December 14, 2020
Today, Americans began receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Dr. Michelle Chester administered the vaccine to Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, the first American to get the vaccine. Lindsay is a Covid nurse and said she hoped seeing her get the vaccine would convince people it was safe. “I have seen the alternative, and do not want it for you,” she told the New York Times. “I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history.” The pandemic has hit Americans of color particularly hard, making it fitting that the first U.S. dose was administered by a Black doctor to a Black nurse.
Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel. But that light is still a long way away. Today we passed 300,000 official deaths from Covid-19, with well over 16 million infections. We also set a new single-day record of at least 232,369 new coronavirus cases. Outbreaks are escalating, not dropping, and the upcoming holidays threaten to spread the virus further.
There is, as well, an issue with the distribution of the vaccines. While the federal government invested in the development of the vaccine, it provided funding and a plan only to get the vaccines to the states. Getting the doses from a central point into people’s arms remains unfunded and unplanned. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services have dug into their existing budgets to find some money for states to start planning, but there is currently no money for states to distribute the vaccine, especially in light of the financial crisis caused by the pandemic. Federal funding of vaccine delivery is set to run out about February 1, just in time for it to fall into Biden’s watch.
The good news is that it appears that Congress appears to be narrowing in on a coronavirus relief package. Lawmakers expect to announce a $1.4 trillion compromise measure tomorrow. The Republicans still hate the idea of state and local funding; Democrats still hate the idea of a liability shield for businesses whose workers contract the coronavirus at work. So, negotiators have split those two issues off from the items that have bipartisan support. A $748 billion bill will provide less-controversial funding for unemployment assistance, small businesses, food assistance, rental assistance, health funding, education, and transportation; and a $160 billion bill will offer local and state aid and liability protections.
Today was a big day in politics as well as in health. The Electoral College formally elected Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. president, and Kamala Devi Harris vice president. Tonight, Biden spoke to the American people. He rebuked Trump for his effort to steal the election, saying “In America, politicians don’t take power— people grant power to them.”
Biden tied today’s contest for democracy to our history. “The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know nothing — not even a pandemic — or an abuse of power — can extinguish that flame,” he said. He asked Americans to move on, focusing on combatting the pandemic and rebuilding the economy.
But, although 62% of American voters say the election is “over and settled” and it’s “time to move on,” Trump continues to insist that he won the election. In the face of the Electoral College confirmation of Biden’s win, this position increasingly seems a ploy to raise money. Even as the Electoral College was voting, the Trump campaign filed yet another lawsuit challenging the outcome of the election. It has lost 59 of 60 court cases, and the Supreme Court last week refused to hear a case in which Trump planned to argue that mail-in voting in swing states that voted for Biden—but not the states that voted for him—injured Republican voters in Texas.
Senate Republicans, who have set the Electoral College vote as the date on which they would acknowledge Biden’s victory, are swinging behind the idea that Biden is indeed the President-Elect. But the Trump loyalists are not giving up. The state Capitols of Michigan and Wisconsin had to be closed to the public out of safety concerns before the Electoral College delegates met; the electors in Arizona had to meet in an undisclosed location. One Republican state representative in Michigan hinted at potential violence against the delegates to the Electoral College; leadership later stripped him of his committee assignments. Despite the fussing, members of Congress are expected to certify the Electoral College votes on January 6, 2021.
The Republicans’ willingness to entertain Trump’s tantrums means that, unlike most Americans, 82% of Trump voters say they think Biden’s victory is illegitimate and that Trump should refuse to concede and should do all he can to stay in power.
This was finally too much for Representative Paul Mitchell of Michigan, who announced today he was switching his affiliation from Republican to Independent. Mitchell is retiring from Congress in weeks, perhaps freeing him to speak his mind. He called out Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, for suggesting that Trump’s loss was because of Black voters in Detroit. “Ronna,” he wrote, “you know Michigan politics well.” (McDaniel is the granddaughter of former Michigan Governor George W. Romney, and served as chair of the Michigan Republican Party from 2015 to 2017). “Trump did not lose Michigan because of Wayne County, but rather he lost because of dwindling support in areas including Kent and Oakland County, both previous Republican strongholds.”
Mitchell called out “political candidates” who “treat our election system as though we are a third-world nation and incite distrust of something so basic as the sanctity of our vote.” He warned, “If Republican leaders collectively sit back and tolerate unfounded conspiracy theories and ‘stop the steal’ rallies without speaking out for our electoral process, which the Department of Homeland Security said was ‘the most secure in American history,’ our nation will be damaged.” He condemned the “raw political considerations” that led party leaders to support the “stop the steal” efforts. He noted that members of Congress take oaths to support and defend the Constitution, not “to preserve and protect the political interests of any individual, be it the president or anyone else, to the detriment of our cherished nation.”
Tonight, just in time to disrupt the news cycle before Biden was set to address the nation, Trump announced that Attorney General William Barr is stepping down on December 23. Barr was a true loyalist, politicizing the Department of Justice to protect Trump from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, stepping in to defend Trump in a defamation suit by a woman who claimed Trump had sexually assaulted her, favoring Trump’s friends, and supporting Trump’s attack on this summer’s protesters at Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. Barr’s resignation letter was full of praise for Trump, but the two men have been at odds since Barr refused to sign on to Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. On December 1, Barr told the Associated Press that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud that would change the outcome of the 2020 election, thus undercutting the president’s arguments.
While the timing of the resignation announcement seems pegged to try to upstage Biden’s win, the timing of the resignation itself might well reflect that Trump is planning some controversial pardons and Barr didn’t want to be associated with them.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen will become the acting Attorney General.
There is one more big developing story. Yesterday, the administration admitted that hackers acting for a foreign country—almost certainly Russia—have breached many of our key government networks, including the Treasury Department, the Commerce Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the National Institutes of Health, and other agencies related to our national security. Hackers apparently began to sneak malicious code into software updates for business and government computers last March. The breach has enabled them to extract information for many months.
If indeed it was Russia that broke into our system, it will be their most sophisticated break-in since 2014 and 2015, when operatives broke into unclassified email systems in the White House, State Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then went on to hack the Democratic National Committee. The recent hack was so serious the National Security Council, which advises the president about national security, military affairs, and foreign affairs, had an emergency meeting about it on Saturday.