The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Georgia's Warnock defeats Loeffler; Democrats close in on Senate majority

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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. 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, 351,590; Tuesday, 353,621; Wednesday, 357,385.


The United States has surpassed 21 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.

For the first time in six years, the Senate is on the verge of changing hands, and perhaps reshaping the trajectory of national governance.


Democrats are on the precipice of pulling off two momentous victories in a pair of Senate runoff contests in Georgia, delivering a sharp rebuke to 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 only hours before Congress is set to formalize the will of voters in 50 states to name former Vice President 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 the 46th president on Jan. 20.


Democrat Raphael Warnock is the projected victor this morning over Sen. 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.), making the 51-year-old Baptist minister the first African American senator in Georgia history. He leads by 54,000 votes (a 1.2 percent margin) in a nationalized contest that saw landmark campaign spending and turnout (The Hill).


In the second race, Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 33-year-old media producer, leads former Sen. 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.) by 16,000 votes (a 0.37 percent margin), just inside the necessary 0.5 percent margin that would trigger a recount, potentially delaying any immediate official resolution of the race. The contest remains uncalled (The Hill).


The potential loss for the GOP rocked the party as Republican officials and analysts castigated Trump for his refusal to concede the Nov. 3 election while presenting a muddled, false message to Georgia voters that their participation was part of a rigged electoral process. 


In November, the incumbent Perdue led challenger Ossoff by 88,000 votes only to see that advantage wiped away in Tuesday’s runoff following a tumultuous two months and intense campaigning and organizing by Democrats in the now blue-hued state. 


“When the president convinces senators to go along with overthrowing the election results, the upscale white voters in ‘burbs don’t break your way. And then when he says elections are rigged, so don’t bother, the base doesn’t show up,” one source familiar with the race told the Morning Report. 


Trump’s refusal to concede the November result in Georgia, having lost to Biden there by 11,779 votes, also created headaches for the party as they lost a key messaging opportunity. According to a Senate GOP campaign official, the most persuasive message to Republican voters in the Peach State was to return Perdue and Loeffler to Washington to hold the Senate majority as checks on a Democratic executive branch. But Republicans could not sustain that message because Trump will not acknowledge Biden’s victory and continues to baselessly lob claims of widespread voter fraud. 


Niall Stanage: The Memo: Georgia voters deliver blow to Trump.


Politico: Republicans turn on Trump after Georgia loss.


Warnock declared victory in a speech shortly before The Associated Press and other outlets officially handed him the race against Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat in Dec. 2019 after the retirement of former Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonLoeffler leaves door open to 2022 rematch against Warnock Perdue on potential 2022 run: GOP must regain the Senate Bottom line MORE (R-Ga.). 


“We were told that we couldn’t win this election, but tonight we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible,” Warnock said. “So Georgia, I am honored by the faith that you have shown in me and I promise you this tonight: I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election.”


Loeffler refused to concede the race while speaking to an election night event. Warnock is up for reelection again in 2022. 


In the sister contest, Ossoff’s team said in a statement after 1 a.m., that he expects to defeat the senator whose term ended on Sunday. Perdue, through his campaign, said he will contest the early results. 


“We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted,” the campaign said in a statement. “We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.”


Outlets could be set to call the other race for Ossoff in the coming hours in what is shaping up to be the last stand of the Trump presidency. 


The Associated Press: Warnock makes history with Senate win as Democrats near a Senate majority.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Warnock scores historic win; Ossoff leads Perdue.


Josh Kraushaar, National Journal: GOP traditionalists showing resilience against the Kraken.


The seismic Georgia results will weigh this afternoon on lawmakers who will gather in a joint session of Congress to affirm the results of November’s presidential and vice presidential contests. The event, normally routine, has stirred Trump’s animus and attracted thousands of pro-Trump demonstrators to Washington.





In a Capitol accustomed to the mossy theatrics of ceremony and glacial adaptations to change, today’s joint session will showcase political performances that purport to be insurrection, but alter little when it comes to governance, election integrity or the end of Trump’s term in two weeks.


Challenges by some House and Senate Republicans who object to Trump’s loss to Biden in the Electoral College will fail because all 50 states have certified their tallies, courts have ruled on legal challenges to election results and procedures, and Vice President Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, will read aloud that Biden has 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232, despite the president’s refusal to concede. Pence will also affirm that Sen. 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 (D-Calif.) becomes vice president on Jan. 20.


The Hill: Explainer: Here’s how lawmakers will conduct today’s joint session.  


The Hill: Thirteen senators and as many as 140 House Republicans are expected to turn Congress’s electoral count into a partisan skirmish. Many Republicans are nervous that they would lose a primary in 2022 if they cross the president. "We don't have a choice," said one reluctant House Republican, citing pressure from Trump and the conservative GOP base. 


Meanwhile, the president plans to add to the day’s drama by speaking to pro-Trump demonstrators outside the White House on the Ellipse at 11 a.m. Thousands of Trump supporters, including members of the extremist group Proud Boys, are in Washington to protest Congress’s certification of Biden’s electoral victory.


The Associated Press: Some Republican Trump allies in Congress plan to object to electoral results in six battleground states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). If an objection has support in writing from both a House member and a senator, then both chambers will vote on the objection today.


The Hill: Five things to watch during today’s proceedings, including House and Senate votes and the role presidential ambitions for 2024 play today.


The Hill: In the Senate, Republicans opposed to the challenge planned by some of their colleagues outnumber those who support a vote on a proposed audit of the election results.


The Hill: Trump sought to turn Pence’s role into a loyalty test, pressuring him to challenge Biden’s win. But Pence’s staff said on Tuesday that the vice president will defend Trump while also adhering to the role assigned to him under the Constitution. “He will be very supportive of the president, but again he’ll stick to the Constitution,” a former adviser said. “It is a ceremonial role. It is opening up envelopes and reading the contents of it,” he said. “That’s it. This is a ceremonial ... position” (Reuters).


The vice president told Trump on Tuesday that he does not have the authority to block states’ certification of Biden’s victory (The New York Times and The Hill). The president disagreed in a statement Tuesday night and a subsequent tweet Wednesday morning, heaping pressure on his VP. 


“If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency. Many States want to decertify the mistake they made in certifying incorrect & even fraudulent numbers in a process  NOT approved by their State Legislatures (which it must be). Mike can send it back!” Trump tweeted





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CORONAVIRUS: The Hill’s Reid Wilson offers a status report on COVID-19 and writes that there is some good news amid this pandemic winter (The Hill). 


> Vaccines: Website crashes and tech glitches have been reported across the country as Americans try to book coronavirus vaccine appointments, further impacting a rollout already behind schedule based on the goals the Trump administration set (The Hill). To date, fewer than 5 million people in the United States have received doses of the approved vaccines, a dramatic lag behind available supplies (The New York Times).





> COVID-19 variant: A more transmissible variant of the coronavirus, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, has been confirmed in Georgia, New York, Florida, California and Colorado, suggesting it is circulating widely in the United States. Thus far, scientists do not believe the mutation causes people to be sicker or makes them more at risk of dying, and they believe available vaccines are still effective against it.


> International: World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday that he is “very disappointed” that China will not allow a team of experts to enter the country to determine the origin of the novel coronavirus. The team of 10 individuals was set to arrive in China this month, but Chinese officials have not finalized the “necessary permissions” for them to enter the country (Reuters). … In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE announced Tuesday that the country will enter a third lockdown. Netanyahu told members of his cabinet that Israel is “in a state of emergency,” leading to the lockdown that will start on Friday. Schools and nonessential businesses will be closed and residents will be confined to a 1-kilometer radius of their homes (CNBC).


> Entertainment: The Grammy Awards, set to take place on Jan. 31, were delayed on Tuesday due to concerns about COVID-19 transmission. The 63rd edition of the music awards will now be held on March 14 (The New York Times).



POLITICS: Republicans who are eyeing presidential bids in 2024 are not all of one mind about whether to back Trump's challenge to the Electoral College, although they are eager to curry favor with his base (The Hill).


> Trump’s exit: Needless to say, there’s much speculation about what Trump will do on Jan. 20. Advisers have indicated in multiple reports that Trump will be a no-show at Biden’s inauguration because of his unsubstantiated assertions that he won the election. Scenarios and speculation have been floated in which Trump refuses to leave the White House and has to be removed by the Secret Service, or flies to a rally and announces his 2024 bid for the presidency, or hunkers down in Florida on Inauguration Day to comment on Twitter or TV. Scotland briefly emerged as a possible new exit strategy: The Herald in the United Kingdom reported on flight data that raised the possibility that Trump could opt to escape with a Jan. 19 trip to his Turnberry golf resort. Then Scotland’s first minister threw cold water on the idea, saying on Tuesday that Trump as a U.S. traveler would be barred by COVID-19 travel restrictions (MarketWatch). 


> Lessons from campaign ads: The Democrats’ most effective election ads in 2020 did not feature Trump. Low-budget and DIY campaign ads, especially tied to the pandemic, made an impact with voters and helped Biden win (Bloomberg Businessweek).


NEW ADMINISTRATION: On Tuesday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, FBI, National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency jointly issued a statement saying the recent SolarWinds cyberattack is “likely Russian in origin” (The New York Times). The government said, “This is a serious compromise that will require a sustained and dedicated effort to remediate.


> Biden’s Iran challenges: Increasingly provocative moves by Tehran and actions by the outgoing Trump administration complicate the president-elect’s strategic choices when it comes to Iran. The decades-long American nemesis has been a target of blame for much of the Middle East’s instability (The Associated Press). … On Tuesday, the government took precautions to respond to a threat to attack the Capitol, purportedly to avenge the death of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. While authorities do not believe the threat heard on Monday by New York air traffic controllers is credible, it is being investigated as a breach of aviation frequencies (CBS News). 


> Tax season: The IRS faces challenges bridging one administration to the next while ensuring that every eligible American receives the recently enacted rebate payouts. The agency also has to implement other aspects of the coronavirus relief law. The new responsibilities arise weeks before the expected start of the tax-filing season. Experts expect the upcoming filing season to spark some taxpayer confusion when eligible filers who did not receive their stimulus checks can claim them as a credit (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! 


A GOP congressman is putting a spotlight on the hypocrisy of his fellow Republicans, by Karen Tumulty, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3pYGh4l 


Trump threw it away, by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3pRyrJx 


The House and Senate will meet in a joint session of Congress at 1 p.m. to formally count the presidential Electoral College votes, which are 306 for Biden and 232 for Trump (The Washington Post). Objections raised by some GOP lawmakers will result in hours of debate and votes that ultimately will not alter Biden’s inauguration as the 46th president at noon on Jan. 20.


The president plans to attend pro-Trump demonstrations in the nation’s capital. He will address supporters at 11 a.m. (The Washington Post and CNBC).


Vice President Pence presides over the joint session of Congress as president of the Senate.


Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinOn The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears Mnuchin expected to launch investment fund seeking backing from Persian Gulf region: report Larry Kudlow debuts to big ratings on Fox Business Network MORE is making the final international trip of his four years with the department, visiting Egypt today, as well as Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Qatar (Al-Monitor and Bloomberg News).


Biden and Harris will be briefed by members of the incoming administration’s economic team. The president-elect will then deliver remarks on the economy in Wilmington, Del. Harris will also receive the President’s Daily Brief. 


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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JUSTICE:  Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced Tuesday that no charges will be filed against any of the officers involved in the police shooting of 23-year-old Jacob Blake over the summer, determining the officers had acted in self-defense. Graveley added during a press conference that no charges would be filed against Blake, who was left paralyzed after he was shot seven times in the back by Kenosha police officers as he attempted to enter his vehicle (The Hill).


INAUGURATION: Former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush plan to attend Biden’s swearing-in at the Capitol (CNN). … Former President Carter, 96, and former first lady Rosalynn Carter, 93, who sent Biden good wishes, announced Tuesday that they will not travel to attend inaugural events in two weeks. Their absence will mark the first time Carter will not be present at an inauguration since being sworn in himself as the 39th president in 1977 (The Associated Press).





SPORTS: University of Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith took home the Heisman Trophy on Tuesday night, becoming the first wide receiver to win the award since 1991 during a virtual ceremony. Smith is the third Alabama player to win bronze statue, having beat out three quarterbacks for the accolade. Smith leads all receivers this year in catches (105), yards (1,641) and touchdowns (20). Alabama will take on Ohio State on Monday in the National Championship game (ESPN).


And finally … the next time you fly, those onboard may look a bit less cute and furry. 


American Airlines announced Monday that it will no longer allow emotional support animals to accompany passengers and that anyone wishing to bring a pet on board will have to pay extra. The airline said that the only pets it will allow to board aircrafts are trained service dogs. 


The move will take effect on Monday (The Associated Press).