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10 things you need to know today: December 31, 2020

McConnell says Senate won't quickly pass $2,000 stimulus checks, new coronavirus variant appears in California, and more

1

McConnell says 'no realistic path' for a quick vote on $2,000 checks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that there was "no realistic path" to quickly pass the House-approved proposal to raise individual coronavirus stimulus checks to $2,000 from $600. House Democrats pushed through the bill after President Trump called for bigger individual payments, and several Senate Republicans have said they would vote in favor. But McConnell said the chamber would not vote on the bill, essentially ruling out a compromise before the end of the year. "The Senate is not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money into the hands of Democrats' rich friends who don't need the help," McConnell said on the Senate floor. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Senate GOP leaders blocking the bill are "in denial of the hardship the American people are experiencing."

2

New UK COVID-19 variant discovered in California

California health officials said Wednesday that they had identified the state's first case of the more infectious new strain of COVID-19 that was discovered in the United Kingdom. The patient, a 30-year-old man in San Diego county, started showing symptoms on Sunday. The nation's first reported case of the variant was announced a day earlier in Colorado, where a possible second case is also being investigated. "I don't think that the Californians should feel that this is something odd. This is something that's expected," White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an appearance with California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). The strain appears to spread faster but is not more virulent than the variant previously common in the United States. The new variant does not appear to make vaccines less effective, officials said.

3

GOP Sen. Josh Hawley says he'll oppose Electoral College certification

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Wednesday announced he'll object during the Electoral College certification process, which is expected to seal President-elect Joe Biden's victory on Jan. 6. Hawley said he plans to do so because he's concerned about allegations that "some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws" and because of what he described as "the unprecedented effort of mega corporations, including Facebook and Twitter, to interfere in this election, in support of" Biden, boosting President Trump's unfounded claims that the election was stolen from him. State election officials and Attorney General William Barr previously affirmed there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Several House Republicans are preparing to object, and Hawley is the first senator to join them. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) previously asked his caucus to refrain from joining the House effort.

4

U.S. coronavirus hospitalizations reach record high

U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations rose above 125,000 on Wednesday for the first time. More than 220,000 new coronavirus cases were reported across the country, as well as about 3,800 deaths, a single-day record. The U.S. death toll surpassed 342,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The pandemic has been surging across the country, and the statistics are still being affected by backlogs in reporting data over the Christmas holiday, with figures rising later in the week after falling on Sunday and Monday. Federal health officials acknowledged on Wednesday that the distribution of the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines was off to a slower than expected start. "We know it should be better, and we're working hard to make it better," said Moncef Slaoui, scientific adviser of Operation Warp Speed.

5

Biden to issue Inauguration Day memo freezing Trump midnight regulations

The Biden administration will roll back so-called midnight regulations issued by the Trump administration that have not taken effect by Inauguration Day, Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for President-elect Joe Biden's transition team said Wednesday. "The Biden-Harris White House will issue a memo to take effect afternoon Eastern Time on January 20 that will halt, or delay, midnight regulations," Psaki said in a news conference. Psaki said one such rule issued in the lame-duck period of Trump's presidency would be a Labor Department regulation that would make it easier for companies to call workers independent contractors to avoid minimum wage and overtime protections. She said the rule would cost workers more than $3.7 billion annually. Psaki also said that the transition team would announce more Cabinet-level nominations in the coming week.

6

UK lawmakers approve post-Brexit trade deal

British Parliament on Wednesday approved the post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union. The House of Commons overwhelmingly backed the deal in a 521-73 vote. The House of Lords then passed it, completing the ratification process a day before the end of the transition period in which the U.K. continued to follow E.U. customs rules after leaving the trading bloc in January. The approval marked a major victory for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had campaigned on a promise to "get Brexit done" ahead of his Conservative party's landslide victory last December. Labor Party leader Keir Starmer said the deal was "thin," but that "a thin deal is better than no deal."

7

Democrats widen polling leads ahead of Georgia Senate runoffs

The two Democratic candidates in Georgia's U.S. Senate runoffs, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, extended their leads over Republican incumbent Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in a JMC Analytics and Polling survey released Wednesday. The poll found that Ossoff was ahead of Perdue by seven percentage points, 50 percent to 43 percent. Warnock led Loeffler by nine points, 53 percent to 44 percent. Both Democrats led by slightly smaller margins in a recent SurveyUSA poll. The runoffs are scheduled for Tuesday. More than 2.3 million Georgia voters have cast ballots early. High turnout in Democratic congressional districts suggested Ossoff and Warnock had an early advantage. "Everybody fundamentally understands that it's going to become an issue of partisan turnout," Nick Gourevitch, a Democratic pollster with Global Strategy Group, recently told Politico.

8

Spy Jonathan Pollard arrives in Israel

Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard arrived in Israel on Wednesday, more than three decades after the former U.S. Navy analyst was imprisoned for passing secrets to the U.S. ally. The Justice Department ended Pollard's parole in November, allowing him to leave the country. Pollard was arrested in 1985 for giving high-ranking Israeli intelligence officials several suitcases of classified material on Israel's Arab adversaries and military support they were getting from the Soviet Union. He was sentenced to life in prison two years later, and paroled in 2015. Pollard and his wife, Esther, arrived from the U.S. on a jet owned by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major donor to President Trump and a supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We are ecstatic to be home at last after 35 years," Pollard said in a statement released by Netanyahu's office.

9

Most prolific serial killer in U.S. history dies

Samuel Little, the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history, has died at a Los Angeles hospital, California corrections officials said Wednesday. He was 80. Little had been serving a life sentence for the murders of three women in South Los Angeles in the 1980s. He had confessed to 93 murders from 1970 to 2005. He was convicted of eight of the killings, but investigators verified at least 50. Many of his victims were young Black women estranged from their families, and struggling with poverty and addiction. "For many years, Samuel Little believed he would not be caught because he thought no one was accounting for his victims," FBI crime analyst Christie Palazzolo said last year when the bureau posted confessional videos, seeking tips connecting Little to unsolved cases.

10

Gilligan's Island star Dawn Wells dies of COVID-19

Actress Dawn Wells, best known for playing Mary Ann on the classic sitcom Gilligan's Island, died Wednesday in Los Angeles of causes related to COVID-19. She was 82. Wells was crowned Miss Nevada in 1959. After graduating with a degree in theater arts from the University of Washington, she began appearing in guest roles on several popular television shows, including Wagon Train, 77 Sunset Strip, and Bonanza. She rose to fame on Gilligan's Island, which ran on CBS from 1964 to 1967 and then lived on for decades in syndication. After the show ended, Wells appeared in dozens of stage plays, and supported several charitable organizations. With Wells' death, actress Tina Louise is the only surviving member of the core Gilligan's Island cast.

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