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Wake Up To Politics - December 9, 2020

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, December 9, 2020. Inauguration Day is 42 days away. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

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A Covid-19 split screen

For the first time since the campaign, President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden held dueling public events on Tuesday. Their topics were the same: how to return America to normalcy after the Covid-19 pandemic. The similarities, of course, ended there.

Trump’s remarks came at a summit celebrating the success of his “Operation Warp Speed” initiative, which has helped to produce several coronavirus vaccine candidates in record time. The president hailed the forthcoming vaccines as “a monumental national achievement” and “one of the greatest miracles in the history of modern-day medicine.”

“Together, we will defeat the virus, and we will soon end the pandemic, and we will save millions and millions of lives, both in our country and all over the world,” the president triumphantly declared.

The president-elect sounded a markedly different tune at his event, a rollout of his public health team that took place simultaneously. “We’re in a dark winter,” Biden warned, noting that distribution of the vaccines could take months. “Things may well get worse before they get better.” (The U.S. surged past 15 million infections on Tuesday; hospitals across the country are nearing capacity.)

Their two speeches crystallized the opposing approaches the two rivals have taken throughout the pandemic. As he did at Tuesday’s summit — which was not attended by the two drug manufacturers that have submitted vaccine proposals — Trump has poured focus into vaccines, neglecting to mention other measures recommended by public health experts, such as mask-wearing or social distancing.

Notably, Trump has never released a national Covid plan to address testing, contact tracing, or other ways to combat the pandemic beyond eventual vaccinations. Despite being infected by the virus in October, he has repeatedly mocked the need to wear masks; this month, he has hosted crowded holiday parties, one of which was attended by a campaign lawyer who later tested positive.

Trump has placed all of his chips behind the vaccine — contrary to the advice given to states by his coronavirus task force this week. “The current vaccine implementation will not substantially reduce viral spread, hospitalizations, or fatalities until the 100 million Americans with comorbidities can be fully immunized, which will take until the late spring,” the task force said in a recent report.

“Behavioral change and aggressive mitigation policies are the only widespread prevention tools that we have to address this winter surge.”

President Trump speaks at a summit on vaccines (Evan Vucci/AP); President-elect Biden unveils his public health team (AFP via Getty Images).

Biden, meanwhile, offered new details of his pandemic response on Tuesday, outlining a three-step plan for his first 100 days: an executive order mandating masks where he has the authority to do so (federal buildings and for interstate travel), vaccinations for at least 50 million Americans, and reopening most schools across the country.

“These are three key goals for my first 100 days. But we will still have much to do in the year ahead. And sadly, much difficulty, too. We will be far, far from done,” he said. “Yet, it is possible that after 100 days, we will be much further along in the fight against the pandemic.”

Where Trump shrugged off masks, Biden leaned into them. “It’s the easiest thing you can do to reduce COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths,” he said to the nation. “Help yourself, your family, your community. Whatever your politics or point of view — mask up for 100 days.”

This contrasting rhetoric carried over to their personal behaviors on Tuesday: Biden wore a mask except for when it was his turn to speak; Trump did not don one for the duration of the summit. The president’s public health team crowded behind him, while Biden’s appointees spread out across a large stage.

The one official who will play a key role on both the Trump and Biden health teams — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top epidemiologist — offered pre-recorded video remarks at the Biden event, accepting his new role as “Chief Medical Advisor to the President on Covid-19.”

Fauci’s presence was a sign of the forthcoming changing of the guard in Washington: The White House had said that he was unable to attend the vaccine summit, which took place at the same time, due to a “scheduling conflict.”

The Biden Transition

President-elect Biden has reportedly selected two more members of his Cabinet. According to Politico, Biden will nominate Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) as his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; per Axios, he has chosen Tom Vilsack, who served as Secretary of Agriculture for the entire Obama presidency, to return to that role.

  • Fudge had been heavily promoted by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and other Biden allies in the African-American community for the Agriculture post. Her departure, along with that of Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), will leave House Democrats with 220 seats, a razor-thin cushion of three members for major votes.
  • Vilsack served as governor of Iowa before joining the Obama administration and campaigned as one of Biden’s top surrogates during the state’s caucuses. He will be the second official to be nominated to hold the same post he held while Biden was vice president, after former-and-future surgeon general Vivek Murthy.
  • Frontrunners for other top posts: Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland for Attorney General (NBC News)... former Obama aide Patrick Gaspard for Labor Secretary (New York Times)... former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg for China ambassador (Axios)

Biden’s nominee to be Secretary of Defense is already facing opposition on Capitol Hill. As a retired Army general, Lloyd Austin will require a waiver from both chambers of Congress in order to serve as Pentagon chief. But many top Democrats are expressing unease about approving one, after criticizing President Trump for seeking such a waiver for his first Defense Secretary, retired Marine Corps general James Mattis.

  • At least three Senate Democrats have already signaled plans to oppose the waiver: Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed (D-RI), said during Mattis’ confirmation that such waivers should be approved “no more than once in a generation.”
  • Biden defended his pick in an op-ed in The Atlantic, describing Austin as “a true and tested soldier and leader.” He also promised that Austin would restore “a strong civil-military working relationship at DoD,” although critics maintain that nominating a retired general as secretary will disturb that balance. The Defense Department has traditionally been led by civilians; Mattis is one of only two previous Pentagon chiefs who have received waivers to serve in the role despite recent military service.


The Trump administration offered Democrats a new $916 billion coronavirus relief proposal on Tuesday as stimulus negotiations intensified. The plan, put forward by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, is larger than the $908 billion proposal crafted by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Instead of extending the lapsed $300 weekly unemployment benefits, as the bipartisan plan does, Mnuchin’s proposal would offer a new round of $600-per-person stimulus checks to all Americans. The bipartisan plan includes no direct payments; Mnuchin’s offering includes no enhanced jobless benefits.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the new offering was “progress” but called the proposed cut in unemployment benefits “unacceptable.” Congressional Republicans are expected to back Mnuchin’s plan after initially opposing a new round of direct payments.
  • The main sticking points in the bipartisan talks are funding for state and local governments, sought by Democrats, and a liability shield for corporations, sought by Republicans. Before Mnuchin offered his plan on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposed earlier in the day that both provisions should be kept out of the next relief package and addressed in the new year.

The House easily passed the $741 billion annual defense policy bill on Tuesday despite a veto threat from President Trump. The legislation, which authorizes pay raises for American troops, passed in a bipartisan 355-78 vote. Trump has threatened to veto the bill, insisting that it should include a repeal of Section 230 (an unrelated law that protects social media companies from lawsuits) and be stripped of a provision renaming military bases that honor Confederate soldiers.

  • The lopsided House vote surpassed the two-thirds majority that would be necessary to override a presidential veto. If Trump does veto the legislation, and bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress rebuke him, it would be the only veto override of his presidency.

Campaign 2020

The Supreme Court declined to take up a bid from Pennsylvania Republicans to reverse President Trump’s loss in the state. The court issued a brief order refusing to accept the case; no dissents from any of the nine justices were noted. It was the court’s first time wading into the aftermath of the presidential election; despite Trump’s urging, the justices declined to offer the president any assistance in his attempt to overturn the outcome.

  • Trump tweeted this morning that he is now pinning his hopes on a lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has asked the Supreme Court to block the results in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Gabe’s Picks

One wild story: “He Pretended to Be Trump’s Family. Then Trump Fell for It.” (New York Times)

One intriguing story: “Yang calling NYC elected officials to gauge mayoral run” (Politico)

Number of the Day: $406 million. That’s how much money has been reserved in advertising in the two Senate runoffs in Georgia.

Quote of the Day: “As this country becomes more and more diverse, we’re going to have to stop looking at only certain agencies as those that people like me fit in. You know, it's always ‘we want to put the Black person in labor or HUD.’” That’s what Marcia Fudge, President-elect Biden’s pick to be HUD Secretary, said about the position last month.

Correction: In Tuesday’s newsletter, I misspelled the name of the wrestler who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday. His name is Dan Gable.

Thanks to Robert Nora, Ann Schultis, and Beth Cooper-Zobott for catching the error.


All times Eastern.

President Donald Trump has no public events scheduled.  

Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. He will visit with space professionals of the 45th Space Wing at 11:45 a.m. and chair a meeting of the National Space Council at 12:30 p.m.

  • Pence will deliver remarks at 1:50 p.m. on the space accomplishments of the Trump administration and on NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will deliver remarks on China at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, at 10 a.m.

  • Pompeo’s trip to Georgia has caught attention for its proximity to the two high-stakes Senate runoffs in the state next month; he has been criticized for mixing politics and governance throughout his tenure.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will separately receive the President’s Daily Brief. Then, they will introduce retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as their nominee for Secretary of Defense at 1:30 p.m. in Wilmington, Delaware.

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. The chamber will vote at 11 a.m. to confirm Allen Dickerson, Shana Broussard, and Sean Cooksey as members of the Federal Election Commission.

  • The three commissioners will restore a quorum on the FEC, allowing the agency to function again after being dormant for much of the past year and a half.

Later, the chamber will vote on S.J.Res.77 and S.J.Res.78, a pair of resolutions that would block a $23 billion arms sales to the United Arab Emirates.

The House will convene at 10 a.m. and vote on H.R. 8900, the continuing resolution extending government funding through 11:59 p.m. on Friday, December 18.

The chamber will also vote on nine other pieces of legislation:

  • H.Res. 549, reaffirming the commitment to media diversity and pledging to work with media entities and diverse stakeholders to develop common ground solutions to eliminate barriers to media diversity
  • H.R. 3361, the RIVER Act
  • H.R. 5541, the Tribal Power Act
  • H.R. 1426, the Timely Review of Infrastructure Act
  • H.R. 5758, the Ceiling Fan Improvement Act of 2020
  • H.R. 3797, the Medical Marijuana Research Act
  • H.R. 1570, the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act of 2020
  • H.R. 7898, to amend title XXX of the Public Health Services Act to provide for a technical correction to provide the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Service certain authorities with respect to investigations of information blocking, and for other purposes
  • H.R. 1966, the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act of 2019

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will participate in a virtual ceremony at 3 p.m. to honor the 18,000 Chinese-American veterans of World War II by collectively awarding them with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow.
The Supreme Court will hear virtual oral arguments at 10 a.m. in Collins v. Mnuchin:

  • The Federal Housing Financial Agency is responsible for overseeing and regulating the mortgage market in the United States. The FHFA is led by a single director, and the president can only remove the director for a legitimate and specific reason.
  • Last term, the Supreme Court said that this same single-director structure was unconstitutional at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Under our Constitution,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts, “the ‘executive Power’—all of it—is ‘vested in a President,’ who must ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” If the president has all the executive power, then he must be able to remove agency directors for any reason at any time, argued Roberts. There should be no “unilateral actor[s] insulated from Presidential control.”
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled late last year that the FHFA’s structure was insufficiently accountable to the president. When the justices convene today for an unusually long 90 minutes of oral arguments — as opposed to the typical hour — they are expected to show support for upholding the lower court’s ruling.

— Supreme Court case summary contributed by Anna Salvatore.

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