The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump's new phone call controversy, Georgia runoffs headline big week

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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported this morning: 351,590.

Washington is gearing up for a momentous week as President TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE and his allies wage a pressure campaign to overturn the election ahead of Wednesday’s Electoral College certification, Tuesday’s Georgia Senate runoffs will determine the Senate majority and the 117th Congress kicked off over the weekend. 


Wednesday’s certification, which will officially cement President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden 'disappointed' in Senate parliamentarian ruling but 'respects' decision Taylor Swift celebrates House passage of Equality Act Donald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' MORE as the 46th president, came under the microscope again Sunday as Trump pushed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to “find” nearly 12,000 votes to flip the state’s 16 electoral votes into his column. He added that there’s “nothing wrong” with saying that the state “recalculated” its tallies.


“All I want to do is this,” the president added during the hour-long phone call on Saturday. “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state” (The Washington Post).


The leaked phone call equated to pouring gasoline on a fire as Trump and his allies keep up a futile, last-ditch effort to contest the election results. At least 12 senators, led by Sens. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyOpen-ended antitrust is an innovation killer Haley isolated after Trump fallout Trump to reemerge on political scene at CPAC MORE (R-Mo.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzJohn Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report Huawei backs supply chain security standards in wake of SolarWinds breach The Memo: Biden faces first major setback as Tanden teeters MORE (R-Texas), have thrown their weight behind challenges to the Electoral College results on Wednesday, when Congress convenes a joint session to formally count the vote (The Hill).


The latest machinations have prompted rebukes from across the political landscape. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle urged GOP members against challenging the results on Sunday (The Hill). Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamJohn Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report Parliamentarian nixes minimum wage hike in coronavirus bill McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE (R-S.C.), a top ally of the president, notably declined to side with the 12 senators, arguing that they have a high bar to clear with their claims. Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonTrump to reemerge on political scene at CPAC Romney-Cotton, a Cancun cabbie and the minimum wage debate On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears MORE (R-Ark.) warned that Hawley and Cruz’s efforts will “establish unwise precedents.” Adding to the opposition, all 10 living former Defense secretaries — including James MattisJames Norman MattisThe soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs The GOP senators likely to vote for Trump's conviction Mission near impossible: Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon MORE and Mark EsperMark EsperCORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report Female generals' promotions held back over fears of Trump's response: report Overnight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command MORE, who served under Trump, and former Vice President Dick Cheneypenned an op-ed calling on the Pentagon to refrain from impeding the transition of power.  


The Washington Post: Bitter GOP split upends the pomp as a new Congress takes over.


The Hill: Rep. Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene RoyHouse passes sweeping protections for LGBTQ people GOP's Chip Roy vows to fight Equality Act in court Conservatives go after Cheney for Trump CPAC remarks MORE (R-Texas) challenges seating of House members from six presidential battleground states.


Niall Stanage: The Memo: 48 hours that will shape start of Biden presidency.


Dan Balz: Trump knows no limits as he tries to overturn the election.


Washington is by no means the only place where tensions are simmering. Georgia is set to take center stage on Tuesday with a pair of runoffs that will determine control of the Senate in the 117th Congress. The contests between Sen. David PerdueDavid PerdueThe 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 Perdue rules out 2022 Senate bid against Warnock MORE (R-Ga.) and Democrat Jon Ossoff, and Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerThe 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 Lawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing MORE (R-Ga.) and Democrat Raphael Warnock have turned increasingly nasty in recent weeks, with both sides trading barbs in a bare-knuckled partisan brawl.


According to the latest polls, Ossoff and Warnock hold the slightest of edges, but they remain prime toss-up contests. Adding to the drama, Trump and Biden will both appear in the state on Monday to make a final plea on behalf of their candidates, as The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant note. However, the lion’s share of attention is trained on the president given his unpredictable nature and Wednesday’s certification.


During Saturday’s call heard ‘round the political world, Trump heaped pressure on Raffensperger by citing the two contests, arguing that Perdue and Loeffler could be in jeopardy without action by the Georgia officials such as Raffensperger and Gov. Brian KempBrian KempGeorgia teachers to be next in line in state for coronavirus vaccine The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan Lawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing MORE (R).


“You have a big election coming up and because of what you’ve done to the president — you know, the people of Georgia know that this was a scam. Because of what you’ve done to the president, a lot of people aren’t going out to vote, and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative, because they hate what you did to the president,” Trump told Raffensperger before adding that the Republican official would be “respected, really respected, if this can be straightened out before the election.”





Trump’s appearance tonight has also launched an inordinate amount of unease on the GOP side. Multiple GOP strategists involved in Senate races told the Morning Report that they are praying that he urges voters to get to the polls on Tuesday to back the pair of Trump allies. 


“There’s a lot riding on his visit. There is so much nervousness about what’s going to happen, I can’t even describe it. If he tells Republicans to go vote, we win. If he does something other than that, we don’t. I was optimistic until this thing came out today,” one operative said Sunday night, adding that “the unknown on how he reacts” is a major concern heading into tonight.


“What does he say?” the operative added. “All he’s got to do is tell people to vote and do the YMCA.”


On the Democratic side, the campaigns are hopeful that coupled with Biden’s appearance, the Trump who appeared in the Raffensperger call will provide more clarity for Peach State voters.


"It's going to be an interesting split screen: What's possible and what we've been through the past four years,” an Ossoff spokesperson told The Morning Report. 


According to a source, Perdue is not expected to attend tonight’s rally as he remains in quarantine after being in direct contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19.


The Hill: Georgia Senate candidates in full-court press ahead of pivotal runoff elections.


The New York Times: Georgia is getting more blue. The Senate races will tell how much.


The Hill: Loeffler sidesteps questions on challenging Electoral College vote in Senate.


The Washington Post: Loeffler and Perdue try to steer around Republican infighting as Georgia runoff races draw to a close.


James Arkin, Politico: Democrats go back where they started to expunge Trump era: Jon Ossoff.





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CONGRESS: Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster House Democrats to keep minimum wage hike in COVID-19 relief bill for Friday vote Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow MORE (D-Calif.) won a fourth term as Speaker to open the 117th Congress on Sunday, winning by a slim margin after surprising House Democratic losses in the 2020 midterms left her with a slim margin to retain the speakership.


As Mike Lillis and Scott Wong detail, Pelosi won in a 216-209 vote, with five House Democrats declining to support the California Democrat on the chamber floor. The total represented a sharp decline in opposition within Democratic ranks as 15 House Democrats defected two years ago. Pelosi has led the House Democratic Caucus since 2003. 


Prior to the vote, Pelosi had said that the only thing standing between her and the Speakership was COVID-19, which complicated her path as multiple members were in quarantine or had recently tested positive for the virus. The issue was in clear view as Rep. Gwen MooreGwen Sophia MooreLawmakers urge IRS to boost outreach about tax credits for low-income Americans McMorris Rodgers floats vacating Speaker's chair over Democrat's in-person vote after COVID diagnosis House approves rules package for new Congress MORE (D-Wis.), who announced that she tested positive for the virus on Dec. 26, was present to vote for Pelosi. Despite protests from Republicans, Moore said that she quarantined for two weeks and was cleared to return by Brian Monahan, the Capitol's attending physician.


It is unknown why Moore waited until the day after Christmas to publicly report her positive COVID-19 test. Moore also told reporters on Sunday that she did not have a negative test result before returning to the Capitol, which has experienced waves of cases among lawmakers, staffers and Capitol workers in recent months.


Politico: COVID-19 worries overshadow first day of new Congress.







CORONAVIRUS: The U.S.’s coronavirus death toll reached a new grim milestone on Sunday as questions surround the national vaccination effort amid a lackluster early distribution effort after the government missed its initial goal of Americans receiving 20 million doses of the vaccine by the end of 2020. 


On Sunday, the U.S. eclipsed 350,000 deaths from COVID-19 as officials brace for another post-holiday travel surge in cases. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 20 million people have been infected with the virus since the pandemic began nearly one year ago (The Hill). However, officials once again found themselves in a back-and-forth with the president as he claimed that the government has “exaggerated” the number of deaths from the virus that has wreaked havoc around the world.


“Well, the deaths are real deaths. I mean, all you need to do is to go out into the trenches, go to the hospitals, see what the health care workers are dealing with. They are under very stressed situations in many areas of the country. The hospital beds are stretched,” Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci: Whatever COVID-19 vaccine is available, 'take it' Julia Roberts presents Award of Courage to Fauci: 'You have been a beacon for us' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help MORE, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told ABC News’s “This Week” (The Hill).


The Sunday Shows: Health officials push back on Trump's 'exaggerated' COVID death toll claim.


The Hill: Surgeon General Jerome AdamsJerome AdamsThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden argues for legislative patience, urgent action amid crisis Biden to name nurse as acting surgeon general: report Judge drops case against former surgeon general over alleged virus restrictions violation MORE vows COVID-19 surge can be tempered. 


With rising cases and deaths, all eyes remain on the distribution of the vaccine, which has been underwhelming since Pfizer and BioNTech’s shot was approved in early December. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 4.2 million people have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Saturday, while 13 million doses have been distributed and 20 million doses allocated.


This has increased the urgency for officials to inoculate larger swaths of the population. Operation Warp Speed chief adviser Moncef Slaoui said on Sunday that one way to speed up vaccinations could be to give two half-volume doses of the Moderna vaccine to some individuals. 


“We know that for the Moderna vaccine, giving half the dose for people between the ages of 18 to 55 — two doses, half the dose, which means exactly achieving the objective of immunizing double the number of people with the doses we have — we know it induces identical immune response to the 100 microgram dose,” Slaoui said (CNBC).


The Washington Post: Coronavirus vaccine has arrived, but frustrated Americans are struggling to sign up.


The Associated Press: Fauci: Vaccinations are ramping up in a “glimmer of hope.”


The Hill: Twenty states raise minimum wage at start of new year.





> International: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated Sunday that increased restrictions could be in the offing as the country struggles to contain a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, which is behind a surge of cases there. 


“We are entirely reconciled to do what it takes to get the virus under control, that may involve tougher measures in the weeks ahead,” Johnson told the BBC. “Obviously there are a range of tougher measures that we would have to consider.”


Great Britain has recorded more than 50,000 cases daily for six days, with the spike showing no signs of letting up (The Associated Press). 


Reuters: Germany poised to extend coronavirus lockdown.


The Associated Press: India OKs AstraZeneca and locally made COVID-19 vaccines.


NEW ADMINISTRATION: While Trump readies his election challenges, the incoming administration will face myriad challenges of its own, including multiple on the world stage after Biden’s inauguration in more than two weeks. 


As The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel previews, a number of longtime concerns could take on a different shape, headlined by the U.S.’s relationship with China. However, the Chinese issue is not the only one to keep an eye on in that region of the world as concerns surrounding North Korea are expected to crop up again. 


Another key issue is troop deployments. Biden has pledged to wind down so-called forever wars and bring most U.S. troops home from places such as Afghanistan, leaving behind only a small number of special forces to conduct counterterrorism operations.


Meanwhile, the president-elect will have another situation to deal with in Saudi Arabia, which is bracing for a tougher relationship with the Biden team after having a solid relationship with the Trump administration. As The Hill’s Laura Kelly writes, Biden has labeled Saudi Arabia a “pariah” and promised a strong hand in relations with the country, especially confronting Riyadh over its human rights abuses. 


The former vice president has signaled he is looking to restore balance on the world stage rather than take on a revolutionary policy shift in the Middle East that took place under the Obama administration. However, the Saudis are skeptical of a second Obama era, with many of the same faces from that administration. They are positioning themselves to have a stronger hand in any efforts by the Biden team to negotiate with Iran and will protect Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the heir to the king, from any harsh treatment or criticism. 


The Hill: Biden inauguration will include “presidential escort” to White House, virtual parade.

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! 


Pharmacies can get shots in arms, by Scott Gottlieb, opinion contributor, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3n6P1DD 


The Holocaust stole my youth. COVID-19 is stealing my last years, by Toby Levy, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3ndbgYt 


The House meets at 10 a.m.


The Senate will convene on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.


The president will headline a “Defend the Majority” rally ahead of the Georgia Senate runoffs at 9 p.m. 


Vice President Pence will appear at a campaign event in Macon, Ga., at 12:05 p.m.


Biden will travel to Atlanta to campaign for Ossoff and Warnock ahead of Tuesday’s runoffs. Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTo unite America, Biden administration must brace for hate Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination MORE will receive the Presidential Daily Brief and meet with transition advisers. 


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


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TRANSPORTATION: Saturday represented the largest single travel day since the start of the pandemic, with nearly 1.2 million people passing through security checkpoints at airports despite warning from public health officials. The day was the culmination of the holiday season, which saw millions travel amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases and deaths (CNBC). 


INTERNATIONAL: Iran revealed that it will enrich uranium at its underground Fordo nuclear facility at levels up to 20 percent “as soon as possible.” The weekend announcement puts the Iranian nuclear program only one step away from weapons-grade levels, heaping pressure on Western nations as tensions between Iran and the U.S. continue to bubble at the surface. The U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 (The Associated Press).


POST-COVID-19 PREPARATIONS: In South Korea, demand for cosmetic surgery is on the rise as individuals prepare to ditch their masks for a world with a vaccine and normality. Ryu Han-na, a 20-year-old university student, told Reuters that she got a nose job because she is able to recuperate at home and wear a mask in public, concealing any bumps or bruises acquired from the surgery. The cosmetic industry in South Korea is also on the rise, with its worth expected to rise by 9 percent from 2020 to this year (Reuters). 


And finally … the Washington Football Team is heading back to the playoffs. 


The Football Team defeated a tanking Philadelphia Eagles squad on Sunday night, 20-14, to nail down the NFC East crown, the team’s first since 2015, in the 256th and final game of the NFL season. 


Washington will play host to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday night. Kickoff is slated for 8:15 p.m.