with Brent D. Griffiths

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The people

‘TIS THE (PANDEMIC) SEASON: Anthony S. Fauci is turning 80 on Christmas Eve and the country's top infectious-disease doctor won't be celebrating the occasion with his three adult daughters for the first time since they were born. 

Like they did for Thanksgiving, Fauci and his family will be following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging all Americans to stay home and scrap travel this coronavirus holiday season. 

  • “I'm going to be with my wife period,” Fauci told Power Up during an interview on Monday. “The Christmas holiday is a special holiday for us because Christmas Eve is my birthday. And Christmas Day is Christmas Day. And they are not going to come home … That's painful. We don't like that. But that's just one of the things you're going to have to accept as we go through this unprecedented challenging time.”

Fauci warns that Christmas celebrations could create an even more catastrophic spread of the virus than Thanksgiving, when millions traveled and gathered despite similar pleas to stay home. The country has seen record-breaking numbers of infections and hospitalizations as a result. Fauci says Americans cannot afford to “run away from the data,” as painful as time spent without loved ones can be on the holidays. 

  • “We have a big problem,” Fauci told us. “Look at the numbers the numbers are really quite dramatic. 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas: “Stay at home as much as you can, keep your interactions to the extent possible to members of the same household … This cannot be business as usual this Christmas because we're already in a very difficult situation, and we're going to make it worse, if we don't do something about it,” Fauci said. 

  • For a tough conversation with a family member or friend, Fauci suggests trying to put things into perspective: “You try to explain: you're going to have many more Christmases ahead of you. You've enjoyed many more Christmases before. Maybe this is a time to just say, 'This is an unusual situation, it's not going to last forever, it is highly likely that with vaccines being distributed, that we will be back to normal by next Christmas.' So make the choice and keep yourself and your family healthy so that you'll have many more Christmases ahead of you. That's the way I would try to reason with them.”
  • “The problem that we're in now today and tomorrow and the next day is that the level of community spread is extraordinary,” Fauci told us.Each day, we have another record where it rains between 200,000 to 300,000 new cases a day. We have over 2,000 deaths per day … 300,000 total deaths. I mean, these are things that are data that you can't run away from.”
  • Remember: Getting tested before travel or mingling outside your household is not a “perfect” practice on its own, Fauci says. “A test that's negative today doesn't mean that you're going to be negative tomorrow.” 
  • For people determined to see family: “What some people do is they get a test right before they travel and if it's negative, they try to protect it, quarantine themselves, travel to wherever they're going and stay several days separated from the people they've come to visit and then get another test.”

Leaders in countries around the world are imposing restrictive measures this holiday season to slow the spread of the virus. 

  • Germans will be prohibited from singing in churches and mulled wine and Christmas markets will be pulled from the streets starting today, per Rick Noack and Antonia Noori Farzan.
  • “Britain’s holiday plan — which calls for people to form a ‘Christmas bubble of friends and family they wish to socialize with between Dec. 23 and 27 — will remain in place,” per our colleague Adam Taylor writes.  
  • The Dutch government announced Monday that it would install its toughest restrictions yet over the holiday season, through Jan 19,” Adam continues. 
  • “I’m the guy who is stealing Christmas to keep you safe,” Canada's Manitoba premier said, his voice breaking as he announced new strict guidelines earlier this month.

In the U.S., many states are trying to avoid full-blown shutdowns even as a patchwork of mitigation efforts have tightened in some areas across the country. Despite good news — like the beginning of the inoculation campaign this week and the expected approval of a second vaccine — Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said the state's purchase of thousands of body bags to grapple with the growing death toll should be a sobering statistic. “There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we're still in the tunnel,” Newsom said yesterday, per NBC. “And that means we're going through perhaps the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic.” 

When asked whether the different outcome has more to do with American individualism or the executive branch's stance on avoiding national mandates, Fauci responded that the “independent spirit in the United States of people not wanting to comply with public health measures has certainly hurt us a bit.” 

  • “There are people in various parts of the country who still believe that [covid-19] is a hoax, that it's fake — even when in their own state the hospitals have been overrun with patients in the hospital beds and in the intensive care unit,” Fauci added. “That's very unusual to see a situation like that but that is what is going on in this country.”

On a lighter note, Fauci had rave reviews for Kate McKinnon, who spoofed him on ‘Saturday Night Live’ this past weekend in a cold open. 

  • “Oh, I love Kate McKinnon. She did an amazing job. I was hysterical listening, just watching. She's really great. She's really great. She's amazing,” he told us.
"Saturday Night Live" featured Anthony S. Fauci, played by Kate McKinnon, and Deborah Birx, played by Heidi Gardner, in a vaccine-themed cold open on Dec. 12. (The Washington Post)

The policies

RELIEF DEAL APPEARS CLOSE: “Congressional negotiations on spending and economic relief legislation picked up speed, as top lawmakers met for an hour in the afternoon and then again in the evening, a sign that talks are reaching a critical stage,” Mike DeBonis, Seung Min Kim and Jeff Stein report.

  • Where things ended last night: “I'm optimistic that we're gonna be able to complete an understanding sometime soon,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in a rare gaggle, the New York Times's Emily Cochrane reports. “Tomorrow we'll be back early,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi added before leaving the Capitol.
  • These are some of the highest-level in-person talks since the summer, per Fox News's Chad Pergram: “Pelosi hosted the three other most senior congressional leaders — McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer  and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy  — in her office,” our colleagues add.

What remains undecided: Negotiations remain fluid and “it is unclear if a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks would be included in the final agreement. Similarly, lawmakers continued to wrangle over whether to include any aid for state and local governments in a stimulus deal," our colleagues write.

  • It's looking like state and local aid will be left out: “Although several Senate Republicans support providing such aid, McConnell has made clear that he would not back legislation that includes only state and local funding and not the liability shield. Lawmakers have so far been unable to reach a compromise on the liability shield, with Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) representing the only Democrat to back sweeping legal protections from coronavirus-related lawsuits.”

On the Hill

MCCONNELL SAYS BIDEN WON: “He made his sharpest and most significant break from Trump, finally acknowledging Biden as the rightful president-elect even as Trump refused to publicly admit his decisive loss in both the electoral college and the popular vote,” Seung Min Kim and Rachael Bade report.

  • McConnell also singled out Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris, his soon-to-be former colleague. “Beyond our differences, all Americans can take pride that our nation has a female vice president-elect for the very first time.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Dec. 15 acknowledged Joe Biden as the president-elect from the Senate floor. (The Washington Post)

Privately, McConnell made clear that it's over: “In a conference-wide phone call Tuesday afternoon, McConnell and other GOP leaders urged Senate Republicans not to join a long-shot effort led by conservatives in the House to challenge the electoral college results when Congress formally tabulates the vote Jan. 6,” our colleagues write. McConnell declined to say yesterday if he has any concerns that Trump keeps saying the election is rigged.

  • He also gave the White House a heads up before his move, Politico's Burgess Everett reports: “McConnell’s approach reflects the basic political reality confronting him. He will have to work closely with Biden over the next two years, particularly if he leads a slim GOP majority. But he also has to work with Trump over the next few weeks: to pass coronavirus relief and a government funding bill and to win two critical Georgia Senate runoff races.”
  • Trump didn't seem to take it well: “Mitch, 75,000,000 VOTES, a record for a sitting President (by a lot). Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!” he tweeted after midnight.

Not everyone in the GOP got the memo: “As McConnell spoke, fewer than 20 of the 52 Senate Republicans had formally recognized Biden as the winner of an election that took place exactly six weeks ago,” Paul Kane writes

  • “Just 16 House Republicans had recognized Biden as the president-elect, based on a tally The Washington Post has maintained since starting a GOP survey almost two weeks ago. More than 200 Republicans in Congress continued to duck the question altogether, avoiding any public comment on a pretty fundamental question of democracy.”

Case in point, the top House Republican:

The transition

BIDEN SEEKS TO TAME THE SENATE: “President-elect Joe Biden appealed to Georgians Tuesday to back Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, urging them to ‘turn out the vote so it’s not even close’ to win runoffs that will dictate the success of his legislative agenda,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Greg Bluestein reports

  • It's his first campaign stop since defeating Trump (and flipping Georgia): “We can get so much done. So much that can make the lives of the people of Georgia and the whole country so much better, ” Biden said. “We need senators who are willing to do it, for God's sake.”
President-elect Joe Biden campaigned in Atlanta on Dec. 15 on behalf of Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock. (The Washington Post)

The runoffs are the elephant in the room: “In public, Biden is spending most of his time announcing cabinet appointments, meeting with health experts and giving speeches on unity. Behind the scenes, though, he’s grappling with a grittier challenge that could be critical to his presidency — dealing with an unruly Senate,” Annie Linskey reports this morning

  • Tuesday provided the perfect illustration of what this looks like, “as Biden held his first phone call as president-elect this week with McConnell, and a short time later boarded a plane for Georgia to campaign for the two candidates whose victory would unseat McConnell as majority leader.”

Attack line: Biden went hard after Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler for supporting Texas's lawsuit: “Maybe your senators were just confused. Maybe they think they represent Texas,” Biden said of the failed effort, which would have overturned the presidential election results in Georgia and three other states. “Well if they want to do the bidding of Texas, they should be running there instead of here in Georgia.”

In the agencies

BUTTIGIEG, GRANHOLM TO JOIN BIDEN'S CABINET: Biden has picked former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg to his Transportation secretary, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) to be his Energy secretary and former EPA chief Gina McCarthy as his climate czar, Michael Laris, Ian Duncan and Seung Min Kim report.

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Pete Buttigieg, a former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, to lead the U.S. Transportation Department. (Reuters)

Buttigieg would be the first openly gay Cabinet member to be confirmed by the Senate: “The transportation job will present a steep learning curve and rigorous test of his management skills. The former presidential candidate would oversee about 55,000 employees at the department, roughly half the population of South Bend. Some transportation experts have raised questions about Buttigieg’s lack of experience in the often-dense realm of federal transportation policy,” our colleagues write. 

  • Some have pointed out former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell's historic status as the first openly gay person to serve in a Cabinet-level position. Grenell, a Trump appointee, was never confirmed by the Senate. 

Biden has expressed a desire to pass a major infrastructure plan: “Even maintaining the status quo in federal transportation funding will be fraught for the new administration, given a deep shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which covers road and transit projects. The federal gas tax, a major source of its funds, has failed to keep up with inflation and national needs, leaving many states to raise fuel taxes on their own.”

  • Buttigieg's relationship with the Black community in South Bend remains fraught: “He did a really bad job for this community and my district in particular,” South Bend Council member Henry Davis Jr. told Politico. “Bus lines have been shut down and cut off in one of the poorest census tracts in this country.”

A former presidential rival offered quick praise:

Biden's choice of Granholm is a clear sign about his climate change agenda: “Granholm, 61 and currently an adjunct professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, has argued that the United States risks being left behind by other countries if it doesn’t develop alternate energy technologies,” Will Englund, Juliet Eilperin and Dino Grandoni report.

Both moderates and liberals working on energy issues were pleased with Biden’s pick: “Jamie Henn, a co-founder of the green group 350.org and director of Fossil Free Media, said it will be good to have a former Michigan governor be a face of the transition to cleaner cars,” our colleagues write.

  • Arun Majumdar, a materials scientist and engineer who led a new research agency within the Energy Department under the Obama administration, is under consideration as deputy secretary. Majumdar, who has been working for the Biden transition team and was considered a candidate himself for the top Energy post, is an enthusiastic advocate for modernizing the nation’s electricity grid.

Outside the Beltway

SECOND VACCINE NEARS APPROVAL: “A nationwide sense of relief grew as a second coronavirus vaccine appeared poised for approval just days after thousands of health-care workers received doses of the first one in an unprecedented mass inoculation campaign that has raised hopes for a return to normalcy,” Carolyn Y. Johnson and Karin Brulliard report.

  • “The second vaccine, developed by the biotechnology company Moderna, was ‘highly effective’ in a clinical trial and carried no serious safety concerns, according to a detailed review by the Food and Drug Administration published Tuesday. The agency is likely to authorize the two-shot regimen as soon as Friday.
  • “Such an approval would clear the way for the shipment of almost 6 million doses of the Moderna vaccine in the first week — about double the amount of doses being sent out this week, said Gen. Gustave Perna, who is overseeing the distribution effort.”

SOME OF TRUMP'S WOULD-BE MAR-A-LAGO NEIGHBORS DON'T WANT HIM BACK: “That message was formally delivered Tuesday morning in a demand letter delivered to the town of Palm Beach and also addressed to the U.S. Secret Service asserting that Trump lost his legal right to live at Mar-a-Lago because of an agreement he signed in the early 1990s when he converted the storied estate from his private residence to a private club,” Manuel Roig-Franzia and Carol D. Leonnig report.

This could force Palm Beach to publicly address whether Trump can make Mar-a-Lago his home: The contretemps sets up a potentially awkward scenario, unique in recent history, in which a former Oval Office occupant would find himself having to officially defend his choice of a place to live during his post-presidency. It also could create a legal headache for Trump because he changed his official domicile to Mar-a-Lago, leaving behind Manhattan, where he lived before being elected president and came to fame as a brash, self-promoting developer.”

In the media

We know more about the scandal that cost Jeffrey Toobin his job: “[I]n a matter of minutes, Mr. Toobin, 60, committed the act that would make him subject, not observer, of scandal, investigation and commentary. While working on a podcast about the presidential election for WNYC and the New Yorker with some of the magazine’s other well-known journalists, including Jane Mayer and Masha Gessen, he was seen lowering and raising his computer camera, exposing and touching his penis, and motioning an air kiss to someone other than his colleagues, Gessen said. The magazine suspended Toobin that day and executives began an investigation,” the New York Times's Katherine Rosman and Jacob Bernstein report. “It wasn’t a full-out sexual act, but it was much more than a second,” Gessen said. “I was really, truly shocked.” 

  • “…Now that name was a punchline, a headline, a hashtag (#MeToobin) — and a point of debate. For as many people were excoriating Mr. Toobin for lewd and inappropriate behavior in a virtual workplace, others were thinking, or even saying, ‘there but for the grace of God go I,’ acutely conscious of all the private or potentially embarrassing moments they’d stolen in this odd new zone where we now meet our colleagues.”