneSuzan Kay DelBeneWashington state neighbors underscore internal Democratic tensions Lawmakers, officials stress need to expand broadband access The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Moderna vaccine nears US approval; Congress cites 'progress' toward relief bill MORE (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


INVITATION: The Hill Virtually Live event on Thursday at 1 p.m., “Meet the New Members,” with Reps.-elect Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Gingrich: Trump should attend Biden inauguration Rep.-elect Issa says Trump should attend Biden inauguration MORE (R-Calif.), Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.) and Nikema Williams (D-Ga.). The Hill's Bob CusackRobert (Bob) CusackIncoming lawmakers stress coronavirus relief, economy as first priority of new session Rep.-elect Issa says Trump should attend Biden inauguration The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress slogs toward COVID-19 relief, omnibus deal MORE and Steve Clemons talk with some of the new (and new-to-their-districts) members who will shape the next House term. Information 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


INTERNATIONAL: The United States on Tuesday condemned “in the strongest terms” the abduction of more than 300 schoolboys from their school in northwestern Nigeria and was investigating Boko Haram’s claim of responsibility. A man identifying himself as the leader of Nigeria’s Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” in the local Hausa language, said the Islamist group was behind the kidnapping, which occurred on Friday at a secondary school in the country (Reuters). … French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronEU launches coronavirus vaccine campaign Macron now symptom-free after testing positive for COVID-19 France slowly allowing passengers, freight from UK to enter MORE has floated the idea of a referendum, which would require approval by the French government, to insert climate goals into France’s constitution (The Hill). … The European Union unveils its plan to rein in big tech (The Washington Post) and Facebook has some counter moves involving U.K. users (Reuters).


SUPREME COURT: Justices on Tuesday again sided with religious groups in Colorado and New Jersey that argued that the states' COVID-19-related restrictions on worship services violated religious liberty rights, the latest in a string of rulings against pandemic guidelines in recent weeks. In unsigned orders, the justices wiped away lower court opinions in challenges that went in favor of the states: one brought by the Rev. Kevin Robinson and Rabbi Yisrael A. Knopfler in New Jersey and the other brought by a small Colorado church (CNN).


STOLEN SECRETS: Could a sophisticated and monthslong attack on U.S. government email and databases believed to have been carried out on behalf of the Russian government have turned up U.S. nuclear secrets? COVID-19 vaccine data? Blueprints for next-generation weapons systems? It will take weeks, maybe years in some cases, for digital sleuths combing through U.S. government and private industry networks to get the answers after the mammoth hack first came to light earlier this month (The Associated Press).


And finally … The sports memorabilia business is booming, with big-ticket items going (or set to go for) large sums of dough on the marketplace. 


A sale next week by Christie’s and Hunt Auctions in New York is set to feature a Lou Gehrig 1931 jersey that could go for a cool $1.5 million. The auction lot, which features 152 items and could fetch between $4 million and $7 million, includes a Louisville Slugger bat used by Babe Ruth between 1916 and 1918. The bat is expected to sell for between $500,000 and $1 million (Bloomberg News). 


Elsewhere, Wayne Gretzky, who holds dozens of hockey records, added another to his résumé: His 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee rookie card sold for nearly $1.3 million at an auction last week. The item was the first hockey card to sell for north of $1 million (the card sold for $465,000 only four years ago). According to Heritage Auctions, the card is only one of two from the set to receive a perfect Gem Mint 10 score from the Professional Sports Authenticator grading service (NBC Sports).