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The Morning Dispatch: Hawley Makes His Move
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The Morning Dispatch: Hawley Makes His Move

Plus: It’s taking longer than expected to administer the COVID vaccines. Here's why.

Happy Thursday! As 2020 comes to a close, we can’t express in words how grateful we are for your support of The Morning Dispatch this year. We had no idea all the news we were up against when we launched daily publishing last January, but the community here has grown more than we could have ever imagined.

Cheers to 2020. We hope there’s never another year like it.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri announced Wednesday that he will object when Congress convenes on January 6 to certify the Electoral College results. The move will force lawmakers in both chambers to debate and vote on accepting Joe Biden’s victory, a vote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had hoped to avoid

  • President Trump was briefed on unconfirmed intelligence on December 17 that China paid bounties to non-state militants in Afghanistan to kill U.S. soldiers, two senior Trump administration officials told Axios. The declassified intelligence comes six months after media outlets reported that Russians paid off Taliban insurgents to kill American troops. “Administration officials across multiple agencies are currently working to corroborate the initial intelligence reports,” Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian write.

  • According to police reports, the girlfriend of the Nashville Christmas Day bomber warned local authorities in 2019 that he was making bombs in his R.V., saying he “frequently talks about the military and bomb making.”

  • The Chinese government on Wednesday sentenced 10 Hong Kong activists to between seven months and three years in jail for an illegal border crossing, drawing ire from the international community. The activists will also face steep fines ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 yuan.

  • The European Union finalized its Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China, completing negotiations on a deal that has been in the works for seven years ahead of its December 31 deadline. Per the treaty’s provisions, China will end its forced transfer of intellectual property from foreign businesses and will allow European firms to operate more freely in China.

  • The United Kingdom granted emergency authorization to the Oxford University-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, becoming the first country to do so. Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui said yesterday Americans likely will not receive the AstraZeneca vaccine until April because of questions about its efficacy among older people. 

  • The Louisville Police Department is moving to fire detectives Myles Cosgrove and Joshua Jaynes, two police officers involved in the raid that led to Breonna Taylor’s death on March 13.

  • President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday tapped Jessica Hertz—his deputy counsel while he was vice president and a former lawyer for Facebook—to serve as his staff secretary in the White House. He also named former Obama administration Pentagon official Kathleen Hicks to serve as deputy secretary of defense.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that she intends to “provisionally” seat Iowa Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks to the House of Representatives on January 3, upending Miller-Meeks’ Democratic challenger Rita Hart’s attempts to contest the election results, which came down to six votes. “Every vote counts and that’s why the Committee on House Administration is conducting a thorough and fair review of this election to make sure every vote was counted and counted as cast,” a Pelosi spokesperson added.

  • The United States confirmed 188,482 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 12 percent of the 1,569,605 tests coming back positive. A total of 3,715 deaths were attributed to the virus, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 342,259. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 125,220 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control: 12,409,050 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed nationwide, and 2,794,588 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered.

Josh Hawley Volunteers as Tribute

Earlier this month, the Electoral College officially convened across the nation to elect Joe Biden the next U.S. president, 306 to 232. But one procedural step still stands between Biden and inauguration day: The congressional count of the electoral votes on January 6. It’s looking more and more like that’s going to be a long day.

Yesterday, Josh Hawley, the freshman lawmaker from Missouri, became the first Republican senator to publicly commit to challenging the electoral results during the counting session. Alleging that “some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws” and disparaging “the unprecedented effort of mega corporations, including Facebook and Twitter, to interfere in this election,” Hawley pledged to contest the results.

Such a challenge requires participation from at least one member of both houses of Congress. A handful of House members have already promised to challenge the outcome. In this way, Hawley’s support as a senator differs from actions by Democratic lawmakers in 2016, which were lodged by members of the House of Representatives only. In 2004, though, former California Sen. Barbara Boxer joined House Democrats in objecting to the counting of Ohio’s 20 electoral votes. Procedurally, Congress will be obligated to allow a period of debate and take at least one roll call vote—and perhaps several—on whether a given state’s electoral slates ought to be rejected.

Make no mistake: These votes are guaranteed to fail. It would be a miracle if enough GOP senators stuck with Hawley to allow any such effort to pass the Senate, where several Republicans have already indicated their opposition to the effort. It won’t pass House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic-controlled House, either.

“I do not think that he will prevail in his quest,” GOP Sen. Susan Collins said of Hawley yesterday. “And I question why he is doing it when the courts have unanimously thrown out the suits that the president’s team have filed for lack of credible evidence. … Sen. Hawley’s a smart attorney who clerked for the Supreme Court, so he clearly understands that. So I don’t understand.”

“We’ll see what he has to say, but my belief is that although I didn’t like the outcome of the election, the election is over,” Sen. Richard Shelby added.

The vote will be the single most high-stakes test of personal fealty to Trump GOP lawmakers have faced yet—more so even than votes during his impeachment a year ago, or the border wall national emergency fight a year before that.

It goes without saying that this is a situation most Republicans, caught between their perpetual desire not to anger their Trump-loving constituents and the impossibility of what Trump wants them to do, desperately hoped to avoid.

By and large, Republicans have gotten through the last two months by keeping their heads down and mumbling cagey platitudes about the importance of counting every legal vote and Trump’s right to his day in court. An up-or-down vote about whether the election results should be overturned is pretty much as far from that as you can get. It’s no surprise Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell labored to persuade  his caucus members not to take the step Hawley has now vowed to take.

It’s worth pointing out that just because Hawley has promised to object to the certification of the votes in one or more states isn’t necessarily a guarantee he will actually vote to overturn the result. In many ways, the objection itself is the cousin of other moves of grandstanding senatorial procedure like the filibuster: A way to temporarily hijack a high-profile proceeding in order to shine a spotlight on a personal hobby horse issue. (See also Hawley’s otherwise bizarre reference to Facebook’s and Twitter’s supposed preference for Biden, which has nothing to do with whether Pennsylvania’s electors should be certified but a lot to do with Hawley’s brand as a conservative crusader against Big Tech.)

Regardless of how the votes turn out, Hawley’s gambit will also serve to accomplish one other goal: ratcheting up the pressure on Mike Pence, who, in his vice presidential role as president of the Senate, will preside over the count. Under ordinary circumstances, this is a purely procedural role, but some of President Trump’s fiercest allies have been publicly advocating for Pence to use his perch to simply refuse to acknowledge Biden electors from swing states. Rep. Louie Gohmert, who is among the House Republicans planning  to protest the counting of Biden’s electors, sued Pence in federal court earlier this week in an attempt to get a court to declare Pence has the authority to determine which slates of electors should be counted.

Lawyers for Gohmert revealed on Tuesday that the lawsuit was brought in part because Pence “declined to sign onto their plan to upend Congress’ certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.”

Where Are All the Vaccines?

It’s been a little longer than two weeks since the first batches of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine began rolling out nationwide, and 10 days since Moderna’s did the same. According to CDC data, a combined 12,409,050 doses of these two vaccines—which were both developed and authorized by the FDA in less than a year—have been distributed across the country, and 2,794,588 of those doses have been administered. 

In a vacuum, inoculating nearly 3 million people against a deadly virus less than a year after it was sequenced is nothing short of a miracle. It’s a miracle outside of a vacuum, too. But given that the average daily death toll in the U.S. has numbered nearly 2,500 this month, some are saying it’s not good enough.

For a piece on the site today, Declan talked to several physicians and public health experts about why the U.S. appears to be failing to meet its end-of-year vaccination goals. Check out the full article. We’ve included some highlights below.

If 12.5 million vaccine doses have truly been distributed around the country, why have fewer than 3 million people received one?

First of all, reporting delays across the country make the gulf seem wider than it is. Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, told reporters yesterday that he is seeing a 72- to 96-hour lag in the CDC’s dashboard. “That data will tighten up as systems and reporting become more regular and routine,” he said.

This is not the first time the CDC’s data processes have been under the microscope. “Federal coordination about data collection has been horrible,” Dr. Howard Forman—a health policy professor at Yale University and clinician at Yale New Haven Hospital—told The Dispatch. “It’s why there is a COVID Tracking Project run out of The Atlantic magazine, because the federal government never wanted to take on the responsibility or even work directly with groups to try to quickly collect this type of information.”

By implementing universal and consistent vaccination reporting guidelines, Forman added, the federal government could have avoided this confusion, which he believes has led to the undercounting of vaccinations administered. “There’s no great incentive for a state or a health system or anyone to report back right away,” he said. “There’s nothing in it for them, and there’s nobody making it easy for them. So I’m sure they’re collecting the data, but it’s probably not even close to real time.”

What are some obstacles doctors and nurses are facing in getting more Americans vaccinated?

“The holiday season has certainly slowed down the rollout,” said Dr. Akino Yamashita, who is treating COVID patients in New York. “The hospital I work at is providing vaccines to staff, but only on weekdays. There was also a snowstorm in the Northeast that slowed some shipments and forced some places to close early the day of the storm, or open later the day after.”

The Pfizer vaccine’s extreme temperature requirements may also be contributing to the relatively lethargic uptake, Yamashita noted. “Once you defrost them, you can keep the vaccine in the fridge for five days,” she explained. “Once you take it out of the fridge and prep it, you have six hours to give it. If not, you have to throw it out. I think some centers might be limiting vaccination hours because they don’t want to wind up with wasted vaccines if people don’t show up.”

The sheer novelty of the vaccine presents another administration bottleneck, as CDC guidelines recommend doctors and nurses keep recipients on the premises for 15 or 30 minutes post-vaccination, depending on their medical histories, to monitor for any side effects or allergic reactions. STAT Newsreported earlier this week there have been 11 U.S. cases of post-COVID vaccine anaphylaxis—which can be treated with an EpiPen—out of about 2.1 million doses administered. As pediatrician Aaron Carroll wrote this week, the COVID-19 anaphylaxis rate thus far is slightly higher than the overall rate of anaphylaxis in vaccinations, “but that may be only because we are being much more careful about monitoring reactions at the moment.”

Forman, who had vaccinated about 45 people yesterday by the time The Dispatch caught up with him in the afternoon, said his health system hasn’t seen any severe reactions after administering “well over” 10,000 inoculations. But in a pandemic, the extra 15- to 30-minute wait time is particularly disruptive. “People are filling up our room, socially distancing, after the vaccination,” he said. “Which means that even if you wanted to schedule twice as many [vaccine appointments], where would you hold them?”

Doses and physical space aren’t the only vaccination component hospitals and clinics are running short on: Trained professionals need to administer the shots as well. “My hospital has such a degree of burnout from the two COVID waves,” Forman said, noting that simultaneous surges across the country mean health systems can no longer call in reinforcements from elsewhere in the country. 

Worth Your Time

  • To ring in 2021, bestselling author Mark Manson reached out to his readers and asked, “What have been your biggest lessons from 2020?” More than 1,200 people responded, and as it turns out, people learn a lot in times of adversity. Manson condensed his readers’ thoughts and experiences into 10 practical takeaways ranging from the importance of routine to the adaptability of humankind. “I’ve learned that I’m much stronger than I thought,” one response read. “I have been able to maintain love and happiness, through a pandemic, political insanity, cancer, job changes, and whatever the world is becoming.”

  • Sen. Ben Sasse made waves last night when he posted an essay on Facebook in response to the news that his colleague, Sen. Josh Hawley, will object to the Electoral College results on January 6. “When we talk in private, I haven’t heard a single Congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent – not one. Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will ‘look’ to President Trump’s most ardent supporters,” Sasse writes. “Let’s be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage. But they’re wrong – and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions. Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.”

  • After FireEye IT discovered that a Russian-backed hacker had breached several government agencies and corporations earlier this month, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin deemed the attack “virtually a declaration of war.” In The Atlantic this week, senior Hoover Institution fellow Amy Zegart adds a dose of realism to that assessment. In actuality, all nations—including the United States—spy in cyberspace. For that reason, the answer to cyber attacks is prevention, not deterrence. “Cyberconflict is here to stay, and policy makers need to be clear-eyed about what steps will actually make us safer,” she writes. “Sounding tough won’t.”

  • As we mentioned above, 2020 has been quite the year. So much has happened that we can’t even remember some of the biggest stories from the spring—and it’s our job to! That’s why we appreciated Axios’ fourth annual Google Trends chart, which tracks what stories people were paying the most attention to over the course of the year. Two of the most consistently searched terms were “TikTok” and “masks,” while several items from the Before Times—Qassem Suleimani, impeachment, Prince Harry and Meghan—served as a blast from the past.

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Let Us Know

Since we’re off tomorrow, we’ll leave you with a few questions to chew on so you have more to talk about.

  1. We’ve heard—and written—plenty about the negative this year. What’s the best thing that happened in 2020?

  2. To crib from Mark Manson, what have been your biggest lessons from 2020?

  3. What’s one New Year’s resolution you think you can stick to in 2021, and what’s one New Year’s resolution you have for The Morning Dispatch?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).