Live politics updates: Days before runoff, Georgia senator quarantines over COVID exposure
This week, USA TODAY Politics focuses on the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, his remaining Cabinet picks and the final week of the current Congress.
Dates to watch:
Jan. 3: New Congress is sworn in.
Jan. 5: Senate runoff election in Georgia.
Jan. 6: Congress will count and certify the electoral results in a joint session.
Jan. 20: Inauguration of Biden, who will take the oath of office.
Be sure to refresh this page often to get the latest information on the transition.
Republican Sen. David Perdue announced Thursday he was quarantining after coming into contact with someone on his campaign who tested positive for COVID-19, a striking development just five days before voters decide his political fate in a runoff race in Georgia.
Perdue’s campaign said Georgia Republican and his wife both tested negative for the virus Thursday but were going to quarantine, following the recommendations of his doctor and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“The Senator and his wife have been tested regularly throughout the campaign, and the team will continue to follow CDC guidelines,” a statement from his campaign adds.
Perdue’s quarantine comes only days before voters will decide whether he will keep his seat, one of the state’s two Senate runoff races on Tuesday that will determine which political party controls the upper chamber. He is facing a tough challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff.
On Jan. 5, voters will also decide between GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler or Democrat Raphael Warnock.
Both Republicans have regularly held events amid the pandemic at which attendees have largely went maskless and ignored social distancing efforts. Democrats have cut most rallies to limit the size of crowds and have instead instituted drive-in events or virtual rallies to attract support. Loeffler similarly had to quarantine last month after a coronavirus scare after she received conflicting test results. She has since returned to the campaign trail.
Perdue was set to attend a rally with President Donald Trump on Monday, one day before the runoff election.
— Christal Hayes
President Donald Trump issued a unique New Year's Eve greeting Thursday: A video claiming accomplishments by his administration.
While not mentioning his protests of Joe Biden's election win, Trump cited development of a coronavirus vaccine, Middle East peace initiatives, an economic recovery and a rising stock market.
Trump did not specifically mention the more than 300,000 Americans who died of COVID-19, nor complaints about slow delivery of vaccines.
Coronavirus vaccines:Why COVID-19 vaccinations are off to slow start
"In this season of joy, Americans have so much to be grateful for," Trump said at the end of the 4:45 video. "We're all blessed to live in the greatest country ever to exist on the face of the Earth. And we have made it greater than ever before."
Trump began the video by saying: "In the face of great challenges this year, Americans showed incredible grit, strength, tenacity and resolve."
At one point, Trump did suggest he knows that his presidency coming to an end on Jan. 20.
Discussing Middle East peace deals, Trump said that "we have to hope it keeps going. It's so easy if you know what you're doing."
– David Jackson
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell again blocked quick passage of increasing stimulus checks to $2,000, calling the proposal – which was a key demand of President Donald Trump – “socialism for rich people.”
Thursday marks the third time McConnell has blocked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., from quickly approving a House-passed bill that would increase one-time payments from $600 to $2,000 in the COVID-19 relief package the president signed into law Sunday. The Kentucky Republican argued the money would go to many who did not need it and repeatedly bashed Democrats for following Trump’s demand for increasing the checks to $2,000 but ignoring the two other mandates the president made: Repealing key legal protections for big tech firms and examining the president’s baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
“Socialism for rich people is a terrible way to help the American families that are actually struggling,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday. “Let me say that again. Borrowing from our grandkids to do socialism for rich people is a terrible way to get help to families who actually need it.”
McConnell has instead pushed forward a bill that combines increasing stimulus checks with repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and establishing a commission to study voter fraud, two issues that make the legislation unpassable by Democrats.
McConnell’s strategic push to combine the issues means increasing stimulus checks is highly unlikely to pass Congress, allowing Republicans to get out of a tough vote that would have either put them at odds with direct demands from Trump or relent on long-help objections to adding to the national debt. Senate Republicans had for months urged limiting the size of the aid payments, citing concerns about debt.
Schumer bashed McConnell again Thursday, explaining “this maneuver to combine all three issues is intended to kill the possibility of $2,000 checks ever becoming law.”
The New York Democrat offered for the chamber to take up all three issues separately, an offer that was ignored by McConnell.
“We have a chance at the end of his painful year to give Americans a reason to have some hope in 2021,” Schumer said. “The only thing standing in the way is the Republican Senate majority.”
— Christal Hayes
President-elect Joe Biden is planning on including a lighting ceremony commemorating the American lives lost to COVID-19 as part of the events for his inauguration. The vigil will be held a day before his inauguration at 5:30 pm at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, according to the transition team.
Many of the inauguration’s traditional ceremonies will be eliminated or “reimagined” considering the pandemic. The lighting ceremony will be one of the few in-person additions to programming in the coming year. Most inaugural activities are scheduled to take place in some form virtually.
"In the midst of a pandemic — when so many Americans are grieving the loss of family, friends, and neighbors — it is important that we honor those who have died, reflect on what has been one of the more challenging periods in the nation’s history, and renew our commitment to coming together to end the pandemic and rebuild our nation,” inauguration committee spokesman Pili Tobar said in a statement.
The ceremony will also include building lighting and church bell ringing across Washington, D.C., as part of “a national moment of unity and remembrance."
— Matthew Brown
GOP Sen. Ben Sasse: Trump, GOP allies 'playing with fire'
In a blistering Facebook post on Congress’ role in counting the votes of the Electoral College, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., denounced efforts by President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the presidential election results.
The senator gave a lengthy analysis of Trump's claims of election fraud, saying there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would put President-elect Joe Biden's win in doubt.
"For President-Elect Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College victory to be overturned, President Trump would need to flip multiple states. But not a single state is in legal doubt," Sasse wrote.
Sasse’s comments come as several Republican lawmakers have indicated they plan to contest the certification of Biden as the winner when Congress holds a joint session on Jan. 6.
Though the effort is doomed to fail, a faction of conservative House Republicans, led by Mo Brooks, R-Ala., have already said they will object to electoral votes from some battleground states that Biden won, such as Pennsylvania and Georgia.
On Wednesday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he would join the effort, ensuring that both chambers will need to debate and hold a vote on the issue.
Sasse said those were the actions of “ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage.”
The Nebraska senator, who has emerged as one of the more vocal critics of Trump in a party that is staunchly loyal to the president, warned that the effort amounts to pointing a "loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government."
“We ought to be better than that. If we normalize this, we’re going to turn American politics into a Hatfields and McCoys endless blood feud – a house hopelessly divided,” he said.
– Matthew Brown
Trump to cut short Florida trip, return to White House
President Donald Trump is cutting short his holiday trip to Florida to return to Washington Thursday.
White House officials did ncite a reason for the change in plans by Trump, who traditionally hosts a black-tie New Year's Eve celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
Trump’s return comes as his demand for $2,000 stimulus checks for millions of Americans appears to be dead. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has tied the larger checks to two other provisions – eliminating legal protections for social media companies and creating a commission to study the 2020 election – that are widely opposed by Democrats.
Trump kept a low profile in Florida since arriving on Dec. 23 and has rarely been seen outside the golf course. Instead of providing a detailed schedule, the White House said only that he was working “tirelessly for the American people” and would take “many meetings and calls.”
– John Fritze
First senator joins GOP effort to challenge Electoral College results
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, says he will object to the Electoral College results next week when Congress meets to officially certify President-elect Joe Biden's win over President Donald Trump, ensuring a doomed but dramatic congressional fight to overturn Biden's win.
Hawley, a close ally of the president, is the first senator to announce he would back the effort on Jan. 6, ensuring both chambers will debate and be forced to vote on whether to overturn Biden's election win. A faction of conservative House Republicans, led by Mo. Brooks, R-Ala., have already said they will object to electoral votes from some battleground states that Biden won, such as Pennsylvania ad Georgia.
Biden won the Dec. 14 Electoral College vote 306-232.
Trump has repeatedly called on congressional Republicans to step up and object on his behalf, but many have acknowledged Biden's win. Some went as far to call the effort to object meaningless.
The effort, however, is doomed to fail in the Democratic-controlled House and even in the Senate, where Republican leaders led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have warned colleagues not to challenge the Electoral College vote.
– Christal Hayes and Joey Garrison
$2,000 stimulus checks likely dead
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled Wednesday that the effort to increase stimulus checks in the COVID relief package to $2,000 is likely dead.
President Donald Trump has urged an increase in the size of the checks and the House this week passed a bill to boost them to $2,000.
But McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday the proposal for bigger stimulus payment has "no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate."
The Senate majority leader has introduced a bill Tuesday that includes two other Trump demands that Democrats are not likely to support. The measure would increase checks to $2,000 but also repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants certain legal protections for big tech companies, and establish a commission to study election fraud.
The commission would examine many of the concerns Trump has raised since losing the election and make recommendations to Congress. The president hasn't provided evidence to back his claims, and the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud in last month's election.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said there was no way Democrats would support the legislation and it stood no chance of reaching Trump's desk. Democrats called on McConnell to pass a standalone proposal on stimulus checks.
Meanwhile, the Treasury Department is has begun issuing the $600 payments. The department said payments would begin for Americans with direct deposit set up through the Internal Revenue Service as soon as Tuesday night. Paper checks will begin to be mailed Wednesday.
McConnell's bill hasn't been scheduled for a vote, and it's unclear whether it will receive the backing of Senate Republicans. Some have voiced support for increasing relief checks, but most are opposed.
Holding a vote on the measure would put Republican senators on the spot to either reject Trump's demands for increased checks or relent on long-held objections to adding to the debt.
— Christal Hayes and staff reports