U.S. Declined a Pfizer Offer

Congress tries to throw itself a lifeline, while Biden chooses a Harvard scientist to head the C.D.C. It’s Tuesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

Where things stand

For all of President Trump’s bullishness on the coronavirus vaccine, his administration declined to order additional rounds of Pfizer’s vaccine when offered the opportunity months ago, leaving the United States to wait behind other countries that made deals.

The F.D.A. could approve the Pfizer vaccine, created in collaboration with the German firm BioNTech, within the week. But the United States has reserved only 100 million doses of the vaccine, enough to cover 50 million people, or fewer than one in six Americans.

The president plans to issue an executive order today pledging “to ensure that United States government prioritizes getting the vaccine to American citizens before sending it to other nations,” according to a draft statement. But it’s not obvious what this means in terms of substantive action.

Asked if the Trump administration had missed a chance to snap up more doses for Americans, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services noted that other vaccine candidates were also in development.

Georgia’s secretary of state recertified the presidential election results there yesterday after yet another recount showed Joe Biden ahead by about 12,000 votes — the latest in a volley of blows to the Trump campaign’s effort to discredit Biden’s win.

“We have now counted legally cast ballots three times, and the results remain unchanged,” Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state, said.

Officials in Cobb County, Ga., announced that for the Senate runoff elections in January they would be opening fewer than half of the early voting locations that they used in November’s general election. Cobb is the third largest county in the state, and so far among the only ones to close such a high percentage of polling places.

The county’s lead elections official blamed the closures on staffing shortages after a grueling election year, but Democrats pointed out that the closed locations were largely located in Democratic areas, and argued that politics were in play in the decision.

Biden is expected to nominate retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, a former commander of the American military effort in Iraq, to become secretary of defense, according to two people with knowledge of the selection. If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first African-American to hold the position.

He was previously the first Black American to run the U.S. Central Command, the military’s marquee combat command, with responsibility for places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria.

In choosing Austin, Biden skipped over Michèle Flournoy, a former Obama Defense Department official who had drawn fierce opposition from voices on the left.

Mitch McConnell still hasn’t agreed to open Senate debate on a compromise stimulus package being pushed by a bipartisan group of senators.

So in the meantime, Congress is preparing to vote on a stopgap spending measure that would keep the federal government funded for another week as it moves toward a stimulus deal. The House plans to hold its vote tomorrow.

Even as Republican Senate leaders drag their feet on the stimulus proposal, calling it too costly, other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have argued that the bill is insufficient because it doesn’t include another round of direct stimulus checks to Americans. Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, told Politico he had urged Trump to veto a bill that doesn’t include the checks.

The Labor Department finalized a rule yesterday allowing companies to hire and fire workers based on religious justifications, a decision that civil rights groups said could open the door to widespread discrimination.

“This final rule doesn’t give us a limiting principle,” said Jennifer Pizer, the law and policy director of Lambda Legal, an L.G.B.T. advocacy group. “It invites massive mischief.”

The rule will go into effect Jan. 8, less than two weeks before Biden assumes the presidency. If he were to overturn the rule, he would probably have to go through a relatively lengthy review process to do it.

Photo of the day

Biden arrived Saturday at St. Joseph on the Brandywine, a Roman Catholic church in Wilmington, Del.

Meet Rochelle Walensky, Biden’s pick to head the C.D.C.

Biden has chosen Dr. Rochelle Walensky, a Harvard professor and leading infectious disease scientist, to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency that stands to play an even more central role as Biden works to confront the coronavirus pandemic.

She will replace Dr. Robert Redfield, who has at times been at odds with Trump as the White House has often sidelined and contradicted its own public health officials.

Walensky has frequently been tapped as a panelist or a consultant for AIDS-response work at the National Institutes of Health, but she has not served in government in an executive role. She arrives from Massachusetts General Hospital, where she has been the head of the Division of Infectious Diseases, while also serving as a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

She’s played a prominent role as the scientific community confronts the virus and debates how best to contain its spread. Last month, she was an author of a study published in the journal Health Affairs examining the necessary traits of an effective coronavirus vaccine.

The C.D.C. stands to play a more central role in the Biden administration than it currently does, as the president-elect works on a national framework for containing the surging virus and distributing a vaccine. Things are already trending in that direction: Last week the C.D.C. issued guidance urging people to wear masks at all times in public, something Biden had said he would instruct Americans to do for the first 100 days of his presidency.

On Politics is also available as a newsletter. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected].

Source: Read Full Article