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The Daily 202: Stimulus deal will not extend emergency paid sick leave, which helped slow the spread of covid-19

with Mariana Alfaro

In March, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to allow workers at companies with more than 50 but fewer than 500 employees to take up to two weeks of paid leave if they or a member of their immediate family contracted covid-19. The program was limited, imperfect and not aggressively enforced, but it proved to be quite effective public policy. By making it tenable for folks who live paycheck to paycheck not to go into work when they would put others at risk, an academic study in October showed that this initiative helped slow the spread of the contagion.

But this and other emergency programs that were put in place in the first phase of the pandemic, and which benefit tens of millions of Americans, are set to expire on Dec. 31. The FFCRA has not been part of the approximately $900 billion relief package that White House officials and congressional negotiators are putting the finishing touches on, although some lawmakers hope they can still find a way to extend the program. As it stands, the bill would offer $600 stimulus checks for millions of people below a certain income threshold, 10 weeks of jobless aid, $330 billion in small-business assistance and money for vaccine distribution.

Congress is scrambling to pass a coronavirus stimulus bill before the end of 2020. Here’s what you need to know about what’s included in the legislation. (Video: The Washington Post)

It is not that paid sick leave for working-class people exposed to covid is no longer needed: At least 3,406 Americans died from covid on Thursday. The nation reported its highest single-day numbers of deaths, hospitalizations and new infections again yesterday: 252,431 new cases were confirmed, and hospitalizations have risen 6.7 percent in the past week. 

But there is no longer collective, bipartisan will to enact paid sick leave at the national level, even as some states, such as New York, have requirements that will help fill in gaps when the federal program lapses.

At the start of the pandemic, about 1 in 4 U.S. workers had no access to paid sick leave. This is shocking when you consider that paid sick leave is nearly universal in every other industrialized country. One review of 22 countries with high standards of living found that only the United States and Japan did not guarantee paid sick days for short-term illnesses. 

Sam Buckton, 22 of Des Moines, was bedridden with the coronavirus for two-and-a-half weeks in April. He said his mom raised him to be tough and to go to work through illnesses, but he did not want to infect any of his coworkers at Raygun, a clothing and novelty retailer. Then he started to feel really ill. He was eligible for a week-and-a-half of paid sick days, but he said it took him two-and-a-half weeks to recover enough to go back in. Even eight months later, Buckton said he still occasionally has chest issues that linger from the bout with covid. “It was the sickest I had ever been in my life,” he said.

His employer told him about the benefits available under the law that had just gone into effect. This allowed him to get paid for an extra week when he otherwise would have been without income. “I wouldn’t have been able to pay my bills otherwise,” Buckton said in an interview.

The bill that passed in March also provided longer-term emergency paid family leave for people who need to take care of a child whose school or day care is closed because of the virus. Jo’Nia Miller, 43 of Logan Township, N.J., is currently using this to be able to work part-time so that she can be around for her three children – ages 16, 13 and 9 – because their schools are offering only remote learning. She heard about the opportunity from the human resources department at her office and called it a “lifesaver.” She plans to return to work on Jan. 2 as a job coach for people with physical and mental disabilities in their place of employment. “I know I’m not the only one going through this,” she said, adding that it was disheartening to learn that Canada offers more permanent paid leave programs.

Brian Mitnick, 38 of Hampton, Va., works in the technology department for a school district and believes he contracted the virus from someone who was still asymptomatic while he fixed their computer in August. He wound up needing to stay home for two weeks with his wife and four children, who all quarantined. The emergency sick leave program allowed him to get paid for missing those 10 workdays without having to burn all of his personal days for the entire year.

“I was not 100 percent after, but I had been cleared by my doctor and was concerned to stay out longer because it wouldn’t cover my full salary. I guess I could have made it work, but it would have just been really, really tight,” Mitnick said. “Knowing that we had that security was so helpful.”

Thankfully, no one else in his family caught the virus. His wife was also laid off this summer as a dental office manager because of the pandemic, which makes him even more nervous about this paid sick leave program expiring. “If six months from now, someone in my family catches covid, then we’re back in that same boat, and that scares me,” he said. “I consider myself rather conservative when it comes to government, but there are some things that should really transcend party lines.”

Programming note: The Daily 202 is taking a two-week holiday break. We will return on Jan. 4.

More on the coronavirus

Vice President Pence and second lady Karen Pence received the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Dec. 18 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. (Video: The Washington Post)
States report confusion as the Trump administration reduces vaccine shipments.

"Officials in multiple states said they were alerted late Wednesday that their second shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine had been drastically cut for next week, sparking widespread confusion and conflicting statements from Pfizer and federal officials about who was at fault,” Isaac Stanley-Becker, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Lena Sun and Josh Dawsey report. "The reduction prompted concern in health departments across the country about whether Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine accelerator program, could distribute doses quickly enough to meet the target of delivering first shots to 20 million people by year’s end. … At least six states were informed by federal health authorities of the shortfall, forcing last-minute changes to vaccine distribution plans for next week. Some were intending to use the second shipment to begin vaccinating residents of long-term-care facilities, but they now face a dilemma about whether to go ahead with those plans or finish inoculating health-care providers. … 

"Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said anticipated shipments to the state in the next two weeks had been cut roughly in half. The uncertainty was even more pronounced in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said new shipments from Pfizer were ‘on hold,’ as officials in his administration reported their expected allocation disappearing entirely in Tiberius, the online tracking system the federal government uses to coordinate vaccine distribution with the states. … Maine said it is receiving about 40 percent fewer doses than expected … Pfizer executives were baffled that the administration was not immediately distributing all of its vaccine, instead leaving much of it on the shelves.”

  • The European Union is paying less money than the United States for a range of coronavirus vaccines, including the Pfizer inoculation. The costs to the E.U. had been confidential until a Belgian official tweeted — and then deleted — a list late Thursday night. (Michael Birnbaum and Quentin Ariès)
  • The FDA intends to authorize the Moderna vaccine later today after the agency’s vaccine advisory panel voted almost unanimously — 20 in favor, with one abstention — that the benefits of the highly effective vaccine outweighed its risks for people 18 years of age and older. (Laurie McGinley and Carolyn Johnson)
  • The FDA said the Pfizer vaccine should continue to be used with no new restrictions despite several reports of health-care workers who had a severe allergic reaction after receiving the injection. A second Alaska hospital employee had a brief but much less serious reaction on Wednesday. (Johnson and Joel Achenbach)
  • The Capitol physician will receive a shipment of vaccines. Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.), 78 and a polio survivor, announced he would soon receive the first of two shots and expressed concern that some Americans remain skeptical of the vaccine. (Paul Kane)
  • Employers can legally require workers to get the vaccine before returning to the office, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission confirms in a new set of guidelines. For anyone with one of two key exceptions — a disability or a sincere religious belief that bars vaccinations — employers must provide “reasonable accommodation,” if possible. (Katie Shepherd)
  • Nursing homes have a new challenge in pitching the vaccine to residents: More than half have cognitive impairment or dementia, raising questions about whether they are capable of consenting to receiving them. (Kaiser Health News)
  • Israel is moving quickly to roll out the vaccine, but the prospects for vaccinating almost 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are far less certain. Financial, political and logistical hurdles could delay inoculations for months. While Israel is starting with some 4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, Palestinian leaders say they cannot afford either of the first vaccines to hit the market. (Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin)
Remember the fallen.
  • Benny Napoleon, the sheriff of Wayne County, Mich., died last night following a month-long fight with covid. He was 65. (Detroit Free Press)
  • An outbreak killed eight nuns in a week at a suburban Milwaukee convent. (Shepherd)
  • Cody Lyster, a student at Colorado Mesa University, received an honorary degree posthumously after dying from covid at 21. "It was hard because you see all these other kids who are able to walk the stage and collect a diploma and celebrate with their families," said his father, Kevin Lyster. "He would have been the first in our family to obtain a college degree." (9News)
  • Houston doctor Carlos Araujo-Preza worked the overnight shift caring for covid patients until he got infected. In November, the critical care pulmonologist was placed in his own ICU. The Salvadoran immigrant was fit and only 51. "Neither of us was afraid. We both thought he'd be fine,” said his partner, Paige King, a nurse. NBC)
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) tested positive. 

Biden’s pick for director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement said he will quarantine for 14 days. He was at Biden's rally in Georgia earlier this week, but the transition team says they were not technically in close contact. Richmond is at least the 50th member of Congress to test positive. CNN producer Kristin Wilson tabulates 39 in the House (12 Democrats, 27 Republicans) and 11 in the Senate (two Democrats, nine Republicans.)

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said his wife is sick with covid. Azar said he and his children have tested negative and have no symptoms, while his wife, Jennifer, is self-isolating. (Politico)
  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued an emergency order requiring anyone who travels outside the state to get tested and to self-quarantine for 10 days when they return. The protocols do not apply to people visiting the District or the bordering states of Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia. (Gregory Schneider, Ovetta Wiggins and Julie Zauzmer)
  • At least 75 infections have been traced back to a church’s Christmas musical on Dec. 5 in Henderson County, N.C. (Asheville Citizen Times)
The Supreme Court rejected a Kentucky private school's request to reopen.

The justices denied a Kentucky Christian academy’s plea that it should be exempt on religious freedom grounds from the state order requiring all K-12 institutions to temporarily cease in-person classes because of surging cases. The school, joined by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R), argued that it shouldn’t be compared to other schools but to businesses that Gov. Andy Beshear (D) has allowed to remain open. Justices Sam Alito and Neil Gorsuch were alone in noting their dissent. (Robert Barnes)

  • The D.C. public school system and the Washington Teachers’ Union reached a deal on how to reopen schools, settling a major dispute: Teachers who don’t have medical exemptions may be required to go back into the classroom, even if they don’t want to do so. (Perry Stein)
  • University of Houston men’s basketball Coach Kelvin Sampson revealed that all 15 players on his roster have at one time or another tested positive for the virus this year. A third of Sampson’s team returned to practice after an outbreak forced the program to halt workouts last week. (Glynn Hill)
  • A federal prisoner scheduled to be executed just days before Biden takes office tested positive. Dustin John Higgs’s diagnosis marks the first known covid case on federal death row and raises the possibility that his execution could be delayed by a judge if his condition deteriorates. (AP)
California is the new epicenter of the crisis.

“California has set nationwide records for new cases again and again in the past week — most recently on Thursday, when it posted more than 50,000 infections, over 100,000 in 48 hours,” Reis Thebault reports. ”And the state’s test positivity rate continues to climb, meaning the virus is spreading faster. The rate is now 11.5 percent, more than twice what experts consider high-risk. California is also setting daily death records. On Thursday, the state reported 379 new fatalities, topping its previous high of 293, set the day before. The number of available beds in intensive care units is plummeting. In the San Joaquin Valley, hospitals ran out over the weekend, resorting to ‘surge capacity.’ In Southern California, a region that includes Los Angeles and San Diego, ICU capacity fell to 0 percent Thursday.

Quote of the day

“I want to be very clear: Our hospitals are under siege, and our model shows no end in sight,” said Christina Ghaly, director of Los Angeles County’s Department of Health Services. “The worst is still before us.”

These are the remaining sticking points in the congressional negotiations:

“Republicans were still demanding limits to the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department’s emergency lending programs. Democrats say that such restrictions, pushed primarily by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), would constrain the ability of the incoming Biden administration to stabilize the economy during a protracted downturn,” Mike DeBonis, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim report. “Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, are seeking to include funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to give to states and cities in emergencies. … Similarly, Democratic lawmakers are seeking to delay the Dec. 31 deadline that states and cities have to spend unused federal assistance before that funding expires and has to be returned. Republicans have been resistant … 

“Democrats have insisted on an extension of a federal eviction moratorium that is set to expire by the end of the year. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) told reporters Thursday that he was seeking additional rental assistance to ‘avoid the need’ for extending the moratorium. A one-month extension in the moratorium was included in the bipartisan compromise introduced by centrist lawmakers … 

“Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pushing a $17 billion plan called ‘Save Our Stages’ to devote federal assistance to venues shut down by the pandemic and at risk of permanent closure. Some senior Republicans view the request as excessive and think some of the funding would be better spent on restaurants and additional Paycheck Protection Program assistance … Republicans are also seeking to require beneficiaries from the federal unemployment benefit to receive at least $100 per week in state unemployment benefits, but Democratic aides have rejected that proposal.”

White House aides intervened to prevent Trump from blowing up the deal by demanding larger stimulus payments. “On a phone call Thursday afternoon, Trump told allies that he believes stimulus payments in the next relief package should be ‘at least’ $1,200 per person and possibly as big as $2,000 per person,” Stein reports. “Congressional Republicans have insisted that the relief bill remain less than $1 trillion. … Larger stimulus checks could push the package’s total over $1 trillion.”

The transition

Biden's Interior nominee is profoundly meaningful for America's 1.9 million Native Americans.

“Biden chose Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) Thursday to serve as the first Native American Cabinet secretary and head the Interior Department, a historic pick that marks a turning point for the U.S. government’s relationship with the nation’s Indigenous peoples,” Juliet Eilperin, Dino Grandoni and Brady Dennis report. “In selecting 60-year-old Haaland, a member of Pueblo of Laguna, Biden has placed the descendant of the original people to populate North America atop a 171-year-old institution that has often had a fraught relationship with the nation’s 574 federally recognized tribes. Three divisions of Interior have a tremendous impact on Indian Country, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, which manages billions held in trust by the U.S. government. … 

"Born in Arizona to a Native American mother who served in the Navy and a Norwegian American father who was an active-duty Marine, Haaland bounced between 13 public schools as the family changed military bases. At 15, she worked at a bakery, and later attended law school with the help of student loans and food stamps, occasionally experiencing homelessness as a single mother. Now, after serving a single term in Congress, she will oversee a department that manages roughly one-fifth of land in the U.S. While she hails from a top oil-and gas-producing state, Haaland has pledged to transform the department from a champion of fossil fuel development into a promoter of renewable energy and policies to mitigate climate change. … 

“Biden’s choice comes as the federal government’s relationship with tribes has eroded under the Trump administration, which has removed protections from sacred tribal sites in Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument and allowed oil drillers into Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, home to the caribou that Native Alaskans hunt for food. ‘The Trump administration has not been kind to Indian country,’ Haaland said. … She argued that Trump’s interior secretaries, Ryan Zinke and David Bernhardt, reorganized the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other agencies in ways that hampered the ability of Native Americans to confer with federal officials.”

  • Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller ordered a department-wide halt last night in cooperation with the Biden transition team, shocking Pentagon officials and not giving a reason. (Axios)
  • Biden turned to North Carolina environmental regulator Michael Regan to become the first Black man to head the Environmental Protection Agency. (Steven Mufson, Dennis and Eilperin)
  • And the president-elect picked Obama administration veteran Brenda Mallory to serve as the first Black chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. (Dennis)
Relying on his gut, Biden shrugs off criticism of his decision-making process. 

“Biden has been conducting virtual interviews with final candidates, focusing on their values and life stories nearly as much as their approach to the departments they would lead,” Matt Viser reports. “Biden prefers to work from paper: His transition team has so far sent him more than 130 detailed background memos on the candidates. … His advisers describe a decision-making and hiring approach that resembles the playing of an accordion, starting wide and then narrowing — and then, sometimes suddenly, expanding once more. … The quest for an attorney general nominee appeared to have narrowed in recent days, but advisers then began floating the name of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, according to two people close to the process, even though he has repeatedly denied interest in the job and Biden has been primarily focused on a trio of other candidates.”

  • Democrats worry that Biden picking Judge Merrick Garland as attorney general would be disastrous for the balance of power on the D.C. Circuit. Assuming Democrats don’t win both Georgia Senate runoffs next month, McConnell would almost surely try to prevent Biden from filling Garland’s seat. (Axios)
  • Disney chairman Bob Iger has told people close to the incoming administration that he is interested in serving as the U.S. ambassador to China. Naming him to that role could cause trouble from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who have criticized Disney’s business dealings in China and questioned whether Biden has been sufficiently tough on Beijing. (WSJ)
  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) said he won’t serve in the Biden administration and claimed that he turned down an unspecified administration post. (Politico)
  • Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) may not land any administration job because intense opposition from the left makes him too toxic. "No one is worth that sort of headache,” a senior Democrat advising the transition team told Politico.
  • Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon, poised to become deputy chief of staff in the White House, sort of apologized for using profane language to describe congressional Republicans in an interview with Glamour magazine. “I used some words that I probably could have chosen better,” she said. (Politico)
  • Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) beat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to secure a coveted seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The Democratic steering committee voted 46 to 13 in a secret ballot. (Politico)

There's a bear in the woods

Federal investigators found evidence of previously unknown tactics used to penetrate government networks.

This development underscores the disastrous reach of Russia’s recent intrusions and the logistical nightmare facing federal officials trying to purge intruders from key systems. “For days, it has been clear that compromised software patches distributed by a Texas-based company, SolarWinds, were central to Russian efforts to gain access to U.S. government computer systems. But Thursday’s alert from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security said evidence suggested there was other malware,” Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima report. “The alert cited a blog post this week from Volexity, a Reston, Va.-based cybersecurity company, about repeated intrusions into an unnamed think tank that, according to the company, took place over several years without being detected. The attackers, who are described using a pseudonym in the Volexity post, gained access to the think tank’s networks using ‘multiple tools, backdoors, and malware implants’ and exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Exchange Control Panel software, which is central to the company’s email services. … 

“The Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile, were also breached, officials said Thursday, joining a growing list of agencies reported in recent days to have been hacked by the Russians and that are central to U.S. national security and other core government functions. They include the State, Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security departments, as well as the National Institutes of Health. … Purging the intruders and restoring security to affected networks could take months, some experts say, because the hackers moved rapidly from the initial intrusions through the corrupted software patches to collect and deploy authentic system credentials, making discovery and remediation far more difficult.”

Trump has said nothing about the hack affecting numerous federal agencies. “Democrats and some Republicans raised the alarm Thursday about a massive and growing cybersecurity breach that many experts blame on Russia, with Biden implicitly criticizing the Trump administration for allowing the hacking attack to occur,” Anne Gearan, Karoun Demirjian, Mike DeBonis and Annie Linskey report. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said it's “really, really quite extraordinary” to not have the White House “aggressively speaking out and protesting and taking punitive action.” Biden's statement: “Our adversaries should know that, as president, I will not stand idly by in the face of cyber assaults on our nation.”

The lame-duck agenda

The Fact Checker tackles some of the most Pinocchio worthy claims of 2020. (Video: The Washington Post)
Trump told seven of the 10 biggest Pinocchios of 2020.

The president’s most egregious false claims were about the pandemic, the U.S. election and the violence that erupted after the death of George Floyd in police custody. “The president’s statements affected both the health of U.S. citizens and American democracy and will undoubtedly influence how historians assess his performance as president,” writes Glenn Kessler, the director of our Fact Checker unit. 

“We have struggled to keep up with his torrent of falsehoods during the final weeks of the campaign, when he barnstormed the country making 600 to 700 false or misleading claims a week. The next update will show he crossed the 25,000 mark by mid-October. … As of Jan. 21, we will set a high bar for fact-checking his statements. He will be a defeated ex-president, and we tend to focus on claims made by people in power. In other words, we hope to ignore him and concentrate on people who really matter in national policy debates.”

  • The Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to Trump’s authority to exclude undocumented immigrants when deciding the size of each state’s congressional delegation, saying it was premature to decide the question. “The court’s unsigned opinion said the constitutional and legal questions surrounding such action should wait until it is clear whether Trump would be able to make good on his plan. It is unclear whether the Census Bureau can come up with the population figures Trump seeks before he leaves office,” Robert Barnes reports.
  • “Trump’s recognition of Western Sahara is a serious blow to diplomacy and international law," former secretary of state James A. Baker III writes in an op-ed for today's newspaper.
Top Republicans offer conflicting messages about Trump’s loss while campaigning in Georgia. 

When Pence took the stage in Columbus, Ga., on Thursday for a lunchtime rally with Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, he said that Trump was still fighting to win reelection. “But in television ads airing across the state, allies of McConnell are making a different argument: that Trump has lost the election, and Democrats could control Washington if they win these two seats on Jan. 5,” Cleve Wootson and Kane report. "That conflict was on display Thursday, as Pence repeatedly refused to acknowledge that Biden had won the 2020 election. ‘I promise you, we will keep fighting,’ Pence said. … 

“But even as Pence pledged to fight on, Perdue struck a slightly different tone. … On Thursday, he spoke of protecting Trump’s accomplishments. ‘We have to hold the line to make sure that what we’ve accomplished under Donald Trump and Mike Pence, that we hold on to what we’ve accomplished — the regulatory work, the tax work, the energy work,’ he said. Even the crowd seemed to sense a shift. Attendees didn’t break out in ‘Stop the steal’ or ‘Fight for Trump’ cheers, as they did at Pence’s last rally. Instead, they chanted, ‘Hold the line,’ a slogan Republicans have been using to stress the stakes of the Jan. 5 runoffs.”

An outraged Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) blasts Trump supporters for harassing his family. 

“Kemp is fed up with the unrelenting attacks from conspiracy theorists calling on him to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia. But he’s even more enraged that some of those peddlers of false claims are targeting his wife and three daughters,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. “'It has gotten ridiculous — from death threats, (claims of) bribes from China, the social media posts that my children are getting,’ he said. ‘We have the ‘no crying in politics rule’ in the Kemp house. But this is stuff that, if I said it, I would be taken to the woodshed and would never see the light of day.’ The Republican singled out the invective targeting his daughter Lucy, who has received hate-filled messages about inane false conspiracies about the death of her longtime boyfriend, Harrison Deal, who was killed in a traffic accident this month in Savannah." 

  • “Trump has mentioned to confidants that he’s thinking about resurrecting The Apprentice or The Celebrity Apprentice reality TV show,” the Daily Beast reports. “Among his inner orbit of family, political aides, and advisers, it is yet another sign that, despite the president’s public insistence that he won the 2020 election, he recognizes that he has lost."
  • Housing Secretary Ben Carson wants to start a think tank after he's out of a job in January that a member of his inner circle says will focus on "increasing self-sufficiency" and "promoting religious freedom." (Axios)

Other news that should be on your radar

(Video: Superior Court of Glynn County)
  • Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery was still alive when police arrived in the minutes after he was fatally shot, but officers did not immediately tend to him and showed little skepticism of the suspects’ accounts on the scene, newly released body camera videos show. (Bert Roughton and Hannah Knowles)
  • Testifying in public for the first time in decades, members of the Sackler family who led OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma apologized to victims of the national opioid epidemic but did not go as far as accepting personal responsibility for the health crisis. (Meryl Kornfield)
  • More than 300 schoolboys abducted last week by armed men in northwestern Nigeria were released. Boko Haram jihadists had claimed responsibility for taking the kids. (AP)
  • As Mexico’s security deteriorates, allowing violent cartels to claim more power over vulnerable populations, the power of the military is growing. Two years into Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s term, Mexico’s armed forces have assumed a broader role in the nation’s affairs than at any point since the end of a military-led government in the 1940s. Troops patrol cities, raid drug labs and protect strategic installations – but the military is also increasingly becoming the president’s go-to force for tasks previously managed by civilian agencies, from running ports to repairing hospitals to building airports. (Mary Beth Sheridan)
  • A ring of hardened drug dealers allegedly sold mass amounts of cocaine, Xanax and other drugs from fraternity houses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill over several years. An investigation culminated with charges against 21 people, including current and former students from UNC, Duke and Appalachian State University. (Jaclyn Peiser)

Social media speed read

The president’s lawyer appears to be trying out a career as an influencer:

Videos of the day

The Bidens sat down for an interview with Stephen Colbert. The president-elect said he believes that, once he’s in power, Republicans will be more willing to cooperate. But he expressed “personal disappointment” about the conduct of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who he said “was” a “personal friend":

Jill Biden expressed surprise at the attacks on her doctoral dissertation, and Joe Biden said he isn’t concerned about the accusations being made against his son, Hunter:

And Seth Meyers called out Trump’s enablers: