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News & Politics Thread (Part 5)

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    Atypical
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    Electors in key battleground states affirm votes for Biden

    (CNN) State electors are casting their ballots for president Monday, opening the formal Electoral College process of sealing Joe Biden’s election as the 46th president of the United States.

    Vermont’s three electors were the first to cast their votes for Biden just after 10 a.m. ET, with Tennessee following shortly after with 11 votes for President Donald Trump.

    Electors from battleground states Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Wisconsin cast ballots for Biden, with another key state that Biden flipped, Michigan, slated to meet Monday afternoon.

    Two key states that Trump won, North Carolina and Ohio, cast their ballots for the President on Monday.

    Electors for all 50 states and the District of Columbia will meet in each state throughout Monday to cast their ballots for president, formally affirming the election result for Biden.

    It’s a constitutionally mandated ritual that’s typical no more than a curious afterthought following a presidential election, but the Electoral College vote has taken on newfound significance this year as Trump and his GOP allies make unprecedented efforts to subvert the popular will of the voters and overturn Biden’s November victory.

    Trump has continued to spread false claims of widespread fraud despite courts in all of the battleground states rejecting his campaign’s challenges to the election. The Supreme Court dealt the final blow against his efforts to overturn the election result late Friday, dismissing a case brought by the Texas attorney general that sought to disenfranchise millions of voters in four states.

    Wisconsin’s Supreme Court denied yet another challenge from Trump’s campaign on Monday, just before the state’s electors were scheduled to meet and cast their votes for Biden.

    While Trump has directed most of his Twitter ire at the courts and the GOP state officials who have properly certified their states’ election results for Biden, he turned his attention to the Electoral College vote on Sunday evening with even more false claims. In a Fox News interview over the weekend, Trump claimed “it’s not over” and vowed to keep fighting to stay in office. He and his allies have suggested state legislatures should try to put forward alternate slates of electors that would go against the votes in their states.

    Republicans who had been named as electors for Trump in Pennsylvania and Georgia met separately to cast symbolic votes for the President on Monday. Those votes have no validity under federal law, but officials in the two states said the Trump electors met conditionally to preserve the Trump campaign’s legal challenges.

    Security concerns in several states

    The heightened attention on today’s Electoral College voting has prompted several states to put in place security protocols due to concerns over safety, threats and protests.

    In Arizona, the electors met at an undisclosed location, according to the public information office for the Secretary of State. And in Wisconsin, electors were told to use an unmarked entrance with police escort, according to one of the electors.

    “For elections officials in Arizona, this is the final step in our process. And one that is usually conducted with much pomp and circumstance, with the reverence it deserves for its place in history,” Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said during the state’s gathering. “But this year’s proceeding, which occurs only once every four years, has unfortunately had an artificial shadow cast over it in the form of baseless accusations of misconduct and fraud, for which no proof has been provided, and which court after court has dismissed as unfounded. And this fabrication of misdeed, leveled against everyone from poll workers to me and my office, has led to threats of violence against me, my office, and those in this room today.”

    The Michigan House and Senate offices were closed to the public Monday after “credible threats of violence” as the state’s 16 electors prepare to cast their votes for president and vice president, a spokeswoman told CNN.

    A Michigan House Republican was stripped of his committee assignments for the rest of the term after inciting violence around protests expected later Monday in Lansing. Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Republican, and Speaker-elect Jason Wentworth released a statement on Monday condemning the comments of House Republican Rep. Gary Eisen, who said in a radio interview that he could not offer assurances there wouldn’t be violence on Monday.

    Eisen, one of the Michigan lawmakers to support the Texas attorney general lawsuit that was dismissed by the Supreme Court, would not give details about the events unfolding in Lansing beyond saying, “It’s going to be violence, it’s going to be protests.”

    In a statement, Chatfield said the state will not change electors to give Trump the win, because doing so would “bring mutually assured destruction for every future election in regards to the Electoral College.”

    “I fear we’d lose our country forever” should Republicans switch the slate of electors, Chatfield added.

    “I fought hard for President Trump,” he wrote. “Nobody wanted him to win more than me. I think he’s done an incredible job. But I love our republic, too. I can’t fathom risking our norms, traditions and institutions to pass a resolution retroactively changing the electors for Trump, simply because some think there may have been enough widespread fraud to give him the win.”

    Congress will count Electoral College votes next month

    Monday’s Electoral College vote is not the final step in the constitutional process of selecting a president. The votes cast on Monday are sent to Congress, where they will be counted on January 6 in a joint session led by Vice President Mike Pence.

    Many congressional Republicans who have refused thus far to say that Biden won the election have claimed they are waiting for Monday’s Electoral College vote to certify the results. But some of Trump’s staunchest House Republican allies are preparing for a floor fight when the votes are counted in Congress next month.

    Lawmakers can dispute a state’s election result when the votes are counted next month. But a challenge can only be considered if both a House member and a senator sign onto it. So far only House Republicans have said they will contest the results, although some GOP senators have suggested they are considering joining.

    Even if a senator signs on to challenge the results, it’s only delaying the inevitable. In that case, the House and Senate separately debate the matter for two hours and vote on it. Democrats control the House, and enough GOP senators have already said they reject Trump’s claims of fraud that a challenge would not succeed there either.

    After the state electors cast their ballots on Monday, those results will be certified and sent to Congress, the National Archives and to the courts.

    The states’ electors are meeting throughout the day, as each state sets its own rules for how electors meet and vote. At least one state — Nevada — met virtually due to the pandemic.

    Electors are picked by the state parties before the November election. Federal lawmakers are not allowed to be electors, but the slates usually include local officials and party alumni. In New York, for instance, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cast electoral votes for Biden.

    In Florida, Republican state Senate President Wilton Simpson, who was a state elector, tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday night. As a result, Simpson is not participating in the Electoral College vote Monday and an alternate will take his place when the states’ electors cast their ballots for Trump.

    The Electoral College votes will conclude later Monday evening, when California’s electors meet at 5 p.m. ET and Hawaii’s at 7 p.m. ET.

    CNN’s Annie Grayer, Kristina Sgueglia, Leslie Perrot, Adrienne Broaddus and Bill Kirkos contributed to this report.

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    Attorney General William Barr resigns

    (CNN) Attorney General William Barr resigned on Monday, ending a tenure in which the President Donald Trump loyalist carried the administration’s “law and order” message but ultimately dealt the most credible blow to Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was littered with fraud.

    “Just had a very nice meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr at the White House. Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job! As per letter, Bill will be leaving just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family,” Trump tweeted, announcing the news.

    “Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen, an outstanding person, will become Acting Attorney General. Highly respected Richard Donoghue will be taking over the duties of Deputy Attorney General. Thank you to all!”

    Barr repeatedly and unapologetically prioritized Trump’s political goals while furthering his own vision of expansive presidential power. In his most notorious move, Barr delivered a misleading summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, essentially clearing Trump in the Russia probe, which drew a sharp rebuke from Mueller himself.

    He remained steadfast in his support of the President heading into Election Day, including by launching various operations across the country to combat violence and drug trafficking and reiterating Trump’s message not to participate in mail-in voting prior to the presidential election. He also appointed a special counsel to continue investigating one of Trump’s longtime infatuations, that intelligence and law enforcement violated the law in investigating the 2016 Trump campaign.

    But the decision from the former attorney general to rebuke the President’s false claims of widespread fraud in his loss to Democrat Joe Biden represented a final failure of Trump’s often successful attempt to weaponize the Justice Department as a personal and potent political weapon.

    Following the 2020 election, Trump’s legal team filed dozens of civil lawsuits in federal and state courts across the country in an effort to prove that Biden did not fairly win the election. Barr told the Associated Press in an interview on December 1 that the Justice Department had not found any such evidence.
    “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” he said.

    The President was frustrated with his attorney general’s comments to the AP and had a “contentious,” lengthy meeting at the White House the day they were published, according to a person familiar with the meeting.

    By early December, Barr was considering leaving his post before January 20, the day Trump leaves office, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN days after he buffed the President’s election fraud claims. The source said Barr was not happy with Trump and that the former attorney general “is not someone who takes bullying and turns the other cheek!”

    No stranger to controversy

    The attorney general echoed the President’s anger at coronavirus lockdowns, calling them, apart from slavery, “the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.” Barr also asked for the Justice Department to take over the President’s defense in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by Jean E. Carroll, who accused him of sexual assault.

    In one dramatic scene in June, Barr ordered authorities to disperse a large crowd of peaceful protesters near the White House so Trump could walk to the nearby historic St. John’s Church, where a fire had been set in the basement the previous night during unrest sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

    His extraordinary decision to use force on the protesters underscored his commitment to Trump’s law and order message, and in the days following the incident, he defended his actions and claimed there was no connection between his order and a photo-op Trump staged at the church.

    The attorney general also faced criticism for saying that systemic racism is not an issue in US law enforcement agencies, comments that came as throngs of people took to the streets across the country to protest police violence and racism.

    “I think there’s racism in the United States still but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist. I understand the distrust, however, of the African American community given the history in this country,” he said in an interview with CBS in June.

    And he ordered his prosecutors to dismiss charges against Trump’s first national security advisor Michael Flynn, who has since been pardoned by the President.

    Despite offering such service to the President, there had been signs that Trump has been becoming ever more frustrated with Barr. He lashed out against the attorney general before the election, complaining he had not indicted Obama-era officials for their role in the Russia investigation.

    The tension suggested that for all of Barr’s apparent moves to placate Trump and his clear sympathy with the President over the Russia investigation in particular, he remained within the lines of evidence and legal procedure on the issue of election interference.

    A tough public spot

    Barr’s loyalty to Trump during his tenure at the Justice Department had sometimes put him in a tough public spot, including in September, when he was asked about Antifa, a left-wing group the Justice Department has claimed stirs protests toward violence.

    The attorney general was asked to address Trump’s assertion that “thugs” had intimidated a passenger on a plane. Barr told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer at the time that authorities were tracking people who had flown from city to city to stir up violence, but did not give examples and said he didn’t know specifically what Trump was describing.

    He made headlines last year when he suggested during testimony before the House Appropriations Committee that Trump’s campaign was spied on, saying he would be looking into the “genesis” of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation that began in 2016 of potential ties between the campaign and the Russian government. He later defended the comment, saying he made it “off the cuff” and that he wasn’t using the word “spying” pejoratively.

    Barr had also infuriated Democrats when he took two days after Mueller gave him his probe’s findings in March 2019 to announce in a letter that the special counsel “did not find” that any Trump campaign associates coordinated with Russian interference in the election, and that Mueller “did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other” about whether the President obstructed justice. His pronouncements prompted Trump to proclaim “no collusion” and “no obstruction.”

    Mueller objected — first in a letter to Barr, then in a public statement and again when he testified to Congress last year. Barr’s rollout “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions” of the report, Mueller said. The special counsel had documented multiple links between Trump campaign officials and Russian government-linked people.

    In an echo of the appointment of Mueller, Barr in early December appointed Connecticut US Attorney John Durham to act as special counsel investigating the 2016 election. The appointment virtually ensured that Durham will keep his investigation and doubled down on one of Trump’s longtime infatuations — that national security and criminal concerns about his campaign and Russia in 2016 sullied the legitimacy of his election and presidency.

    The move left a political bomb ticking for Trump’s successor and his new attorney general.

    This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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    Mitch congratulated Soon to Be President Biden 🙂 You know the phrase it ain’t over the fat lady sings. She sang and Trump better have heard it.

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    Joe Biden picks Pete Buttigieg to be transportation secretary

    (CNN) President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Pete Buttigieg to be his transportation secretary, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN, elevating the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to a top post in the federal government.

    Buttigieg would be the first Senate-confirmed LGBTQ Cabinet secretary should his nomination make it through the chamber.

    The choice vaults a candidate Biden spoke glowingly of after the Democratic primary into a top job in the incoming administration and could earn Buttigieg what many Democrats believe is needed experience should he run for president again.

    The role of transportation secretary is expected to play a central role in Biden’s push for a bipartisan infrastructure package.

    Buttigieg is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party but someone who lacked an obvious path to higher elected office given the continued rightward shift of his home state of Indiana.

    Buttigieg emerged as the leading candidate for the transportation secretary role in recent days. The former mayor was considered for a host of other posts, including US ambassador to the United Nations and commerce secretary.

    Other Democrats were also considered for the post, including former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo.

    After ending his presidential campaign earlier in the year, Buttigieg endorsed Biden and spent much of the general election headlining fundraisers and events for the former vice president.

    Biden praised Buttigieg at a March event in Dallas, comparing him to his late son Beau Biden.

    “I know that may not mean much to most people, but to me it’s the highest compliment I can give any man or woman,” Joe Biden said at the time.

    Prior to running for president, Buttigieg had served as the mayor of South Bend since 2012. He did not seek reelection in 2019.

    During his tenure as mayor, Buttigieg in 2014 deployed to Afghanistan as an intelligence officer.

    Buttigieg came out as gay in a 2015 essay for the South Bend Tribune while serving as mayor. Later that year, Buttigieg won reelection.

    Prior to running for office, Buttigieg was a consultant at McKinsey & Company in Chicago.

    This is story is breaking and will be updated.

    CNN’s Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.

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    Biden poised to nominate former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to lead Department of Energy

    (CNN) President-elect Joe Biden is poised to tap former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to lead the Department of Energy, two people familiar with the matter say, inviting a longtime adviser who played a critical role in his debate preparations over the years to join his Cabinet.

    Granholm has long taken a deep interest in energy issues and was considered to be a top candidate for Energy secretary if Hillary Clinton had won four years ago. Now, she will have her chance, if confirmed by the Senate.

    Energy secretary, along with Transportation and other posts, are expected to be announced later this week as Biden works to select his Cabinet by Christmas.

    Granholm is a former CNN contributor.

    The Biden transition team declined to comment to CNN on the selection, first reported by Politico. CNN has reached out to Granholm’s team for comment.

    Granholm served two terms as governor of Michigan and was first elected in 2002. She was the first woman to be elected governor of the state, and in 2006 was elected with the largest number of votes ever cast at the time for the state, according to her biography page on the state’s official website.

    Prior to being elected governor, Granholm was elected as the state’s attorney general in 1998, and was also the first woman to serve in that role.

    Granholm, if confirmed by the Senate, would help Biden carry out his ambitious energy plan. The President-elect has proposed spending $2 trillion over four years on clean energy projects and ending carbon emissions from power plants by 2035. The plan would create union jobs in clean energy and through projects such as the construction of electric vehicle charging stations, updating electric grids, expanding broadband internet access and more.

    As governor of Michigan, Granholm had worked closely with the auto industry, the dominant industry in the Great Lakes State, which could help Biden as he attempts to move the country toward electric vehicles.

    During the 2008 financial crisis, Granholm found herself in the national spotlight as she pushed for an auto industry bailout. Biden and Granholm worked closely to implement the recovery act in those early years of the Obama administration. Biden often talks about this work to save auto jobs, many of which came from Michigan.

    In addition to overseeing the nation’s energy supply, the US Department of Energy is tasked with maintaining a safe and secure nuclear deterrent and reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation.

    Granholm was a federal prosecutor in Detroit and was later appointed to Wayne County Corporation Counsel. Granholm began her career in public service as a judicial clerk for Michigan’s 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

    This story has been updated with additional information about Granholm.

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    Hill leaders eye new round of stimulus checks as part of $900 billion Covid relief deal

    (CNN) Congressional leaders, after months of a bitter stalemate and as millions of Americans have been eager for relief, are finally indicating they’re nearing a deal on a new rescue package that could pass both chambers within days.

    The price tag for a stimulus deal could be close to $900 billion, a source familiar tells CNN, though more details could be out later Wednesday.

    The deal is expected to include a new round of stimulus checks at $600 per individual, but no money for state and local aid, a priority Democrats had pushed for, and no lawsuit protections, which Republicans wanted.

    The measure is also expected to include an additional $300 a week in jobless benefits as well as up to $330 billion for small business loans and money for vaccine distribution.

    But there are still provisions drawing pushback, including a Democratic push to include $90 billion in aid to states that would be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    Senate Majority Whip John Thune told CNN that if that’s “simply a way of disguising money for state and local governments, it will have a lot of opposition.” He said it depends on how its structured.

    Even as talks are moving in a positive direction towards a deal, congressional leaders are still trading offers and going back-and-forth this morning as they try to finalize a proposal and jam it through Congress in days, several sources told CNN.

    That means it’s still highly uncertain when Congress will vote — and whether they will be able to tie the roughly $900 billion relief plan to a massive $1.4 trillion spending bill that Congress is trying to pass by the time the government runs out of money Friday night. Whether Congress will have to pass another stop-gap measure to keep agencies afloat remains to be seen.

    On a conference call Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that votes on final passage could slip into the weekend, and he prepared his members to be ready for that possibility.

    If that happens, it’s possible there could be a temporary government shutdown until final passage since government funding runs out Friday night, and they are planning on tying the Covid relief package to the funding bill. Congress may have to pass a short-term stop-gap measure to prevent that from happening.

    The stimulus proposal in the works amounts to about twice the amount that Senate Republicans have been proposing, but it is a fraction of what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been demanding for months. Before the election, Pelosi had held out for a deal worth $2.2 trillion, but now she is willing to back a much smaller proposal, arguing that they will have another opportunity to push for more aid when Joe Biden assumes the presidency.

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    Biden to tap Deb Haaland as first Native American interior secretary

    (CNN) President-elect Joe Biden has selected New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland to serve as interior secretary, three people familiar with the matter tell CNN. If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary.

    Haaland was picked, in part, because she is someone who has “spent her career fighting for all Americans, including tribal nations, rural communities, and communities of color,” according to a person familiar with the decision. The department conserves and manages the nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage, as well as oversees the federal government’s relationships with Native American tribes.

    A transition source familiar with the deliberations on the interior secretary pick pointed to Haaland’s current position as vice chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources as showing her knowledge of and commitment to environmental protections and clean energy. The source also tells CNN they expect that Haaland will bring perspective on other issues like land and water conservation, renewable energy, public lands, and federal parks.

    The Washington Post was first to report Haaland’s expected nomination.

    While the Democratic majority in the House is remarkably thin, Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave her blessing to Haaland’s selection. She issued a statement on Wednesday, which an aide tells CNN was intended to send a green light to the Biden transition and beyond that she supported her nomination.

    “Congresswoman Haaland knows the territory,” Pelosi said, “and if she is the President-elect’s choice for Interior Secretary, then he will have made an excellent choice.”

    A source familiar with the push to get Haaland nominated says that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was endorsed by the congresswoman during the presidential primary, offered her support for Haaland privately to Biden.

    Haaland made history in 2018 when she was elected as one of the two first female Native Americans in Congress. Haaland represents New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, which covers most of Albuquerque. She replaced Michelle Lujan Grisham, who vacated her congressional seat to run for governor.

    The vice president of policy and strategy for the progressive think tank Data for Progress, Julian Brave NoiseCat, praised the President-elect’s pick.

    “We see our moms, our aunties, and ourselves in Deb — and now we’re putting our greatest hopes as a people in her leadership. After four years of fossil fuel executives and lobbyists opening up Native lands and sacred sites to industry, the next Secretary of Interior will be a Laguna Pueblo woman who went to Standing Rock in 2016 and cooked for the people,” Brave NoiseCat said in a statement.

    In 2016, Haaland traveled to North Dakota to take part in the protests over plans to build a pipeline underneath a key source of water for the Standing Rock Reservation.

    Haaland graduated from a program created by Emerge New Mexico, which helps train Democratic women to run for office.

    In 2012, she worked as the Native American vote director for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. She later ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014.

    She would go on to become the chair of New Mexico’s Democratic Party, and the first Native American woman in the country to lead a state party.

    This story has been updated with additional information about Haaland.

    CNN’s Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

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    Biden expected to nominate North Carolina environmental official to run EPA

    (CNN) President-elect Joe Biden is poised to nominate Michael Regan of North Carolina to run the Environmental Protection Agency, two people familiar with the matter tell CNN.

    Regan, who runs the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, is set to be introduced on Saturday with other members of Biden’s climate team.

    If confirmed by the US Senate, Regan would be the second African American to lead the EPA. Lisa Jackson was the first to head the agency, during the Obama administration.

    The Washington Post was first to report Regan as the President-elect’s pick.

    Regan would play a central role in Biden’s plan to combat the climate crisis, lower the country’s carbon emissions and fight environmental injustices affecting low-income Americans and communities of color.

    North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, named Regan as the secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality in January 2017. The agency’s mission is to protect the state’s environment and natural resources.

    Regan previously led the Environmental Defense Fund’s efforts to combat the impacts of the climate crisis and air pollution, according to the state’s government website. He also worked at the EPA during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

    A transition source familiar with the deliberations process said that a critical part of Regan’s credentials — and a top reason he became a final contender for the role — is his state-level government experience. This is in addition to the asset of Regan having worked on the federal level as well under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the source said.

    On the significance of Regan becoming the first Black man to lead the EPA if confirmed, the source said they see this as an addition to the growing list of “firsts” in the Biden appointments and nominees so far, which we heard Biden talk in depth about yesterday in announcing Pete Buttigieg’s nomination for transportation secretary.

    His reported pick was met with praise from some environmental advocacy groups.

    “We are confident Michael Regan will rebuild the EPA, restore the central role of science, and advance health protections for people and the air, water and land upon which we depend to thrive,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, a spokesperson for the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.

    Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement, “Regan will take the EPA’s helm at perhaps the most critical moment in the agency’s history, and he has to do much more than just mop up the toxic mess left by (President Donald) Trump.”

    Regan is expected to be one of the climate-focused members of Biden’s administration to be formally announced in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday, the source said, along with energy secretary nominee Jennifer Granholm and White House climate coordinator Gina McCarthy.

    CNN reported earlier this week that Biden is expected to name McCarthy, who served as the administrator of the EPA under President Barack Obama, as his White House climate czar. McCarthy would join former Secretary of State John Kerry, who the President-elect named his special presidential envoy for climate, as top Biden officials tasked with addressing the climate crisis.

    Biden’s ambitious climate plan seeks to end carbon emissions from power plants by 2035 and proposes broader public investment in green infrastructure, including $2 trillion for clean energy projects.

    The President-elect’s legislative agenda on climate will largely depend on whether Democrats gain control of the US Senate, which will be decided in two runoff elections in Georgia taking place on January 5. Regardless of which party controls the Senate, Biden has pledged to sign a series of executive orders on his first day in office related to combating the climate crisis, which would not require congressional approval.

    This story has been updated with additional information about Regan and Biden’s climate plan.

    CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly described Michael Regan. Regan would be the second African American to lead the EPA.

    CNN’s Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.

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    FDA authorizes a second vaccine as average daily cases and deaths hit records

    (CNN) The US Food and Drug Administration on Friday night authorized a second coronavirus vaccine for emergency use as Covid-19 hospitalizations rose to another record and cases and deaths are piling up in unprecedented ways.

    The FDA had signaled it would issue the authorization quickly for Moderna’s vaccine candidate, after the agency’s vaccine advisers voted Thursday to recommend approval.

    “The emergency use authorization allows the vaccine to be distributed in the U.S. for use in individuals 18 years and older,” the FDA said in a tweet.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still needs to green-light the vaccine before shots can be administered — and a CDC advisory panel is meeting this weekend to discuss it.

    If all hurdles are cleared, Moderna’s vaccine could be given in the US next week — joining Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, which rolled out this week, with first doses primarily being given to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

    “It’s an exciting time, but it’s a heartbreaking time,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN Friday of the vaccines’ arrivals. “The numbers (of cases, deaths and hospitalizations) are almost unspeakable at this point.”

    In the US, average daily cases, total hospitalizations and average daily deaths are still rising to levels not previously seen, as hospital staff around the country warn they’re running out of space and energy to provide sufficient care.

    With the authorization of the Moderna vaccine, 5.9 million Moderna doses could be delivered next week, joining 2 million allocated next week from Pfizer, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said earlier this week.

    “We still anticipate that every American will have the opportunity to be vaccinated by June,” Adm. Dr. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at HHS, said.

    Friday night’s authorization will, in the end, bring speedier relief, Azar said in a statement after the FDA’s announcement.

    “Authorization of Moderna’s vaccine means we can accelerate the vaccination of frontline healthcare workers and Americans in long-term-care facilities, and, ultimately, bring a faster end to this pandemic.”

    The Department of Defense “stands ready to work with our public and private-sector partners to ensure doeses reach Americans as soon as possible,” Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said in the statement. “Together, we will bring this pandemic to an end.”

    The task at hand now is to tackle skepticism many communities have toward the vaccines, and pass along the facts, according to Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health. To that end, public figures including Vice President Mike Pence have received vaccinations on live television this week, hoping in part to inspire confidence.

    “I’ve had the chance to be intimately involved in every step of the way here in the development of these vaccines. There have been no shortcuts taken, there’s no hidden information,” Collins told CNN Thursday. “This is something you want to do, for yourself, for your family, for the future of our nation.”

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    Here’s what’s in the second stimulus package

    by Katie Lobosco & Tami Luhby, CNN
    Updated 10:45 PM ET, Sun December 20, 2020

    (CNN) Leaders in the House and Senate reached an agreement late Sunday on a $900 billion pandemic relief bill that includes enhanced unemployment benefits and direct cash payments.

    There were several changes made from a proposal put forward nearly two weeks ago by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Direct stimulus checks were brought in at the last minute. Direct aid to states and liability protections for companies were left out.

    If the new bill passes, it will be the second-largest federal stimulus package after the $2 trillion CARES Act that Congress approved in March.

    Lawmakers in both chambers are expected to vote Monday and send the bill to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature — just in time to get something done before the end of December, when several aid programs in the CARES Act are set to expire, including key pandemic jobless assistance measures and eviction protections.

    The full bill text had not been released as of Sunday night. Here’s what we know so far from summaries released by Democratic and Republican leadership:

    Stimulus checks

    The package would send direct stimulus payments of $600 to individuals, half the amount provided in the first round of checks that went out in the spring. As with the first round, the payments will only be sent to people below a certain income level, though it wasn’t clear Sunday where that would be set.

    Eligible families would receive an additional $600 per child — which is $100 more than Congress gave families in the first round of relief last spring.

    Unemployment benefits

    The jobless would receive a $300 weekly federal enhancement in benefits for 11 weeks, from the end of December through mid-March under the deal. The amount is half of the earlier federal boost, which ran out at the end of July.

    Also, the agreement calls for extensions of two other pandemic unemployment programs that were created in the CARES Act in March. Both are currently set to expire at the end of this week, affecting an estimated 12 million people.

    The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program expands jobless benefits to gig workers, freelancers, independent contractors, the self-employed and certain people affected by the coronavirus. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provides an additional 13 weeks of payments to those who exhaust their regular state benefits.

    Both programs would close to new applicants in mid-March and then phase out in early April for existing claimants.

    The final agreement is less generous than the original bipartisan deal that was released earlier this month. It would have provided 16 weeks of enhanced payments and pandemic benefits.

    Small business loans

    The bill would reopen the Paycheck Protection Program so that some of the hardest-hit small businesses can apply for a second loan. The program stopped taking applications for the first round of loans in August.

    It specifically designates $12 billion for minority-owned and very small businesses.

    Unlike in the CARES Act, this bill carves out $15 billion for live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions. It also expands eligibility to more nonprofits as well as local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters.

    Funding for schools and child care

    The bill would provide $82 billion in aid for K-12 schools and colleges. Earlier proposals from Republicans and Democrats called for at least $100 billion in aid for schools.

    An additional $10 billion is included to support child care providers that have struggled because of the pandemic.

    Rental assistance

    The bill would extend until January 31 the eviction protection set to expire at the end of the year. It also would provide $25 billion in rental assistance for individuals who lost their source of income during the pandemic.

    Nutrition assistance

    The deal would raise SNAP benefits by 15% for six months but would not expand eligibility. This is more generous that the original bipartisan agreement from earlier in December, which called for a four-month increase.

    Democrats have advocated for augmenting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as food stamps are formally known, since the pandemic began, but the provision never made it into prior relief packages.

    The bill would also expand the Pandemic-EBT program to families with children under age 6, deeming them “enrolled” in child care and eligible for benefits. It now provides money to low-income families with school-age children in lieu of the free and reduced-price meals they would have received in school.

    The deal also would send $400 million to food banks and food pantries through The Emergency Food Assistance Program.

    It would also provide $175 million for nutrition services for seniors, such as Meals on Wheels, and $13 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which serves more than 700,000 older Americans monthly.

    Vaccine funding

    The agreement would provide $20 billion for the purchase of vaccines so they can be available at no charge for those who need it, as well as another $8 billion for vaccine distribution.

    It also would give states $20 billion to assist with testing.

    What’s not in the bill — state and local government funding

    When will you get a second stimulus check?

    The final deal does not contain any direct aid to state and local governments — dropping an initial call for $160 billion in assistance as the basis for good faith negotiations.

    The provision has been among the most contentious of the negotiations. House Democrats had provided $875 billion in the relief bill that passed the chamber in May to help states and local governments struggling with lower tax revenues due to the pandemic.

    But Republicans have resisted allocating additional aid beyond the $150 billion provided in Congress’ $2 trillion relief bill in March, which could only be used for coronavirus-related expenses. GOP lawmakers have said they don’t want to bail out states that have mismanaged their finances.

    State and local officials blasted lawmakers in recent days when it became clear that direct aid was falling by the wayside.

    In a joint statement Sunday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out that the final agreement would provide emergency resources for schools, $27 billion for state highways, struggling transit agencies, Amtrak and airports, and $22 billion for health-related expenses of state, local, tribal and territorial government.

    In addition, the agreement calls for providing $2 billion to support intercity buses.

    The deal would also extend the deadline for spending down the $150 billion in coronavirus relief funds by a year. State and local governments have been racing to use all the money by the current deadline of December 30, with many providing assistance to residents.

    State and local officials had also asked to be able to use some of the funding to plug budget shortfalls.

    CNN’s Manu Raju and Clare Foran contributed reporting.

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    https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/22/politics/donald-trump-white-house-countdown/index.html

    for his sake or at least his son’s sake (not the older ones the younger one) I hope he gets mental help

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    Biden introduces Miguel Cardona as education secretary nominee

    (CNN) President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday introduced Miguel Cardona as his nominee for education secretary, calling the Connecticut education commissioner “brilliant” and saying he will play a key role in his administration’s efforts to reopen schools forced online amid the coronavirus pandemic

    Cardona, whose parents moved from Puerto Rico to Connecticut, would be another high-profile Latino in the Cabinet if confirmed by the US Senate. Biden said Cardona “understands that the deep roots of inequity that exist as a source of our persistent opportunities gaps. He understands the transformative power that comes from investing in education.”

    Cardona said that as an education commissioner, a public school parent and a former public school classroom teacher, he understands how challenging this year has been for students, educators and parents.

    “It’s taken some of our most painful, longstanding disparities and wrenched them open even wider,” Cardona said, speaking publicly for the first time as Biden’s nominee. He said that “for too many students, your zip code and your skin color remain the best predictor of the opportunities you’ll have in your lifetime.”

    He added, “Though we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we also know that this crisis is ongoing, that we will carry its impacts for years to come and that the problems and inequities that have plagued our educational system since long before Covid will still be with us even after the virus is gone.”

    Biden on Wednesday reiterated that reopening schools safely would be a national priority for his administration and spoke of the challenges that students, educators and administrators have faced amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    “They worry. They’re under stress. They stretch local budgets that have left educators out of work,” Biden said.

    He also criticized “mixed signals from the White House” as to stimulus aid, a day after Trump unexpectedly announced he was asking for changes to the $900 billion Covid-19 relief package, leaving the future of the legislation in doubt.
    Biden pledged to push Congress to provide additional economic relief to Americans, including funding to “keep educators on the job.”

    CNN was first to report that Cardona would be nominated for the role.

    Cardona was appointed Connecticut’s commissioner of education by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont in August 2019. He came to the role with two decades of experience as a public school educator from the city of Meriden, according to the state’s government website, after beginning his career as an elementary school teacher and later serving for 10 years as a school principal. In 2013, Cardona became the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

    The Congressional Hispanic Caucus had urged the President-elect to select him. Throughout the Cabinet selection process, Biden has faced pressure to follow through on his pledge to nominate people who reflect the diversity of America.

    Biden still has five Cabinet-level positions to name, including attorney general. That decision is no longer expected to be announced before Christmas, a person familiar with the matter tells CNN, as the President-elect continues deliberating on one of the most high-profile positions in his incoming administration.

    Biden has said that getting kids back to school safely is one of his top priorities when he takes office in January. In a recent speech laying out his plan to address the pandemic, he said that if Congress provides the necessary funding to protect students, educators and staff and if Americans follow strong public health measures, “my team will work to see that a majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days.”

    During his presidential campaign, Biden proposed guaranteeing two free years of community college or other training as part of a higher education plan that would also aim to cut student loan obligations. His plan includes new spending aimed at improving access to college for low-income individuals, minorities and undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

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    Trump announces wave of pardons, including Papadopoulos and former lawmakers Hunter and Collins

    (CNN) President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced a wave of lame duck pardons, including two for men who pleaded guilty in Robert Mueller’s investigation, as well as ones for Republican allies who once served in Congress and military contractors involved in a deadly shooting of Iraqi civilians.

    The pardons of former campaign aide George Papadopoulos, former US congressmen Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, and the four Blackwater guards involved in the Iraq massacre kick off what is expected to be a flurry of pardons and commutations in the coming weeks as Trump concludes his term.

    Also included in the batch announced on Tuesday are Alex van der Zwaan, the Dutch lawyer who was sentenced to 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to lying to Mueller investigators; two Border Patrol agents convicted in 2006 of shooting and wounding an unarmed undocumented immigrant and then covering it up; and several people convicted of non-violent drug crimes serving lengthy sentences.

    The pardons came at the recommendation of Trump allies in Congress and, in some cases, the conservative media. Many of the non-violent drug offenders were recommended for clemency by Alice Johnson, the former federal inmate whose sentence Trump commuted at the urging of Kim Kardashian West.

    The announcement Tuesday also included commuting the remaining prison term of former Rep. Steve Stockman, a Texas Republican who was convicted by a jury in Texas of almost two dozen felonies, including fraud and money laundering.

    In the release, the White House cited Stockman’s age, 64, and said he “has underlying pre-existing health conditions that place his health at greater risk during the COVID epidemic, and he has already contracted COVID while in prison.” He had served two years of his 10-year sentence for what prosecutors called a “a white-collar crime spree.”

    Others included in the clemency batch on Tuesday were pardons for Alfonso Costa, a dentist who pleaded guilty to health care fraud; Alfred Lee Crum, who pleaded guilty in 1952 to illegally distilling moonshine; Weldon Angelos, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison for selling marijuana and carrying a handgun; Philip Lyman, a county commissioner in Utah who was sentenced to 10 days in jail related to his protest of ATV restrictions on federal land; and Otis Gordon, who was convicted of possession with intent to distribute.

    Philip Esformes, a Florida nursing home mogul convicted of paying bribes in a Medicare fraud case, also had some of his sentence commuted by Trump.

    Trump also reduced the sentences of three women — Crystal Munoz, Tynice Nichole Hall, and Judith Negron — convicted of drug crimes at the recommendation of Johnson, who has worked on behalf of other inmates after the President commuted her own sentence. Trump later granted Johnson a full pardon at this year’s Republican National Convention.

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    Massive data breach may have been discovered due to “unforced error” by suspected Russian hackers

    (CNN) US officials and private sector experts investigating the massive data breach that has rocked Washington increasingly believe the attackers were ultimately discovered because they took a more aggressive “calculated risk” that led to a possible “unforced error” as they tried to expand their access within the network they had penetrated months earlier without detection, according to a US official and two sources familiar with the situation.

    Investigators still haven’t confirmed the motives of the attackers as they work both to uncover the full scope of the attack and assign blame for the campaign that impacted at least half a dozen government agencies and potentially hundreds of private companies. The incursion was first uncovered by the cybersecurity firm FireEye after its own network was breached.

    FireEye was tipped off to the hackers’ presence when they attempt to move laterally within the firm’s network, according to the sources, a move that suggested the hackers were targeting sensitive data beyond emails addresses or business records. Whether that exposure was the result of a mistake by the attackers or because they took a calculated risk remains unclear, the sources said.

    “At some point, you have to risk some level of exposure when you’re going laterally to get after the things that you really want to get. And you’re going to take calculated risks as an attacker,” one source familiar with the investigation said.

    Multiple entry points

    Last week, FireEye acknowledged in a statement that the breach “occurred when the hackers, who already had an employee’s credentials, used those to register their own device to FireEye’s multi-factor authentication system so they could receive the employee’s unique access codes.”

    FireEye has declined to provide additional details about how the hackers were ultimately discovered after evading detection for months, citing an ongoing investigation into the matter. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency also declined to comment. US officials and experts warn the hackers used multiple entry points to breach these networks, some of which have not yet been identified.

    Now, the hackers are attempting to salvage what access they can as the US government and private sector are “burning it all down,” sources said, referring to their complete overhaul of networks, which will force the attackers to find new ways of getting the information they seek.

    Meanwhile, US officials continue to grapple with the fallout and assess just how successful the operation was, the US official said, noting that it is clear the nation-state responsible invested significant time and resources into the effort.

    While the scope of the hacking campaign remains unclear, government agencies that have disclosed they were impacted have said there is no evidence to date that classified data was compromised.

    But the way the hackers were discovered suggests the operation was intended to steal sensitive information beyond what was available on unclassified networks and sought to establish long-standing access to various targeted networks, the sources said.

    The fact that FireEye — not the federal government — discovered the breach has also raised questions about why the attack went undetected at US government agencies.

    Speaking to reporters Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden knocked President Donald Trump’s administration over hack, charging that “the Trump administration failed to prioritize cybersecurity.”

    “This assault happened on Donald Trump’s watch when he wasn’t watching,” Biden said. “It is a grave risk, and it continues. I see no evidence that it’s under control. I’ve seen none.”

    Biden also charged that the Pentagon is failing to brief his transition team on the extent of the hack. On Wednesday, a senior defense official denied that was the case.

    “Damage done”

    “The question of the damage done remains to be determined,” Biden said Tuesday. “We have to look at very closely the nature of the breaches, how extensive they are and what damage has been done.”

    When Biden takes office next month, the hack will pose an immediate challenge, as it’s expected to take weeks or months to truly understand the extent of the damage to US agencies. Biden is also likely to have to decide how to respond if the federal government formally attributes the hack to Russia, which members of Trump’s administration and lawmakers have said is likely.

    “I believe that when I learn the extent of the damage, and in fact who’s formally responsible, they can be assured that we will respond,” Biden said Tuesday. “We’ll probably respond in kind. We have many options, which I will not discuss now.”

    Lawmakers on the relevant committees are also pushing to learn more about the extent of the hack, why it took so long to be discovered, and why it was a private company that ultimately unearthed the breach. Congressional committees have been briefed both by US officials from the intelligence community and other agencies, as well as by FireEyes, a sign of the company’s importance to understanding the data breach, lawmakers and aides say.

    “If the public reporting is accurate that it was the private sector that discovered this, that’s another big question that our agencies are going to have to answer, which is, why didn’t you catch this?” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said on MSNBC.

    While a private company spotted the breach, a private sector contractor, SolarWinds, was at least one of the entry points hackers used to break into government networks. The software that the suspected malware was delivered with, SolarWinds Orion, has as many as 18,000 global customers, including government agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

    “The government itself may have pretty good protections, but when you have a software firm you’re contracting with and they send you a patch and you install it, turns out to not really be a patch but a back door for the Russians or Chinese or whoever wants to do something like this,” said Sen. Angus King, a Maine Independent who co-chaired a congressional commission, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, to improve US cyber defenses.

    Much of the federal government only learned of one of the country’s worst-ever cybersecurity incidents from public reporting and disclosures from private firms. Lawmakers predict there will be efforts next year both to strengthen the US defenses and improve government partnerships with the private sector.

    Complicated

    But that remains a complicated proposition.

    “It’s very clear from this that we’re going to need to set up more partnerships between government and private companies,” Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN. “We’re going to need to have a tough conversation about whether we want to make it easier for the government to look at private companies’ networks and products. That’s a very tough conversation because there’s civil liberties in the mix there.”

    Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat, told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on Tuesday there should be a reexamination of reporting requirements after data breaches for both private companies and government agencies.

    “If you are a public company, you have to report at the end of the quarter, but there is no immediate requirement to report” for government entities, Warner said. “These are all things that leave us much more vulnerable.”

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    Brexit trade deal reached between UK and European Union with just days to spare

    by Luke McGee and Kara Fox, CNN
    Updated 11:14 AM ET, Thu December 24, 2020

    London (CNN) The United Kingdom and European Union have reached a post-Brexit trade agreement after months of fraught negotiations, the British government said in a statement Thursday. The breakthrough averts a much-feared “no-deal” scenario that would have sparked economic chaos and risked major disruption to the flow of goods and medicines.

    “Deal is done,” read a statement from Downing Street. “Everything that the British public was promised during the 2016 referendum and in the general election last year is delivered by this deal.”

    Talks had been deadlocked for months after the two sides were unable to reach agreement in areas such as fishing quotas, how the UK would use state aid to support British businesses post-Brexit, and legal oversight of any deal struck.

    It is unlikely that the deal will be formally ratified before the Brexit transition ends, given that it still needs to go through a series of legal hoops.

    EU leaders, the European parliament, and the UK government will all need to now approve the agreement on their own.

    The legal text of the agreement will first be translated, reviewed and approved by all 27 EU member states.

    Once all member states give their sign off, it will then go back to the European Parliament, where Members of European Parliament (MEPs) will vote to ratify the deal.

    But the European Parliament has said that it is too late to hold an emergency voting session before the transition period ends on December 31.

    Instead, they plan to apply the EU-UK agreement “provisionally,” with MEPs reconvening formally to ratify the deal in the New Year.

    Meanwhile, there will also probably be a vote in the British parliament to legalize the deal.

    Even though trade deals do not require parliamentary approval, it is expected that UK lawmakers will likely be brought back from their Christmas break to debate and approve it.

    It can take up to 48 hours to bring Parliament back into session, however it’s been known to move very quickly when it needs to.
    While the deal marks a significant milestone in the four and a half years since the UK voted to leave the EU, it is unlikely to end the years of toxic political debate in the UK.

    Euroskeptic lawmakers are already organizing efforts to ensure that a deal does not leave room for the UK to drift back into the EU’s orbit. Pro-Europeans, meanwhile, will be hopeful that at some point in the future, the UK, perhaps under new leadership, will be able to strengthen ties with Brussels.

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