Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 20, 2020

Congress nearing COVID-19 compromise after resolving sticking point, Preparation for Moderna vaccine shipments under way, and more

1

Congress nearing COVID-19 compromise after resolving sticking point

The Senate appeared to reach a major breakthrough in COVID-19 relief negotiations late Saturday, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he believes both the House and Senate will vote on a package Sunday so long as "nothing gets in the way." Schumer and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) were finishing up details of a compromise that seemingly resolved a sticking point about the Federal Reserve's ability to set up emergency lending programs without congressional approval, which Toomey wanted to restrict. Under the deal, the central bank wouldn't lose that power, but its options would be narrower. The Fed wouldn't be able to replicate programs identical to the ones it started in March unless Congress signed off on them. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the resolution means "we can begin closing out the rest of the package to deliver much-needed relief to families, workers, and businesses."

2

Preparation for Moderna vaccine shipments under way

Army Gen. Gustave Perna said Saturday the distribution of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine — which the Food and Drug Administration authorized for emergency use Friday — has "already begun." The doses aren't on the road yet, but they have been moved from manufacturing sites to distribution centers where workers were packaging shipments Sunday morning. FedEx and UPS trucks will then deliver them to vaccination sites across the country. Like the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was rolled out last week, the initial doses of the Moderna vaccine over the next few weeks will primarily go to health care workers and long-term care facility residents. Inoculations are expected to begin Monday. Meanwhile, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet Sunday to discuss what groups of people should receive the shots in the next phase. The panel is reportedly leaning toward recommending essential workers.

3

Trump suggests China, not Russia, could be behind cyberattack

President Trump addressed the recently discovered major cybersecurity breach for the first time Saturday, suggesting the attack, which targeted several American federal agencies and companies, could have been perpetrated by China, rather than Russia. Intelligence agencies and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are in agreement that Russia is the likely culprit, and Pompeo has gone so far as to say it was "pretty clearly" Moscow. But Trump said the urge to blame the Kremlin may stem from the media's fixation on Russia in conjunction with a fear of discussing the possibility it was Beijing. The president did not outright accuse China or dismiss Russia's involvement, but the comments were certainly ambiguous and appeared to exemplify his reluctance to criticize the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

4

Trump reportedly considered appointing Sidney Powell as election fraud special counsel

During a Friday meeting at the White House, President Trump discussed making controversial attorney Sidney Powell a special counsel investigating voter fraud, The New York Times reports. Powell has largely fallen out of favor even among Trump's most ardent loyalists because she's pushed baseless conspiracy theories about corrupted voting machines, but she was at the White House for the meeting, which reportedly became "raucous" at times, and reportedly accused Trump's advisers of being quitters. Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and White House counsel Pat Cipollone were reportedly two of the people who rejected the idea. The meeting also involved a discussion about an executive order to take control of voting machines to examine them. Giuliani has reportedly made separate but similar calls for the Department of Homeland Security to seize the machines, only to be told the department does not have the authority to do so.

5

U.K. tightens restrictions due to concern about new coronavirus variant

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will change course and no longer ease coronavirus pandemic restrictions for five days during the week of Christmas. Instead, more than 16 million people in London and Southeast England are required to stay home amid rising cases. Household mixing is restricted in those areas, and in the rest of England socializing can only take place Christmas Day. Some of the restrictions could last until a widespread vaccine rollout. The increased concern comes after Johnson met with officials to discuss emerging scientific evidence about a new, potentially more transmissible variant of the coronavirus. The virus mutation has reportedly appeared in the U.K., Australia, and continental Europe, and while there's no evidence it has any effect on the severity of COVID-19 infections, it appears to be leading to faster spread. Scientists say they don't anticipate the variant will alter the effectiveness of vaccines.

6

Johnson says EU's Brexit demands 'incompatible' with U.K. independence

The United Kingdom and the European Union remain far apart in Brexit talks, as the sides look to resolve major sticking points and secure a deal before the transition period ends Dec. 31. The EU has set Sunday as a final deadline for a deal they would have to ratify before the end of the year, though that could be extended once again. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson didn't sound optimistic Sunday when he said the bloc is "continuing to make demands that are incompatible with our independence. We cannot accept a deal that doesn't leave us in control of our own laws and waters." British Health Minister Matt Hancock called the EU's demands "unreasonable." Fishing rights and fair competition rules remain the major hurdles.

7

At least 9 killed in Kabul bombing

A car bomb killed at least nine people Sunday morning in Kabul, Afghanistan's Interior Minister Masoud Andarabi said. He said the attack wounded around 20 other people, including a member of parliament. The lawmaker, Khan Mohammad Wardak, is in "good condition," Andarabi said. The bomb went off while Wardak's convoy was passing through an intersection in Kabul's Khosal Khan neighborhood. It's unclear if Wardak was specifically targeted in the attack, and no one has claimed responsibility for the blast. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the bombing and called on the Taliban to cease violence against civilians and accept a ceasefire, although he did not specifically blame the group for Sunday's incident. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks around the Afghan capital in recent months.

8

More lawmakers receive COVID-19 vaccine

Several more lawmakers received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, many of them hoping to help increase public confidence. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) were among the most prominent members of Congress to get their shots, as were Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (R-S.C.), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). They joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Vice President Mike Pence in getting vaccinated. Ocasio-Cortez provided a detailed behind-the-scenes look at her experience on social media and later answered her followers' questions about the process.

9

Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State capture conference championships

After a tumultuous season affected by the coronavirus pandemic, college football's playoff picture should round into shape Saturday following a slew of conference championship games. No. 4 Ohio State likely secured a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff with a 22-10 win over Northwestern in the Big Ten title game. No. 3 Clemson appears to have clinched a berth as well after they got revenge against No. 2 Notre Dame with a 34-10 trouncing in the ACC championship. And No. 1 Alabama should have the top seed locked up following a 52-46 victory over No. 7 Florida in the SEC championship game. No. 9 Cincinnati, though a playoff longshot, capped an undefeated season with a win in the American Athletic Conference title game.

10

SNL taps new Biden impersonator to replace Jim Carrey

Saturday Night Live cast member Alex Moffat will portray President-elect Joe Biden on NBC's sketch comedy show going forward. Jim Carrey had appeared as Biden throughout the current season, but announced Saturday on Twitter that he'd be stepping down from the role, noting it was always meant to be temporary. "I was thrilled to be elected as your SNL president," Carrey tweeted. "Comedy's highest call of duty." Moffat made his first appearance as Biden during Saturday night's cold open, which parodied Vice President Mike Pence's COVID-19 vaccination. He's the latest in a line of cast members and guest stars to portray the former senator and vice president over the last few years, including Jason Sudeikis, Woody Harrelson, and John Mulaney.

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