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10 things you need to know today: January 1, 2021

Bidens thank frontline workers at New Year's Eve event, McConnell blocks $2,000 stimulus checks for the third time, and more


Bidens thank frontline workers in New Year's Eve celebration

President-elect Joe Biden paid tribute to frontline workers Thursday during ABC's New Year's Rockin' Eve broadcast from New York City's Times Square. The Times Square celebration wasn't open to the public, but frontline workers were among a limited number of people who received invitations. The show's host, Ryan Seacrest, asked Biden and future first lady Dr. Jill Biden — who appeared live from their home — what they would like to say to frontline workers as they help with the nation's coronavirus pandemic response. "They risked their lives, they've done so much for us and we owe them, we owe them, we owe them," the president-elect said. Many New Year's Eve celebrations, from London to Hong Kong, were scaled back or held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, as the world welcomed 2021 after a trying 2020.


McConnell blocks $2,000 stimulus checks for 3rd time

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday blocked a vote on increasing coronavirus stimulus checks to $2,000, calling bigger individual payments "socialism for rich people." It was the third time McConnell had prevented a vote on upping the checks to $2,000 from $600. President Trump called for bigger one-time payments when he unexpectedly signed the $900 billion coronavirus relief package on Sunday, after suggesting he might veto it. The Democrat-led House responded by quickly approving a bill calling for increasing the payments. McConnell is pushing for a bill combining the larger stimulus checks with repealing liability protections for social media companies and establishing a commission to study voter fraud, two proposals Democrats oppose.


U.S. falls short on promised 2020 vaccinations

The United States managed to administer fewer than 2.8 million coronavirus vaccine shots before 2020 ended, far below the goal of 20 million federal officials had set for the year. Many health officials have expressed frustration with the rollout of the national immunization effort. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it was "disappointing" the effort has gotten such a slow start, and said state governments need "many more resources" to fix distribution logjams and gain some "momentum." The Washington Post reported that leaders were scrambling to pick up the pace, though state health departments and health care workers have already been pushed to their limits throughout the pandemic. Across the U.S., just 8 percent of doses distributed for use in care facilities have been administered.


Pence asks judge to reject GOP lawmakers' lawsuit

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday filed a brief asking a federal judge to reject a call from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and other Republicans to broaden Pence's powers so he can overturn President-elect Joe Biden's victory over President Trump in the November election. The GOP lawmakers' lawsuit seeks to beef up Pence's largely ceremonial role presiding over Congress' Jan. 6 certification of the Electoral College vote count. Pence's legal team argued in a Thursday brief to Texas-based U.S. District Judge Jeremy Kernodle, a Trump appointee, that the vice president should not be a defendant in the case, "A suit to establish that the vice president has discretion over the count, filed against the vice president, is a walking legal contradiction," wrote a Department of Justice attorney representing Pence.


Georgia GOP Sen. Perdue quarantines ahead of runoff after COVID exposure

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is quarantining after close exposure to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, his campaign said Thursday. The news came just days ahead of his Tuesday runoff election against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, who led in a recent poll. Fellow Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler also faces a runoff against the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat. More than 2.8 million people have voted early so far, and heavy turnout in Democrat-held congressional districts has given Ossoff and Warnock an early edge. If Democrats win both seats their party will control the Senate, which will be split evenly at 50-50 with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. Republicans only need to win one seat to retain control of the Senate.


Dow, S&P 500 end 2020 at record highs

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 made solid gains Thursday to close the year at record highs. The Dow rose by 0.7 percent to 30,606. The S&P 500 gained 0.6 percent to end 2020 at 3,756. The Nasdaq edged up by 1 percent. The Dow finished an extremely volatile year with a total gain of 7.3 percent. The S&P posted a yearly gain of 16.3 percent, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq surged by nearly 44 percent, thanks partly to some tech companies that soared as Americans relied on computers and internet services to work, study, shop, and keep entertained at home. "To use an overused word, this has been unprecedented," said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research. "We've never had to deal with anything like this."


White House reportedly plans to freeze some foreign aid

The White House plans to temporarily freeze some foreign aid during President Trump's final days in office, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing two people with knowledge of the planning. The Trump administration can't cancel the funding approved by Congress, but it can stall the process by asking Congress to withhold it. Even if lawmakers reject the request, as expected, the process will let the White House effectively freeze the aid until Trump leaves office on Jan. 20, when President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated. Trump has long expressed opposition to much of the foreign aid approved by lawmakers, and the funding was one of the things Trump harshly criticized in the bipartisan coronavirus stimulus and government spending bill Congress passed last week.


New jobless claims unexpectedly decline for 2nd week in a row

The Labor Department reported Thursday that 787,000 Americans filed new claims for jobless benefits last week, the second unexpected weekly decline in a row. The number was down 19,000 from the previous week. Economists had expected a slight increase to 828,000. Despite the drop, unemployment claims remained historically high as surging COVID-19 cases are discouraging people from going out, and forcing local and state governments to renew some restrictions on businesses to help curb spread of the virus. Before the pandemic hit the United States in March, the record number of weekly jobless claims was 695,000. The latest number of claims is still almost four times higher than at this point a year ago.


Microsoft says Russian hackers accessed more than initially reported

Microsoft said Thursday that suspected Russian hackers who targeted federal agencies and U.S. companies accessed more of its systems than previously believed. The company revealed that the hackers managed to look at Microsoft source code through an employee account, although they were unable to access emails or Microsoft products and services. "Our investigation into our own environment has found no evidence of access to production services or customer data," Microsoft said in a blog post. "The investigation, which is ongoing, has also found no indications that our systems were used to attack others." The cyberattack began as far back as October 2019, when the hackers breached systems at SolarWinds, a technology monitoring company used by government agencies and most Fortune 500 companies.


Florida is 3rd state to report new coronavirus strain

Florida on Thursday became the third state to report a case of the new, highly infectious coronavirus strain first detected in the United Kingdom. Florida public health officials said the patient was a man in his 20s with no history of travel. The case was reported in Martin County, on the state's Atlantic coast north of West Palm Beach. The man's diagnosis came after a similar case was announced in California on Wednesday. That patient, also a male in his 20s, had not traveled outside the U.S. in recent weeks. Colorado was the first state to detect the new variant. Two cases have been confirmed there, both members of the Colorado National Guard. Neither of those people had traveled abroad, either. The new variant appeared as the nation closed the worst month since the pandemic hit the U.S.: More than 6.1 million of the total 19.9 million U.S. coronavirus cases occurred in December.


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