Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 2, 2021

Tim O'Donnell
The U.S. Capitol.
Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

1.

Senate overrides Trump's veto of defense bill

The Senate voted 81-13 on Friday to override President Trump's veto of the $741 billion defense authorization bill. This was Congress' first veto override of Trump's presidency, which is now in its final days. Earlier in the week, the House voted to back the legislation. It authorizes pay raises for service members and imposes new limits on how much of the military's construction budget the president can move by emergency order. Trump said he vetoed the measure because he did not like how it restricts the president's ability to draw down troop levels, as well as the fact that it directs the Pentagon to strip the names of Confederate figures from U.S. military installations. Trump also wanted the legislation to include a repeal of liability protections for tech companies, a completely unrelated issue. [The Washington Post]

2.

Judge rejects GOP lawsuit against Pence

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Kernodle on Friday night tossed out a lawsuit filed against Vice President Mike Pence by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and other Republicans that sought to broaden the vice president's authority to reject electoral votes cast for President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 6 when he oversees the Electoral College certification. Pence's role is considered ceremonial, and he has the responsibility of opening, announcing, and tallying the results, but the plaintiffs are hoping he takes on an expanded role and invalidates them as part of a longshot, last-ditch effort to overturn the presidential election. Kernodle, who was appointed by President Trump, dismissed the case because he found that Gohmert and his fellow plaintiffs lacked a sufficient legal stake to justify the lawsuit. Kernodle's ruling comes a day after a Justice Department attorney representing Pence requested a rejection of the lawsuit. Gohmert has said his lawyers will appeal. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]

3.

United States surpasses 20 million COVID-19 cases

On Friday, the United States topped 20 million recorded COVID-19 cases. There is also a record number of people hospitalized with the virus; Covid Tracking Project data shows that on Thursday, there were more than 125,370 coronavirus patients in U.S. hospitals. It took 292 days for the U.S. to reach its first 10 million cases, but only 54 more days to double it, CNN reports. December was the country's worst month of the pandemic, with more than 6.1 million coronavirus cases recorded and 74,147 people dying of the virus. Public health experts believe this is due to people traveling for the holidays and gathering inside because of cold weather. [CNN, The Wall Street Journal]

4.

A record 3 million people voted early in Georgia's Senate runoffs

Early voting has ended in Georgia ahead of Tuesday's Senate runoffs, with a record 3 million people having cast their ballots. The previous record for total turnout in a Georgia runoff election was set in 2008, when 2.1 million people participated. The votes for this year's runoff elections won't be counted until polls close at 7 p.m. local time on Tuesday. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that an analysis of state election data shows more ballots have been cast in areas that tend to favor Democrats. Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is trying to fend off a challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff, while Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) is facing off against her Democratic opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock. [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

5.

Iran planning to enrich uranium up to 20 percent at nuclear facility

Iran has notified the International Atomic Energy Agency about its plan to enrich uranium at its underground Fordo nuclear facility up to 20 percent "as soon as possible." That figure is well above the threshold set in the 2015 nuclear deal, from which the United States withdrew in 2018. The decision comes amid escalating tensions escalate between Tehran and both Jerusalem and Washington following the assassination of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who founded the country's military nuclear program two decades ago. Iran blamed Israel for the attack, and its parliament subsequently passed a law calling for the production and storage of 20 percent enriched uranium, as well as an end to IAEA inspections, which are meant to ensure the country is not developing an atomic bomb. It does not appear Tehran has followed through on the latter step, however, The Associated Press reports. [The Associated Press, France 24]

6.

Fauci not in favor of expanding gap between COVID-19 vaccine doses

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' leading infectious disease expert, told CNN on Friday that he would "not be in favor" of delaying second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to increase the amount of people who can receive their first injection. The United Kingdom announced a plan this week that involves stretching the wait time between the first and second shots of the two coronavirus vaccines authorized in the country, including the Pfizer jab, up to 12 weeks. The thinking is that doing so will give more people at least partial protection until production ramps up. But the trials for Pfizer and Moderna included a three and four week gap, respectively, which means data is only available for that time frame, and Fauci wants the U.S. to stick to what it is known with more certainty rather than follow the U.K.'s lead. [The Guardian, The New York Times]

7.

India approves Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use

India has approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca for emergency use, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters Saturday. It's the first coronavirus vaccine candidate to get the green light in India, launching a massive immunization campaign in the world's second most populous nation, which has recorded the second largest number of COVID-19 infections after the United States. The Oxford-AstraZeneca shot has already been approved in the United Kingdom. While its clinical trials raised questions about its efficacy, especially compared to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, it's considered safe and is also cheaper and easier to distribute than other candidates. India has three more vaccines awaiting approval, and the country's health regulator has also received an emergency-use application for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. [Reuters]

8.

Appeals court reinstates execution for only woman on federal death row

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that a lower court judge incorrectly vacated an execution date for Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, therefore reinstating her execution date for later this month. U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss had previously decided the Justice Department unlawfully rescheduled Montgomery's execution for Jan. 12 because he had already delayed it in December after her attorneys contracted COVID-19 while visiting their client and subsequently asked the judge to extend the time to file a clemency petition. The appellate court's decision overturns that ruling, although Montgomery's attorney Meaghan Vergow said she'll file a petition for reconsideration. Montgomery, whose lawyers argue suffers from serious mental illnesses, was convicted of killing Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a 23-year-old pregnant woman, in 2004. [NBC News, CNN]

9.

Pharmacist arrested, accused of intentionally allowing COVID-19 vaccines to spoil

A pharmacist in Wisconsin was arrested on Thursday after police say he intentionally spoiled more than 500 doses of a coronavirus vaccine. Authorities say the incident took place at a hospital in Grafton, outside Milwaukee. The pharmacist, who has not been publicly identified, was arrested on recommended charges of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, criminal damage to property, and adulterating a prescription drug. Authorities say the pharmacist, who worked for Aurora Health Care, wrote that he removed 57 vials from refrigeration "knowing that if not properly stored the vaccine would be ineffective." This will delay vaccinations for hundreds of people in Wisconsin, which reported 3,810 new coronavirus cases and 42 deaths on Thursday. [The Washington Post]

10.

Alabama, Ohio State advance to college football title game

No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State advanced to the College Football Playoff National Championship, which is set to take place Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The Crimson Tide rolled to a 31-14 victory over No. 4 Notre Dame, while the Buckeyes handled No. 3 Clemson, 49-28. The latter contest consisted of a quarterback duel between two of the country's top NFL prospects. Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, widely considered the favorite to be the no. 1 overall pick, threw for 400 yards, but Ohio State's Justin Fields tallied a similarly impressive 385 yards in the air and got the win. Alabama and Ohio State are both undefeated. The two powerhouses have each won titles since the sport launched its four-team playoff format in 2015. The Buckeyes won the inaugural mini tournament, while Alabama won in 2016 and 2018. This marks the fifth time in seven years the Tide have made the title game. [ESPN, NCAA]