Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 22, 2020

Congress approves coronavirus relief and massive spending bill, Biden gets vaccinated on live TV, and more

1

Congress approves coronavirus relief and spending bill

Congress on Monday passed the $900 billion coronavirus relief package and $1.4 trillion spending legislation needed to avert a government shutdown. The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support as COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths surge and previous coronavirus relief benefits expire. Americans could start receiving $600 per person checks under the relief deal as soon as next week. President-elect Joe Biden had urged fellow Democrats to accept a compromise with top Republicans that provided less aid than Democrats wanted. "Yes, there is more work to do, and it will cost some money, but it will protect jobs and, most importantly, it will meet the needs of the American people," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said.

2

Biden gets coronavirus vaccine on live TV

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday received his first dose of the two-shot Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. The moment was broadcast live on television, part of a push to reassure people that the vaccine is safe. "I'm ready," Biden said as he rolled up his sleeve at ChristianCare Hospital in Newark, Delaware. "We owe you big," he told Tabe Mase, the nurse practitioner who administered the shot. Biden gave the Trump administration credit for its role in fast-tracking development and distribution of the vaccine with its Operation Warp Speed, and said, "this is just the beginning." Biden urged Americans to "be prepared when it's available to take the vaccine. There's nothing to worry about." He also called for following social distancing guidelines and wearing masks.

3

Senator: Russian hackers email system used by Treasury leaders

The suspected Russian hackers who targeted several U.S. government agencies accessed the email system used by the highest-ranking Treasury Department leaders, a Democratic senator said Monday after being briefed on the matter. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said that the hack "appears to be significant" and compromised dozens of email accounts, after IRS and Treasury Department staff updated him and other members of the Senate Finance Committee. Wyden's statement provided the first details on the severity of the cyberattack, but the full scope of the breach remained unclear. "Treasury still does not know all of the actions taken by hackers, or precisely what information was stolen," Wyden said in a statement.

4

Barr says he won't appoint special counsel on election fraud

Outgoing Attorney General William Barr on Monday broke with President Trump and said he didn't plan to appoint a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden or allegations of voter fraud. Barr said he was "sure there was fraud in this election" but that he had seen no evidence it was "systemic or broad-based" enough to change the outcome. He said there was no basis for the federal government to seize voting machines. The comments came two days before Barr was to leave the job, as Trump stepped up his longshot effort to reverse President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the November election. "If I thought a special counsel at this stage was the right tool and was appropriate, I would name one, but I haven't, and I'm not going to," Barr said.

5

Trump officials subpoenaed over alleged CDC interference

A House subcommittee has subpoenaed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield in an investigation into allegations of political interference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The chair of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), said Monday in a letter to Azar and Redfield that "efforts to interfere with scientific work at CDC were far more extensive and dangerous than previously known." Redfield allegedly ordered the deletion of an email showing a Trump administration appointee was trying to interfere with a scientific report amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Clyburn said the subcommittee has obtained documents showing that "Trump administration appointees attempted to alter or block at least 13 scientific reports related to" COVID-19.

6

Trump meets with House Republicans trying to overturn election

President Trump on Monday met with about a dozen congressional Republicans on Monday to discuss their last-ditch strategy to reverse the outcome of the November election before President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month, Politico reported, citing several members who attended the meeting. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) organized the White House meetings, which also included a discussion with Vice President Mike Pence, who will preside over a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote that made Biden's victory official. The Washington Post meanwhile reported Trump also met Monday with two of his outside advisers, Rudy Giuliani and conspiratorial lawyer Sidney Powell, for the third time in four days in a sign they're gaining influence over him.

7

Dozens of West Point cadets accused of cheating on exam

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has accused more than 70 cadets of cheating on a math exam in the school's worst academic scandal since the 1970s. The cadets took the test remotely due to COVID-19 precautions. Fifty-eight admitted to cheating. Most enrolled in a rehabilitation program and will be on probation through graduation. Others resigned or face hearings that could lead to expulsion. West Point is the Army's premier training institution for officers, and its moral code proclaims that cadets "will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do." One West Point law professor said West Point's role in the military makes the scandal a national security issue. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said the case shows West Point's disciplinary system works.

8

Virginia removes Robert E. Lee statue from U.S. Capitol

A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that stood in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol for 111 years was removed on Monday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said. Each state can place two statues in the collection, and Virginia contributed the Lee figure. In its place, Virginia plans on installing a statue of civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns, who led a student strike in 1951 calling for equal education in Virginia. Her case was consolidated into the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit, which led the Supreme Court to rule in 1954 that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. In another racial reckoning, The Kansas City Star apologized for past racially biased coverage that it said had "disenfranchised, ignored, and scorned generations of Black Kansas Citians."

9

Anti-lockdown protesters break doors at Oregon Capitol building

Coronavirus lockdown protesters disrupted a special session of the Oregon Legislature on Monday, breaking glass doors at the mostly empty Capitol building. Police arrested at least four people during the six-hour demonstration, which involved more than 100 protesters. Some of the participants were members of the far-right Patriot Prayer organization. "We're standing up for our constitutional rights to be here for this legislative hearing and for our rights to reopen the state of Oregon," said a member of the crowd, Crystal Wagner. Oregon State Police said at least one protester used pepper spray and other "chemical agents" on officers as the group tried to enter the building. Officers responded with pepper balls.

10

France investigates anti-Semitic insults targeting Miss France runner-up

French prosecutors said Monday that they had opened an investigation into anti-Semitic social media posts insulting the runner-up of the Miss France beauty pageant, April Benayoum. The 21-year-old Miss Provence mentioned her father's Israeli background in a pre-recorded portion of the Saturday show in which she was elected the first dauphine, or runner-up. A burst of anti-Semitic vitriol hit Twitter before the contest was over. Some Twitter users urged viewers not to vote for her. One widely noted post said: "Uncle Hitler, you forgot to exterminate Miss Provence." The Paris prosecutor's office said its investigation covered potential racist insults and incitement to racial hatred. Both crimes are punishable by up to a year in prison, and up to $55,000 in fines.

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