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Vaccines and electors: A pair of inflection points
As the year winds to a close, the two dominant political stories of 2020 — the election and the coronavirus — each arrive at key inflection points today. Here’s what you need to know:
The Electoral College
As prescribed by U.S. law, the 538 members of the Electoral College will meet today — “on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December” — in their states and cast their votes for president and vice president.
The meetings will take place throughout the day, from 10 a.m. Eastern Time for Indiana, New Hampshire, and Tennessee to 7 p.m. Eastern Time for Hawaii. At each one, the electors will record their votes and then sign the state’s “Certificate of Vote,” which will be sent Vice President Mike Pence, who will preside over the official counting of the electoral votes in a Joint Session of Congress on January 6.
The Electoral College meeting is generally an afterthought, coming weeks after one candidate has declared victory and the other conceded. This year, with President Donald Trump refusing to acknowledge his defeat, the electors casting their votes will mark the end of his slapdash legal battle to overturn the election outcome. Trump’s legal efforts received a final rejection on Friday, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by Texas, which the president had referred to as “the big one.”
President-elect Joe Biden is slated to receive 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232 today; once those votes are set in stone, Trump’s only hope will be to challenge the results at the January 6 meeting of Congress, a gambit that could delay the process but is almost assured to fail. Due to the heightened attention being paid on the Electoral College meeting this year, some states are taking security precautions: electors in Michigan, for example, have been offered a police escort as they enter the State Capitol in Lansing.
After receiving final authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 will begin to be distributed in the United States today. The first round of vaccinations marks a new stage in the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed almost 300,000 Americans and has been worsening in recent days.
Hundreds of thousands of vials of vaccines began to ship on Sunday; they will arrive today at 145 sites across the 50 states. 425 additional sites will receive the vaccine on Tuesday and 66 more on Wednesday. In all, 2.9 million doses of the vaccine are expected to be distributed this week, the beginning of a historic vaccination campaign.
According to the New York Times, the Trump administration is rushing to roll out a $250 million public education campaign to encourage Americans to take the vaccine, “scrambling to make up for lost time after a halting start.” President Trump and other White House officials were scheduled to receive the vaccine themselves this week, but the president announced that he had halted those plans after they were reported by several news outlets.
Each state is being charged with setting up clinics, hiring medical workers, and purchasing supplies to vaccinate their residents — expenses that some states say will cost billions more than they have earmarked. Every state is also receiving varying amounts of doses of the vaccine and can dictate who will receive the shot first in their state; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised states to first offer the vaccine to health care workers, as well as residents and employees of long-term care facilities.
Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York, this morning became the first person in the United States to receive the coronavirus vaccine outside of a trial. (Pool photo by Mark Lennihan)
Hackers backed by a foreign government broke into email systems at a range of U.S. agencies, including the Treasury and Commerce Departments. Russia is suspected to be behind the breach. Reuters
A bipartisan group of lawmakers will formally release their $908 billion coronavirus relief package today. The proposal will consist of two parts: a $748 billion bill funding schools, health care, and other uncontroversial elements, and a second bill that will combine the two tension points of the negotiations by appropriating $160 billion in funding for state and local governments and set up a liability shield for corporations. Politico
Top veterans groups and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are calling on Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to resign. An inspector general report concluded that Wilkie attempted to smear a congressional aide who said she was assaulted at a VA hospital. Washington Post
A former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) has accused him of sexual harassment. Lindsey Boylan, who is now running to be Manhattan borough president, alleged that Cuomo would frequently discuss her physical appearance during her years working for him. A spokesman for the governor, who is reportedly a contender to be nominated as U.S. Attorney General, denied the claims. New York Times
All times Eastern.
President Donald Trump will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence at 12:30 p.m. and will sign an executive order on “increasing economic and geographic mobility” at 2:30 p.m.
- Pence will lead a video teleconference with governors on COVID-19 response and recovery at 4 p.m.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief and meet with transition advisers. Biden will deliver remarks at 8 p.m. in Wilmington, Delaware, on “the Electoral College vote certification and the strength and resilience of our democracy.”
The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. and consider the nomination of Thomas L. Kirsch II to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit. The chamber will vote at 5:30 p.m. to advance Kirsch’s nomination.
The House will meet at 1:30 p.m. for a brief pro forma session.
The Supreme Court justices will release orders from their Friday conference at 9:30 a.m. and may release new opinions at 10 a.m.
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