8.35pm GMT

Donald Trump spoke with Emmanuel Macron yesterday, as the French president continues to quarantine after testing positive for coronavirus.

“President Trump wished President Macron a speedy recovery and quick return to his full duties,” the White House said in a readout of the call.

“President Trump also extended his best wishes for a Merry Christmas to President Macron, his family, and the People of France.”

The French government announced yesterday that Macron had tested positive for coronavirus, forcing several foreign leaders who had recently been in contact with him into quarantine.

8.19pm GMT

Asked whether he believed a deal on government spending and coronavirus relief was possible today, Senate majority whip John Thune replied, “That would be a triumph of hope over experience.”

The Republican senator added, “Best-case scenario of getting something voted on was probably going to be Sunday, but it may be later.”

Government funding is set to expire in less than nine hours. If a spending bill is not passed, the US government will shut down.

Thune said a major sticking point in negotiations remains the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority, after Republican Pat Toomey introduced a provision to wind down a key lending program established by the Cares Act passed in March.

Democrats criticized the proposal as an attempt to limit Joe Biden’s power before he takes office next month.

at 8.23pm GMT

8.01pm GMT

It is looking increasingly unlikely that Congress will reach a deal on a spending bill and a coronavirus relief package by midnight, when government funding runs out.

After meeting with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, majority whip John Thune said it would be difficult to fund the government past tonight because any single senator can block a stop-gap funding bill, and Republican Josh Hawley has already signaled a willingness to do so to force action on stimulus checks.

Burgess Everett

Downbeat vibes at 2:45 pm. Majority Whip Thune after meeting with McConnell says it’ll be hard to announce a deal today on stimulus and a heavy lift to fund the government past midnight since any one senator can object and some want short shutdown to force action

December 18, 2020

7.38pm GMT

Congressman Don Beyer, a Democrat of Virginia, said he received the coronavirus vaccine today as well.

Rep. Don Beyer

Upon medical advice of the Attending Physician, I just received a coronavirus vaccine.

Millions of Americans are waiting for shots, many of whom are workers on the front lines of this pandemic. I am not more important than they are, but national leaders must lead by example. pic.twitter.com/MZ7hGRTqtF

December 18, 2020

“Upon medical advice of the Attending Physician, I just received a coronavirus vaccine,” Beyer said in a tweet.

“Millions of Americans are waiting for shots, many of whom are workers on the front lines of this pandemic. I am not more important than they are, but national leaders must lead by example.”

House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell were both vaccinated today, but Beyer appears to be the first rank-and-file member of Congress to receive the vaccine.

7.24pm GMT

House majority leader Steny Hoyer just announced the chamber would recess until 5 pm ET, as the clock ticks down the hours until government funding expires.

“We are hoping that in the next three hours, we’ll have a clearer picture of where we are,” Hoyer said.

The Maryland Democrat added, “Keep tonight free, tomorrow free, Sunday free and such days whereafter that we might need – and I hope we do not need any of those days.”

Time-check: government funding expires in less than 10 hours. If Congress does not pass a spending bill by midnight, the US government will shut down.

at 7.47pm GMT

7.10pm GMT

The Guardian’s Daniel Strauss reports:

Officials for president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team stressed that there was no agreement between them and Pentagon leaders to pause transition briefings for a holiday break.

“Let me be clear there was no mutually agreed upon holiday break. In fact, we think it’s important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period, as there’s no time to spare and that’s particularly true in the aftermath of the ascertainment of delay,” Yohannes Abraham, the executive director of the transition team said, during a briefing with reporters on Friday.

“In terms of when meetings will resume, meetings and requests for information which are substantively interchangeable, it’s our hope and expectation that that will happen immediately.”

Abraham’s comments come after Axios reported on Friday that Pentagon officials had paused coordinating with Biden officials following an order from acting defense secretary Chris Miller. Biden officials were initially made aware of the pause on Thursday. They were taken by surprise.

The pause comes after it seemed like Donald Trump’s administration had finally decided to follow the normal protocol for working with an incoming administration.

But in response to being asked whether the Pentagon was the only department where a surprise pause to coordination was happening Abraham said, “There have been many agencies and departments that have facilitated the exchange of information in meetings over the past few weeks since ascertainment. There have been pockets of recalcitrants and [the department of defense] is one of them.”

Abraham declined to say which other departments were being difficult.

at 7.17pm GMT

6.55pm GMT

McConnell receives coronavirus vaccine

Mitch McConnell announced he also received the coronavirus vaccine today, praising the treatment as the means to end the pandemic.

Leader McConnell

Just received the safe, effective COVID vaccine following continuity-of-government protocols. Vaccines are how we beat this virus.

Now back to continue fighting for a rescue package including a lot more money for distribution so more Americans can receive it as fast as possible. pic.twitter.com/kSBhI3EzzM

December 18, 2020

“Just received the safe, effective COVID vaccine following continuity-of-government protocols. Vaccines are how we beat this virus,” the Senate majority leader said in a tweet.

“Now back to continue fighting for a rescue package including a lot more money for distribution so more Americans can receive it as fast as possible.”

Vice-president Mike Pence and House speaker Nancy Pelosi received the vaccine today as well. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to be vaccinated on Monday.

6.44pm GMT

Bidens to receive coronavirus vaccine on Monday

Joe and Jill Biden will receive the coronavirus vaccine on Monday, the president-elect’s transition team announced in a press call today.

Joe Biden arrives with wife Jill Biden to deliver remarks on the Electoral college certification on Monday. Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

The vice-president-elect, Kamala Harris, and her husband, Doug Emhoff, are expected to get the vaccine a week later.

Biden previously announced he would get vaccinated live on camera to help boost public confidence in the vaccine.

Vice-president Mike Pence received the Pfizer vaccine in a televised event earlier today, and Donald Trump is expected to soon follow suit.

at 6.45pm GMT

6.14pm GMT

Nancy Pelosi confirmed in a tweet that she received the coronavirus vaccine today.

The Speaker of the House said she did so with “confidence in science”:

Nancy Pelosi

Today, with confidence in science & at the direction of the Office of the Attending Physician, I received the COVID-19 vaccine. As the vaccine is being distributed, we must all continue mask wearing, social distancing & other science-based steps to save lives & crush the virus. pic.twitter.com/tijVCSnJd7

December 18, 2020

at 6.36pm GMT

6.00pm GMT

Today so far

Here’s where the day stands so far:

Vice-president Mike Pence received the coronavirus vaccine live on television. The event came one day after an FDA vaccine advisory panel recommended the Moderna vaccine for emergency use, clearing the way for the agency to authorize a second vaccine.
The supreme court dismissed a challenge to Donald Trump’s proposal to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count to apportion congressional seats. The court’s six conservative justices dismissed the challenge as premature, given that it’s unclear what effect the proposal would have. Voting rights and immigrant rights groups have already pledged to file another lawsuit if Trump attempts to implement the policy.
Mitch McConnell said he was “even more optimistic” about reaching a deal on coronavirus relief. The Senate majority leader voiced confidence about passing a coronavirus relief bill and a government spending bill as negotiations continue between Democrats and Republicans. As a reminder, government funding runs out at midnight.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

5.52pm GMT

The acting secretary of defense is pushing back against an Axios report that he has halted Pentagon briefings to Joe Biden.

The Department of Defense will continue to provide all required support to the Agency Review Team (ART) to keep our nation and her citizens safe,” Christopher Miller said in a statement. “At no time has the Department cancelled or declined any interview.”

Miller added, “After the mutually-agreed upon holiday pause, which begins tomorrow, we will continue with the transition and rescheduled meetings from today.

“Again, I remain committed to a full and transparent transition – this is what our nation expects and the DoD will deliver AS IT ALWAYS HAS.”

Miller is scheduled to meet with Donald Trump at the White House today. It’s unclear whether the president might have ordered Miller to stop cooperating with the Biden transition team.

5.40pm GMT

Pelosi receives coronavirus vaccine – reports

House speaker Nancy Pelosi has reportedly received the coronavirus vaccine from Dr Brian Monahan, the attending physician of the Capitol.

Kristin Wilson

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been given the coronavirus vaccination in her office by the Attending Physician Dr. Brian Monahan.

December 18, 2020

The Democratic speaker issued a statement yesterday indicating that she would receive the Pfizer vaccine in the next few days.

“According to government continuity guidelines, congressional leadership has been informed by the Office of the Attending Physician that members of the House and Senate are eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine.

“The attending physician further stated to members, ‘My recommendation to you is absolutely unequivocal: there is no reason why you should defer receiving this vaccine.’ With confidence in the vaccine and at the direction of the attending physician, I plan to receive the vaccine in the next few days.”

Pelosi emphasized that she would continue observing public health guidelines, such as wearing a mask and socially distancing, for the coming months.

at 6.30pm GMT

5.20pm GMT

Josh Hawley is threatening to block a stopgap funding bill if his proposal for $1,200 stimulus checks is defeated.

The Missouri senator requested unanimous consent for his bill that would approve another round of direct payments to Americans, which were included in the Cares Act that passed in March.


CLIP: Sen. @HawleyMO makes unanimous consent request for Senate to pass bill for $1,200 for individuals, $2,400 for couples, $500 for kids in direct COVID-19 relief payments.

Sen. @RonJohnsonWI objects.

Full video –> https://t.co/k3fJxjsaQt pic.twitter.com/Ozm1X8DU7s

December 18, 2020

But fellow Republican Ron Johnson objected to Hawley’s proposal, citing concerns about the national debt.

After Johnson blocked the bill, Hawley threatened that he would not let a stopgap spending measure pass the Senate until his call for direct payments is met.

As a reminder, government funding expires at midnight. If Congress cannot pass a spending bill by then, the government will shut down.

at 6.28pm GMT

5.01pm GMT

The EU is paying less than the US for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, according to a new report from the Washington Post.

The Post reports:

The costs to the EU had been confidential until a Belgian official tweeted – and then deleted – a list late Thursday.

Comparing that list to calculations by Bernstein Research, an analysis and investment firm, it appears the 27-nation union has a 24% discount on the Pfizer vaccine compared to the United States, paying $14.76 per dose compared to $19.50 in the United States. Some of that difference may reflect that the EU subsidized that vaccine’s development.

The bloc will pay 45% less than the United States for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine currently under development. But it will pay 20% more than the United States for the Moderna vaccine, which is expected to be approved for US use on Friday.

The FDA’s vaccine advisory panel recommended the Moderna vaccine for emergency use yesterday, and the agency is expected to grant Moderna an emergency authorization later today.

The Moderna vaccine also has a couple distinct advantages over the Pfizer vaccine, namely that it does not require ultra-cold storage (as the Pfizer vaccine does) and it appears to help prevent severe illness in those who contract coronavirus.

at 6.28pm GMT

4.44pm GMT

The Covid-19 death toll in the US will rise to nearly 562,000 by 1 April 2021, a global health research center is estimating – a 60,000 increase in predicted deaths compared to the estimation it made last week.

The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) based at the University of Washington predicts that 262,000 more Americans will die from Covid-19 between 14 December and 1 April. The institute cited increasing infection and death numbers, particularly in California.

Last week, the average of daily reported cases jumped to 194,900 a day, up from 164,700 the week before. Average number of deaths per day went from 2,070 to 2,350 last week. The institute estimates that 17% of the US population has had Covid-19 as of 14 December.

IHME took into consideration the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, saying vaccinations are expected to save 34,500 lives by the beginning of April, according to the model. But if 95% of Americans were wearing masks by next week, 55,000 lives would be saved by the end of April, the institute predicts. It says about 73% of Americans are wearing masks whenever they leave their homes.

IHME predictions have been controversial in the past, but public health experts agree the US is facing a grim winter as it heads into the heart of the holiday season, when tens of millions of people are expected to travel to see family despite pleas to stay home. AAA estimates that 85 million people will be traveling, most by car, between 23 December and 3 January.

at 6.27pm GMT

4.30pm GMT

After the Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast was sent an interesting question by a listener, Jonathan Freedland asked Samantha Power, a former US ambassador to the UN, whether the world could become less dependent on US leadership – and thus more resilient?

The Guardian UK: Politics Weekly
Does the world need the US any more? Politics Weekly Extra

Sorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen https://audio.guim.co.uk/2020/12/17-60453-gdn.pw.201218.ds.Foreign_Policy.mp3

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