CORONAVIRUS UPDATES… The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. has reached 11,320,337 and the nation’s death toll stands at 248,227, according to figures released last night by Johns Hopkins University… A Reuters analysis has found that 41 states have reported record increases in the number of cases so far this month, while 20 have seen a record rise in deaths and 26 reported record hospitalizations. In 25 states, test positivity rates were at least 10 percent for the week ending on Sunday. The World Health Organization considers a positivity rate above 5 percent to be concerning… Experts advising President-elect Joe Biden on the pandemic fear that the Trump administration’s delay in recognizing election results could be compromising the U.S. response to the virus. Yesterday, doctors and nurses from multiple medical associations published a letter urging the Trump administration to share critical COVID-19 data with Biden’s transition team to avoid unnecessary delays.
BIDEN APPOINTMENTS… President-elect Joe Biden yesterday announced the appointment of nine White House aides, including counselors and senior advisers. Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, will become deputy chief of staff. Longtime adviser Steve Ricchetti will become counselor to the president. U.S. Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, who served as national co-chairman of Biden’s campaign, will become senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Mike Donilon, chief strategist for the campaign, will become a senior adviser to the president. Finally, Dana Remus, the campaign’s general counsel, will become counsel to the president. Biden began his appointments last Wednesday with the naming of Ron Klain as chief of staff. The president-elect is expected to nominate cabinet members by the end of the week.
TRUMP FIRES ELECTION SECURITY DIRECTOR… President Trump announced on Twitter last night that he has fired Christopher Krebs as the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Krebs has steadfastly defended the integrity of the 2020 presidential elections and repeatedly debunked Trump campaign allegations of widespread voter fraud. Trump called Krebs’ claims denying evidence of fraud “highly inaccurate.”
PA SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST TRUMP… The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled overwhelmingly yesterday in rejecting the Trump Campaign’s claim that Philadelphia violated state election law by not giving Republican observers “meaningful access” to watch the vote counting. Dissenters in the 5-2 vote were justices who preferred to rule the case as moot. The ruling weakens the Trump campaign’s to contest voting results in federal court and lowers its record to 1-25 in post-election lawsuits.
SENATE STALLS FED NOMINATION… The Trump administration’s nomination of Judy Shelton for the Federal Reserve’s board of governors stalled in the Senate yesterday. The effort failed yesterday by a 47-50 vote that included the opposition of GOP senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell switched his “yes” vote to “no,” which allows another vote later. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris returned to the chamber for the first time since the election and cast a key vote against.
TROOP WITHDRAWALS IN AFGHANISTAN, IRAQ… The Pentagon confirmed yesterday that the Trump administration has ordered troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and Iraq. Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said yesterday that the process will be complete by January 15 as part of efforts to reach a negotiated peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Miller’s public remarks were his first since replacing Mark Esper, who was abruptly fired last week. Some half of the 5,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Afghanistan reportedly would be withdrawn, as would 500 of the 3,000 troops in Iraq. Some senior Pentagon officials are bewildered by the move and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called it a “dumb idea.”
SENATE PANEL GRILLS TECH LEADERS… The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday grilled Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey over their social media platforms’ mechanisms for handling the spread of misinformation during the 2020 election campaign. Both tech leaders said their companies took steps to curb misinformation as the election approached, but their efforts prompted GOP panel members to allege bias. Zuckerberg and Dorsey both said they didn’t want a repeat of the 2016 elections, in which Russian hackers made repeated efforts online and via social media to interfere and influence the vote in favor of Trump.
CONAN LEAVING TBS… Conan O’Brien is leaving TBS to launch a weekly variety series on HBO Max. He will continue to host his nightly talk show through the end of its 10th season in June 2021. O’Brien had been a writer on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Simpsons” before replacing David Letterman behind the desk on NBC’s “Late Night” in 2003. O’Brien landed at TBS after a failed stint as host of “The Tonight Show.”
DOLLY PARTON DONATION HELPED COVID-19 VACCINE… The Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville says a $1 million donation by Dolly Parton helped U.S. biotech firm Moderna develop their COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna’s vaccine trial and clinical research were a part of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s efforts to stop the virus. Parton previously announced the donation on social media last April.
LIL WAYNE FACES FEDERAL GUN CHARGE… Lil Wayne was charged in Florida yesterday with possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. Prosecutors say Authorities said the rapper has acknowledged owning the gold-plated handgun and ammunition that were discovered in a search his luggage aboard a private plane that landed in Miami on December 23. Wayne, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr., has a felony gun conviction from New York back in 2009. The federal offense he faces carries a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
MLB NEWS… The Chicago Cubs announced yesterday that Theo Epstein is stepping down as the team’s president of baseball operations. The 46-year-old Epstein will leave at the end of the week and is being replaced by general manager Jed Hoyer. Epstein ran the Cubs for nine years and in 2016 helped bring the franchise its first World Series title in 108 years. Epstein also helped build World Series winners with the Boston Red Sox 2004 and in 2007.
NBA NEWS… The Milwaukee Bucks have acquired free-agent guard Bogdan Bogdanovic as part of a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings. The deal also brings guard Justin James to Milwaukee. In exchange, Sacramento gets guard Donte Divincenzo along with forwards D.J. Wilson and Ersan Ilyasova.