The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Omicron tests vaccines; Bob Dole dies at 98

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COVID-19 testing site is seen in Times Square

 

 

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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths as of this morning: 788,364.

 

As of this morning, 70.4 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 59.4 percent is fully vaccinated, according to the Bloomberg News global vaccine tracker.



An anxious world is still waiting for scientists to decide if the omicron variant of COVID-19 can defeat the best vaccines, spread faster than the delta variant or pose greater risks of death and serious illness.

 

With an abundance of caution, U.S. scientists on Sunday said it was still too soon to say whether omicron is to be feared for its potency, its transmissibility or the dispiriting recognition that the delta winter surge of COVID-19, complicated by omicron that is now coast to coast in the United States, means the pandemic will circle the planet for eons. COVID-19 is nearing the two-year mark and has killed more than 5.2 million people, including 790,000 in the U.S.

 

The New York Times: Here’s what scientists say they know about the omicron version of COVID-19 so far.

 

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciLet's stop saying 'breakthrough cases' — it isn't helping The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Voting rights week for Democrats (again) Trump-DeSantis tensions ratchet up MORE, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,  says early reports about omicron offer glimmers of encouragement because the variant may be less dangerous than delta (The Associated Press).

 

A small study in South Africa, where omicron and its many mutations first surfaced, points to a pattern of milder illness from the new strain compared with earlier waves of COVID-19. U.S. regulators are hopeful that even if COVID-19 infections occur in fully vaccinated people, existing vaccines can prevent severe disease and hospitalizations (The Wall Street Journal).

 

The Hill: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Voting rights week for Democrats (again) Overnight Health Care — Biden faces pressure from Democrats on COVID-19 MORE confirmed that the Food and Drug Administration is in discussions with drug manufacturers to streamline federal authorization of an omicron-specific vaccine. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on CBS News on Sunday cautioned that variant-targeted vaccines “may not work” (The Hill). Omicron may not be the last COVID-19 variant we see, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said on Sunday (The Hill).

 

This week, new U.S. travel restrictions go into effect that impact everyone who enters the country from abroad by requiring negative test results within 24 hours of departure. Because omicron appears capable of spreading widely and with speed, and because fully vaccinated people have tested positive for the new variant since late November, omicron creates hurdles for travelers and the travel industry and for employers and businesses everywhere.

 

The Hill: A Norwegian Cruise Line ship experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 among 3,200 fully vaccinated passengers and crew before docking in New Orleans on Sunday. All of those who tested positive for COVID-19 during the cruise were asymptomatic.

 

Gyms, restaurants, airlines and other industries battered by the virus are bracing for another COVID-19 wave that could curb demand and spark renewed government restrictions. “We’re all on our toes right now, thinking, ‘Oh god, what’s going to happen next,’” Brett Ewer, head of government affairs at CrossFit, told The Hill. “The uncertainty really does not help, especially when so many gym owners are almost entirely bled out.”

 

President BidenJoe BidenPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy  Vilsack accuses China of breaking commitments in Trump-era trade deal MORE’s response to omicron, announced last week, places heavy reliance on at-home tests, which he said Friday would come at no cost in January under private insurance coverage and at low or no cost for Medicaid beneficiaries and low-income Americans. The Hill’s Peter Sullivan reports that there would still be considerable hassle for most people under Biden’s test-from-home plan.

 

Omicron has revived global calls for intellectual property waivers to encourage more rapid COVID-19 vaccine manufacture and distribution around the globe. The World Trade Organization faces pressures to approve such waivers but has delayed a decision. Many experts worry that because the developing world is still struggling to get shots in arms, COVID-19 has found perfect conditions to do what viruses do — mutate, evolve and adapt to their human hosts (The Hill).

 

The Wall Street Journal: Antiviral COVID-19 pills by Pfizer and Merck are likely to take longer to reach low- and middle-income countries because of manufacturing and pricing obstacles, despite licensing to generic drug makers.

 

Meanwhile on Sunday, all of official Washington focused on the death of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) at age 98, bringing to an end an extraordinary life that included Army service in World War II and recovery from serious war injuries, 11 years leading the Senate, and nomination by his party as presidential candidate in 1996. Dole announced early this year that he had stage 4 lung cancer (The Hill).

 

“Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep. At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years,” the Elizabeth Dole Foundation said in a statement on Sunday morning.

 

Dole, a man of dry wit, occasional dark moods and prairie sensibilities, represented Kansas from 1969 to 1996, rising to become a skilled institutionalist and Washington insider as Senate majority leader. Nominated by his party at age 73 to try to defeat former President Clinton in 1996, Dole lost by a wide margin. His wife Elizabeth Dole, now 85, previously ran the American Red Cross, served as secretary of both the Labor and Transportation departments, and served North Carolina as a U.S. senator.

 

News of Dole’s death after nearly a century since his birth in Russell, Kan., prompted an outpouring of tributes from former presidents, longtime colleagues, political figures and military veterans. In a lengthy statement, Biden hailed his former Senate colleague as “an American statesman like few in our history,” noting their decades-long friendship.

 

“To me, he was also a friend whom I could look to for trusted guidance, or a humorous line at just the right moment to settle frayed nerves. I will miss my friend,” Biden said. “Bob was a man to be admired by Americans. He had an unerring sense of integrity and honor. May God bless him, and may our nation draw upon his legacy of decency, dignity, good humor, and patriotism for all time.”

 

Clinton, who never served in the military or legislative branch, lauded his former presidential opponent for his public service.

 

“Bob Dole dedicated his entire life to serving the American people, from his heroism in World War II to the 35 years he spent in Congress,” the 41st president said. “After all he gave in the war, he didn’t have to give more. But he did. His example should inspire people today and for generations to come.”

 

Biden issued a proclamation ordering flags to be flown at half-staff through Thursday in Dole’s honor. As of this morning, information about funeral arrangements in Kansas and Washington was forthcoming.

 

The Washington Post: Robert J. Dole, longtime GOP leader who sought the presidency three times, dies at 98.

 

The Associated Press: Dole, a man of war, power, zingers and denied ambition.

 

The Kansas City Star: Dole — war hero, senator, presidential candidate, Kansan — dies at 98.

 

The Associated Press: Reactions, statements following Dole’s death.

 

 

Bob Dole and his wife Elizabeth wave from the podium on the floor of the Republican National Convention in San Diego, Aug. 15, 1996

 



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LEADING THE DAY

CONGRESS: Fresh from moving a must-pass bill through Congress last week, time is winding down for lawmakers to strike a separate deal to raise the debt ceiling as senators float a possible resolution: tying a debt limit hike to the annual defense bill that has struggled to make it through Congress.

 

As The Hill’s Jordain Carney and Aris Folley write, the idea has theoretical benefits as it would clear two top-shelf items off the congressional pre-Christmas to-do list ahead of the Dec. 15 deadline the U.S. Treasury has laid out for members to raise the debt ceiling.

 

However, the idea is already facing hurdles across the Capitol with House leaders on both sides of the aisle indicating it isn’t feasible and that members of neither party would go for it.

 

“We’ve told the Senate that. That’s the reality. Those are the numbers,” said House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPelosi says she's open to stock trading ban for Congress Former Maryland rep announces bid for old House seat Fury over voting rights fight turns personal on Capitol Hill  MORE (D-Md.), noting that Senate leaders had kicked around the possibility. “We don’t think it’s the best option because we’re not sure we can do it. And we have to pass the debt limit.”

 

If that option doesn’t work, lawmakers would be forced back to the drawing board to figure out how to increase the debt ceiling in the coming weeks. Unlike in October, Republicans have maintained that they will not vote to raise the borrowing limit, insisting that Democrats do so on their own via budget reconciliation. The GOP has offered to expedite that process down to a matter of days in a bid to deflect Democratic criticism that they don’t have enough time to go through the normally extensive reconciliation process.

 

The Bipartisan Policy Center predicted on Friday the U.S. would “no longer be able to meet its obligations in full and on time” between Dec. 21 and Jan. 28. Treasury Secretary Janet YellenJanet YellenYellen says Biden's COVID-19 relief bill 'acted like a vaccine for the American economy' On the Money — Yellen highlights wealth gap in MLK speech Yellen: US has 'much more work' to close racial wealth gap MORE has stuck to a Dec. 15 date when she says her department will exhaust internal maneuvers to avert default.

 

In the meantime, Democrats are also facing tumult on their end as they attempt to pass the Build Back Better agenda by Christmas, a possibility that is becoming more and more unlikely by the day as the chamber gets bogged down with the two aforementioned priorities.

 

Since Biden’s social-spending package passed the House, Democrats have made slow progress to move it through the upper chamber. Members still have not reached a final deal on the state and local tax deduction or on a number of energy provisions.

 

Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaBriahna Joy Gray: Last-minute push for voting legislation felt 'perfomative' Manchin: Biden spending plan talks would start 'from scratch' Manchin, Collins leading talks on overhauling election law, protecting election officials MORE (D-Ariz.), a key player in the debate, is predicting to colleagues the legislation will likely wait until after the holiday season. Senate Democratic aides say passage of the bill in January is looking more realistic.

 

“I think there are issues with the parliamentarian’s office,” one Democratic aide told The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. “I don’t think there’s the person power in the parliamentarian’s office to get everything done quickly.”

 

Topping off the troubles, Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBriahna Joy Gray: Last-minute push for voting legislation felt 'perfomative' Manchin: Biden spending plan talks would start 'from scratch' Manchin, Collins leading talks on overhauling election law, protecting election officials MORE (D-W.Va.) still has not committed to support starting debate on the multi trillion-dollar proposal, let alone whether he’ll vote on the final bill. Months ago, Manchin called on Democrats to wait until 2022 to take up the gargantuan proposal, which might take place one way or another.

 

The Hill: This week: Congress poised to go into December overtime.

 

The New York Times: How Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyClyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Florida Democrats call on DeSantis to accept federal help to expand COVID-19 testing MORE (D-Fla.), a Biden agenda holdout, helped salvage it.

 

The Hill: Pressure grows to remove Rep. Lauren BoebertLauren BoebertGOP Reps. Greene, Clyde accrue nearly 0K in combined mask fines Rand Paul cancels DirecTV subscription after it drops OAN Top House Democrat pushes for 'isolation boxes' for maskless lawmakers MORE (R-Colo.) from committees.

 

The Washington Post: Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarSenate needs to confirm Deborah Lipstadt as antisemitism envoy — Now Overnight Defense & National Security — DOD watchdog to review extremism screening Omar calls for closure of Guantánamo Bay prison after 20 years of 'lawlessness and cruelty' MORE (D-Minn.) says Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi says she's open to stock trading ban for Congress Manchin: Biden spending plan talks would start 'from scratch' Reps. Massie, Grijalva test positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Calif.) will take “decisive action” on Boebert’s anti-Muslim rhetoric this week.

 

 

 



IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS: Georgia Gov. Brian KempBrian KempPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Perdue proposes election police force in Georgia GOP governors press Biden administration for control of infrastructure implementation MORE’s (R) troubles are expected to grow this week as former Sen. David PerdueDavid PerduePerdue proposes election police force in Georgia Kemp campaign alleges Perdue team illegally coordinating with new fundraising committee Abrams treads carefully in relationship with Biden MORE (R-Ga.) is set to announce a primary bid against the state’s chief executive with the backing of former President TrumpDonald TrumpPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy  Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump MORE.

 

According to Politico, Perdue is set to make his announcement and file campaign paperwork later today in a bid for the seat, with the general election set to become one of the top gubernatorial contests on the map after Democrat Stacey Abrams announced her candidacy last week.

 

Kemp told reporters last week that the former senator (pictured below) had told him he wasn’t planning a primary campaign.

 

“All I know is what Sen. Perdue has told me. I hope he’ll be a man of his word, but again that’s not anything I can control,” Kemp said.

 

Immediately following news of Perdue’s imminent entrance, Kemp’s team lambasted the former senator, saying that he is best known for “ducking debates, padding his stock portfolio during a pandemic, and losing winnable races.”

 

“The man who lost Republicans the United States Senate and brought the last year of skyrocketing inflation, open borders, runaway government spending and woke cancel culture upon the American people now wants to lose the Georgia governor's office to the national face of the radical left movement,” Cody Hall, a Kemp spokesperson, said in a statement. “Perdue's only reason for running is to sooth his own bruised ego, because his campaign for U.S. Senate failed to inspire voters at the ballot box — twice.”

 

Niall Stanage: The Memo: News media obsess over Trump's past as he eyes a comeback.

 

 

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., speaks during a "Save the Majority" rally in Augusta, Ga.

 

 

> Abortion in 2022: Activists and candidates in key swing states are preparing for the impact of a potentially massive overhaul of abortion rights to take place only months before the 2022 midterm elections days after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments to consider a Mississippi law that bars abortions after 15 weeks.

 

If the high court does overturn or limit Roe v. Wade, critical swing states such as Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan would be among the dozens where experts say the ability to get an abortion would be in immediate danger, with a decision by the court expected by June 2022. Although legislative debates over abortion have been seen as more theoretical while Roe v. Wade is on the books, abortion rights activists say the concrete threat to the case will have a direct impact on voters.

 

There’s a lot of education left to do with explaining the threat, but I think the oral arguments yesterday went a long way in that,” said Samuel Lau, senior director of advocacy communications at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund (The Hill).

 

The Hill: Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) says he will enforce law banning most abortions in state if Roe is overturned.

 

The Hill: Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunThe Memo: Supreme Court, Sinema deliver twin blows to Biden How a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks MORE (R-Ind.) says abortion laws should be left up to states.

 

*****

 

ADMINISTRATION: Amid alarm in the United States and in Ukraine about Russia’s decision to amass thousands of troops at the border, triggering forecasts of a potential invasion, Biden will hold a video discussion on Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinIran announces naval drills with Russia, China Blinken calls for 'global action' against Russia amid Ukraine tensions Putin's options extend well beyond invasion MORE (The Hill).

 

The New York Times: What’s driving Putin’s Ukraine brinksmanship? 

 

On Thursday and Friday, Biden will convene a virtual Summit for Democracy with more than 100 participants, including Taiwanese officials — an event officials in China have called a “joke” and a “farce” (Bloomberg News).

 

Some U.S. pundits have said that while Biden is striving to champion democracies over autocracies, the administration’s decision to convene such a summit suggests some evolving vulnerabilities in basic messaging.

 

The United States this week will urge democracies to impose economic sanctions on corrupt foreign officials and those who abuse human rights — and will lead by example ahead of the summit (The Wall Street Journal and Reuters). 

 

 

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech

 

 

> 1 billion bitcoin: A year ago, the United States seized thousands of bitcoins tied to an illegal Silk Road marketplace, a dark web criminal enterprise. The value of the cryptocurrency tripled during that period, and the bitcoins will be auctioned, producing what could be a windfall for taxpayers if Uncle Sam’s timing is right (NBC News).

 

> Medicare deadline Tuesday: The open enrollment period ends this week after beginning on Oct. 15, allowing beneficiaries to change Medicare plans or make adjustments for 2022. All Medicare recipients are urged to review how their plans will change beginning Jan. 1 and make decisions that affect their benefits and costs before the Tuesday deadline. Only 67 percent of those in the Medicare program review their coverage annually, according to a recent survey. Here’s what you need to know while there’s still time. The Social Security cost of living hike of 5.9 percent next year will be among the highest seen in years, but the rise in Medicare premiums for seniors will eat into those gains (CNBC).

 

One reason Medicare premiums will rise next year is a manufacturer’s price hike for an expensive Alzheimer’s drug on which millions of seniors rely. The drug called Aduhelm is responsible for about half of the $21.60 increase in monthly premiums for Medicare's Part B outpatient program in 2022, Medicare officials report (U.S. News & World Report).

 

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Briahna Joy Gray: Last-minute push for voting legislation felt 'perfomative' Biden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service MORE (I-Vt.) on Friday urged Biden to delay the contingency Medicare Part B price hike and crack down on Aduhelm manufacturer Biogen. Medicare Part B, which covers services such as doctor checkups, will increase by $21.60 per month, from $148.50 in 2021 to $170.10 in 2022. Officials said it is one of the largest increases in recent years. The Biogen drug has drawn controversy both for its price, at $56,000 per year, and because the Food and Drug Administration approved it despite doubts from experts about its effectiveness (The Hill).

 

Biden today will speak about Medicare drug prices and how costs might be lowered under his nearly $2 trillion proposed social spending and climate legislation.



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! 



OPINION

The goodness of Bob Dole, by George F. Will, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/31uWVBR

 

Labor pains and opportunities in baseball, by Fay Vincent, opinion contributor (and former MLB commissioner), The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3rHm5rA



A MESSAGE FROM UBER

Flexibility works


Whether it's because of the freedom to pick their hours, pick their rides, or
simply pick their kids up on time, 86% of drivers say they need flexibility.*


*From a Benenson Strategy Group survey.


See how flexibility works for over 3.3 million drivers.



WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at noon on Tuesday.

 

The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of Jessica RosenworcelJessica RosenworcelHillicon Valley — Airlines issue warning about 5G service Airlines warn of 'catastrophic' crisis when new 5G service is deployed In this critical moment for digital access, we must confirm Gigi Sohn for the FCC MORE to be a member of the Federal Communications Commission.

 

The president and Vice President Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10 a.m. Biden at 2 p.m. will deliver remarks about the pending Build Back Better agenda and its potential impact on Medicare drug prices.

 

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Biden clarifies any Russian movement into Ukraine 'is an invasion' Blinken calls for 'global action' against Russia amid Ukraine tensions MORE at Foggy Bottom will meet at 9:30 a.m. with Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize advocate for girls and education Malala Yousafzai.

 

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1 p.m.

 

INVITATIONS to The Hill’s Virtually Live events this week: “Strengthening America’s Healthcare System,” TUESDAY at 1 p.m., with Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowMichigan Republican John James 'strongly considering' House run Updated reconciliation text includes electric vehicle tax credit opposed by Manchin Stabenow calls for expansion of school mental health services MORE (D-Mich.) and Reps. Robin KellyRobin Lynne KellyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - New vaccine mandate in NYC; Biden-Putin showdown The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Omicron tests vaccines; Bob Dole dies at 98 Maternal and child health legislation must be prioritized now MORE (D-Ill.) and Brad WenstrupBrad Robert WenstrupThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - New vaccine mandate in NYC; Biden-Putin showdown The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Omicron tests vaccines; Bob Dole dies at 98 Lawmakers look to combat obesity with expanded access to medication, therapy  MORE (R-Ohio) (information is HERE); and “The Great Rebuild: The Hill’s Infrastructure Summit” on WEDNESDAY at 1 p.m., with expertise from Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Overnight Energy & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks GOP senator blocks Biden EPA nominees over coal plant decision MORE (D-Del.) and Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonThe fates of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump House Republican, Democrat say political environment on Capitol Hill is 'toxic' Sunday show preview: Omicron surges, and Harris sits for extensive interview MORE (R-Mich.), plus other federal and municipal officials and advocates (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. ET at Rising on YouTube.



ELSEWHERE

➔ INTERNATIONAL: A Myanmar court on Monday sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s ousted leader, to four years in prison after she was found guilty of violating COVID-19 restrictions and incitement as she awaits verdicts on other charges next week. If found guilty on those charges as well, Suu Kyi faces more than 100 years in prison. The decisions come more after she was removed from her position atop the country in February (The Associated Press).

 

➔ CITY WATCH: An alarming uptick in recent smash-and-grab flash mob crimes has jolted consumers in stores and malls in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and other metropolitan areas. Merchants and police are struggling to prevent thefts, damages and the fear such incidents leave behind (The Hill).

 

➔ ARMAGEDDON? CLOSE ENOUGH: On Saturday, NASA expects an asteroid the size of the Eiffel Tower to be at its closest point to Earth in two decades. Known as 4660 Nereus, the asteroid, discovered in 1982, is classified by scientists as a “potentially hazardous” piece of rock because of its proximity to the planet (The Hill).

 

➔ PHOTOS OF 2021: The Associated Press shows us that this has been a year of pain for too many around the world, interrupted by moments of joy, beauty and humanity. Photographs tell the story, and we recommend this impactful, emotional slideshow, which includes the images, below. Young Laila was photographed on Sept. 27 in Kabul a month after U.S. troops departed Afghanistan. Rivka Papo, 87, was photographed last month in Jerusalem during a beauty pageant that honored Holocaust survivors.

 

 

Laila poses for a photo on Sept. 27, 2021, as she plays in a poor neighborhood in Kabul

 

 

 

Holocaust survivor Rivka Papo, 87, gets makeup applied during a special beauty pageant

 



THE CLOSER

And finally … Biden and first lady Jill BidenJill BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Jill Biden adds to communications team in lead-up to midterm elections Harris invokes MLK in voting rights push, urges Senate to 'do its job' MORE on Sunday hosted a high-wattage guest list at the holiday-decorated White House before attending the 44th Kennedy Center Honors, "reinstating a longstanding tradition that was interrupted" during the Trump era, the White House noted.

 

The honorees this year were Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell and television producer Lorne Michaels, operatic bass-baritone Justino Díaz and Motown founder Berry Gordy (The Washington Post).

 

Sunday’s Kennedy Center entertainment and tributes will be broadcast Dec. 22 on CBS.