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 Biden as the 46th president, nudging President TrumpDonald TrumpDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report 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 FauciWatch live: White House holds briefing with COVID-19 response team CDC director: Vaccinated adolescents can remove masks outdoors at summer camps The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney 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 HarrisHarris says Mexico, US can work together to improve quality of life in Northern Triangle Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms says 'it is time to pass the baton on to someone else' Harris's uncle discusses COVID-19 surge in India: 'The conditions are pretty bad' 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 McConnellBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week GOP is consumed by Trump conspiracy theories The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Upbeat jobs data, relaxed COVID-19 restrictions offer rosier US picture 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 McCarthyBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week GOP is consumed by Trump conspiracy theories National Review editors defend Cheney from party attacks MORE’s (R-Calif.) that a deal was close, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Upbeat jobs data, relaxed COVID-19 restrictions offer rosier US picture How to fast-track climate action? EPA cutting super pollutant HFCs 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 PelosiBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July 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 BidenJoe BidenBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit On The Money: Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report | GOP targets jobless aid after lackluster April gain MORE,” 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 ThuneCheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Trump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan The Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Republicans embrace Trump in effort to reclaim Senate GOP attorneys general group in turmoil after Jan. 6 Trump rally 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 RomneyThe American Rescue Plan was a step toward universal basic income Cheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Florida's restrictive voting bill signed into law 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 JohnsonOvernight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna Vaccine hesitancy among lawmakers slows return to normalcy on Capitol Hill FBI was aware Giuliani was a target of a Russian influence campaign ahead of 2020 election: report 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 Buttigieg'Funky Academic:' Public has been 'groomed to measure progress by firsts' Biden administration in talks with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti for India ambassador post: reports Business groups target moderate Democrats on Biden tax plans 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 McCarthyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden officials unveil plan to conserve 30 percent of US lands and water | Watchdog questions adequacy of EPA standards for carcinogenic chemical emissions | Interior proposing revocation of Trump-era rollback on bird protections Biden officials unveil plan to conserve 30 percent of US lands and water Feehery: Biden seems intent on repeating the same mistakes of Jimmy Carter 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 ChaoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause Gingrich on Trump-McConnell feud: GOP 'better off' focusing on Democrats Trump rips McConnell in speech to Republicans 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 ClintonMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' Hillary Clinton: There must be a 'global reckoning' with disinformation Pelosi's archbishop calls for Communion to be withheld from public figures supporting abortion rights MORE in the West Wing.


The top candidate to lead the Interior Department, Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden officials unveil plan to conserve 30 percent of US lands and water | Watchdog questions adequacy of EPA standards for carcinogenic chemical emissions | Interior proposing revocation of Trump-era rollback on bird protections Biden officials unveil plan to conserve 30 percent of US lands and water Interior proposing revocation of Trump-era rollback on bird protections 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: Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report | GOP targets jobless aid after lackluster April gain Bad jobs report amplifies GOP cries to end 0 benefits boost Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report 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 ScottUpdating the aging infrastructure in Historically Black Colleges and Universities McConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' The instructive popularity of Biden's 'New Deal' for the middle class MORE (R-S.C.); Rep. Suzan DelBeneSuzan Kay DelBeneDemocrats signal House bill to go further than Biden proposal on child tax credit Democratic scramble complicates Biden's human infrastructure plan NIH reverses Trump administration's ban on fetal tissue research 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 IssaHouse Republicans urge opposition to vaccine patent waiver Republicans need to stop Joe Biden's progressive assault on America Mellman: Biden's smart bipartisan message MORE (R-Calif.), Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.) and Nikema Williams (D-Ga.). The Hill's Bob CusackRobert (Bob) CusackThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Tensions rise as U.S. waits for Derek Chauvin verdict Key Democrat says traveler fees should fund infrastructure projects Trump legal switch hints at larger problems 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 urges Biden administration to increase vaccine exports Thousands march in May Day protests across France The Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' 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).