with Alexandra Ellerbeck

Republicans did better in House contests than expected — and that includes women who oppose abortion rights.

Pending the outcome of a few more races, antiabortion women in the House will more than double their ranks, from holding just 13 seats now to perhaps as many as 30 seats next year.

These women, all Republicans, will still be outnumbered about 3 to 1 by Democratic women in the House, who uniformly support abortion rights. But their victories came as a boon — and something of a surprise — to antiabortion activists who have long struggled to recruit female politicians sympathetic to their cause.

“Given all the prognostications about a blue wave, we didn’t foresee we would have a historic number of pro-life women,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, a group that seeks to elect antiabortion candidates. “Our women are not just kind of pro-life, but really pro-life. It’s a new day where the Republican Party has completely embraced the issue.”

Groups spent heavily this year to elect antiabortion women – although most of the spending went toward Senate, not House, campaigns.

SBA List set its own spending record in the 2020 campaign cycle, investing $52 million mostly aimed at Senate races and the presidential contest. Its spending exceeded that of the Planned Parenthood, which announced a $45 million spend over the cycle.

Another major player in getting more antiabortion women to Washington was Winning for Women Action Fund, the first GOP super PAC dedicated to electing female candidates.

The political action committee formed in 2017 as a counter to Emily’s List — which works to elect abortion rights-supporting candidates — and aims to narrow the gap between Republican and Democratic women in public office. Winning for Women spent nearly $3 million supporting Republican female candidates, my colleague Paulina Firozi reports. 

In one of House Republicans’ biggest victories, Michelle Fischbach ousted 15-term Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). Other female freshmen will include Yvette Herrell, a member of the Cherokee Nation in New Mexico; Cuban American journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, who defeated Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), President Bill Clinton’s former health secretary; and Stephanie Bice in Oklahoma, who will be the first Iranian American to serve in Congress.

Former congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-Va.):

So far, 27 House incumbents and newcomers endorsed by SBA List and Winning for Women have won their races. They’re hoping to add three more, in races yet to be decided in Iowa’s 2nd District, New York’s 22nd District and California’s 39th District.

“This is the smashing success story of the 2020 congressional election cycle,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) told Paulina.

Dannenfelser views it as a turning point for Republican women.

The Republican Party has long struggled to expand its ranks of female legislators. It set a record in the 2004 election, sending 25 women to Congress, but wasn’t able to build on those gains. There were just 13 Republican women in the House this year; two are retiring, while 11 of those incumbents will return next year.

And until the last decade or so, it wasn’t a given that Republican women were ideologically aligned with the antiabortion movement. Dannenfelser said she recalls former congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich (R-Nev.), who served in the House from 1983 to 1997, as the only antiabortion Republican woman in Congress for years.

Next year, every Republican woman in the House will be opposed to abortion rights. And of the GOP’s seven female senators next year — who will number eight, if Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) wins a runoff election — just two support abortion rights. 

The trends reflect the growing polarization of both parties over reproductive rights. Democrats have pushed out nearly every abortion-opposing candidate, while being antiabortion has become almost a prerequisite for Republicans.

Dannenfelser recalled past election nights, when staff would have to double-check the abortion views of winning GOP women.

“We’d have to say, ‘Are they pro-life?’” she said. “That question doesn’t come up anymore — they are all pro-life; it’s just a matter of degree.”

The House GOP gains are a problem for Democrats in the future.

Their efforts to woo suburban voters, seeking to build a durable House majority on a foundation of affluent, well-educated voters repelled by President Trump, didn't pan out in last week's elections. Democrats will hold the House majority, but by a much thinner margin than they had hoped.

“Republicans not only reversed Democratic midterm gains in rural districts that had voted strongly for Trump in 2016, but clawed back at least one seat in Southern California while leading in other suburban districts that are yet to be called,” Mike DeBonis writes.

“Even more alarming for Democrats, predictions of broad gains in the suburbs of Texas, Indiana, Missouri and other states simply failed to materialize — casting doubt on the party’s long-term House strategy of offsetting the party’s dwindling appeal among less-educated White voters with greater support among the more educated,” he adds.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Mike the GOP would win the majority in the 2022 midterms, citing the party's surprisingly diverse coalition of candidates.

“We have never been stronger in the sense of what the future holds for us — we have never been in a stronger position,” he said. “We won this by adding more people to the party. And we won this in an atmosphere where we were the one group that everyone guaranteed we would lose. And we’re the ones who won.”

Ahh, oof and ouch

AHH: The CDC acknowledged masks aren’t just about helping others ― they help you, too.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publicly acknowledged that for the first time, writing in a scientific bulletin posted to its website this week that ‘the benefit of masking is derived from the combination of source control and personal protection for the mask wearer.’ Masks are neither completely selfless nor selfish — they help everyone,” Ben Guarino, Lena H. Sun and Ariana Eunjung Cha report.

The message is a shift from early public health communications on masks, which stressed they were primarily a way to protect others. A growing body of scientific evidence, however, suggests that masks also protect the wearer, although the protection is not absolute.

With more than 10 million coronavirus cases reported across the U.S., public health experts are calling for universal face mask usage. Here's why. (The Washington Post)

“In the nine months since the virus hit the United States, the CDC has come under increasing criticism that its guidance on mask protection has not been sufficiently clear because it conflated scientific data with a concern over mask availability,” Ben, Lena and Ariana write.

The new advisory comes as part of the agency’s renewed effort to bolster public health messaging around masks and other precautions as many regions of the country hit their highest-ever rates of coronavirus infections.

OOF: States are gearing up for the nation’s largest-ever vaccine campaign.

Public health officials are embarking on “a monumental undertaking that must distribute hundreds of millions of doses, prioritize who’s first in line and ensure that people who get the initial shot return for the necessary second one,” the Associated Press’s Candice Choi and Michelle R. Smith write.

A vaccine could be authorized as early as next month and could be widely distributed to all Americans in April, May and June, according to public health experts.

“For the vaccination effort to get off the ground, state officials have been readying systems to track supplies and who has been vaccinated. That information will be fed into a national network and will be critical in giving federal health officials an up-to-date picture of vaccinations around the country,” Choi and Smith write.

The Pfizer vaccine may be the first to get the green light, but it could come with some challenges: It must be kept in ultracold storage and will come in shipments of nearly 1,000 doses. Many small health providers won’t be able to use up this quantity of vaccines fast enough, so state and local providers are figuring out how to break up and redistribute shipments. Officials are also developing plans for which high-priority groups should be first in line for the vaccine, and what to do if there aren’t enough priority doses.

Even if everything goes smoothly, some providers worry that people will not want a shot, much less the two doses three or four weeks apart probably required. Kaiser Health News reports that some scientists are trying to communicate early about possible side effects — such as pain at the shot site or fatigue — so that people won’t be taken by surprise and refuse to get the second dose.

OUCH: Congressional Democrats say ongoing election fights are imperiling the coronavirus response.

“Congressional Democratic leaders accused Republicans on Thursday of refusing to confront the dramatically worsening coronavirus pandemic and instead acquiescing to President Trump’s false insistence that he won last week’s presidential election,” Erica Werner reports. “As Washington has become paralyzed over the past 10 days, 1 million new people have tested positive for the virus as death numbers are climbing rapidly.”

Top GOP leaders have dismissed the attacks from Democrats, insisting that Trump has the right to pursue legal challenges. The refusal to acknowledge Biden’s win has delayed the transition process and prevented Biden’s team from working with federal agencies and accessing resources in order to put in place a coronavirus response.

Meanwhile, Trump has not acknowledged the worsening surge in cases on his Twitter feed. In late October, he predicted that the media would stop talking about the virus after the election.

Progress toward a coronavirus relief package also appears at a standstill.

“President-elect Joe Biden joined congressional Democratic leaders on Thursday and demanded a new economic relief package to address the dramatically worsening coronavirus pandemic before the end of the year,” Erica writes.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has rejected the idea of a relief package on the scale that Democrats have advocated. Meanwhile, no negotiations are occurring between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the White House, making it unlikely that Democrats and Republicans will reach a deal on a major relief package before January.

More on coronavirus

Small gatherings are fueling the coronavirus surge.

“Many earlier coronavirus clusters were linked to nursing homes and crowded nightclubs. But public health officials nationwide say case investigations are increasingly leading them to small, private social gatherings,” Karin Brulliard reports. “This behind-doors transmission trend reflects pandemic fatigue and widening social bubbles, experts say — and is particularly insidious because it is so difficult to police and likely to increase as temperatures drop and holidays approach.”

As virus cases surge, leaving more than 66,000 Americans in the hospital, state and local officials have begun to set restrictions even on small, private gatherings. 

“This week, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) announced a 10-person limit on gatherings in private homes, calling them a “great spreader.” Similar restrictions have been imposed in states including Ohio; Utah; Connecticut; Colorado, where one recent cluster involved seven people infected while playing the dice game bunco; and Rhode Island, whose governor has pledged to fine violators,” Karin writes.

An interactive website shows the risk of even small gatherings amid surging cases. The county-by-county model, which was peer-reviewed in the journal Nature, shows the estimated risk that someone will have the coronavirus in gatherings of various sizes. In Dubuque, Iowa, a 10-person get-together carries a two-thirds chance of encountering someone with the coronavirus.

Journalist Anne Helen Petersen:

Another deadly virus

Measles deaths soared to their highest level in 23 years last year — and the pandemic could make it worse.

“The global death tally for 2019 — 207,500 — was 50 percent higher than just three years earlier, according to the analysis, released jointly by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the New York Times’s Jan Hoffman reports. “International epidemiologists compare last year’s eruption of measles to a slow-building forest fire that finally exploded. For a decade, vaccination rates worldwide have stagnated, guaranteeing good coverage in many regions, but still not achieving the high percentage needed to shut down the contagion.”

The Central African Republic, Congo, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, North Macedonia, Samoa, Tonga and Ukraine accounted for nearly three-quarters of the cases in 2019. The United States saw a high of 1,282 cases last year, the most since 1992, but no deaths.

So far this year’s numbers have not been as bad, but health experts worry that is because of a drastic undercount amid the coronavirus pandemic. It could also be the result of social distancing precautions taken to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, but as the pandemic disrupts vaccination campaigns, measles outbreaks are likely to return with a vengeance.

“Measles outbreaks have already occFFFFurred this year in at least half of the 26 countries that had to suspend vaccination campaigns because of the pandemic. As of this month, 94 million people are at risk for missing measles vaccines, according to the W.H.O.,” Hoffman writes. 

Sugar rush