Sen. Mitt Romney, who has been a critic of the President, called the hacking “the modern equivalent of almost Russian bombers reportedly flying undetected over the entire country,” speaking to SiriusXM on Thursday. “And in this setting, not to have the White House aggressively speaking out and protesting and taking punitive action is really, really quite extraordinary.”
Biden, without mentioning Trump or his administration, tried to draw the contrast. “Our adversaries should know that, as President, I will not stand idly by in the face of cyber assaults on our nation,” he said in a statement Thursday.
Trump issued a sunny tweet glossing over that troubling news Thursday: “All-time Stock Market high. The Vaccine and the Vaccine rollout are getting the best of reviews. Moving along really well. Get those ‘shots’ everyone!” the President tweeted, ignoring the fact that scarce vaccine doses are only being allotted to front-line health workers, residents at long-term care facilities and some government officials. “Also, stimulus talks looking very good,” he added.
Stimulus talks hurdle toward a key deadline
As leaders claim that they are close to a deal, some progressives and conservatives have formed an unlikely alliance to advocate for increasing the size of the $600 direct payments that are expected to go out to cash-strapped Americans. Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said he planned to call for a vote Friday on his bill providing direct payments of $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for families. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, has also demanded the larger direct payments.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday evening that conversations “are still underway and making progress” and told his members to be prepared to work through the weekend. Even though these negotiations should have been completed months ago as unemployment and other benefits began expiring and worsening cases led to new Covid lockdowns by local officials, McConnell blamed the delays on Democrats.
“Families across the nation have waited far too long already for another significant dose of assistance,” McConnell said in a speech from the Senate floor Thursday. “We must not slide into treating these talks like routine negotiations to be conducted at Congress’ routine pace. So we need to complete this work and we need to complete it right away.”
Republican Sen. John Thune, a member of leadership, said the longer negotiations drag on, the harder it becomes to keep members in line — describing the process as “a little bit of whack-a-mole.”
“Whack it here, and someone else pops up … there’s a lot of interaction between the moving parts of all this, and getting it all lined up at the same time has proven to be pretty hard,” the South Dakota Republican said. “But I’m still hopeful.”
Members may need to pass another stop-gap measure to keep the government funded and avert a shutdown that would begin at midnight on Friday. But Thune said that Friday midnight deadline had actually been helpful in moving discussions forward.
“We need the pressure to get this done, and I hope that pressure will continue to build toward midnight tomorrow night,” Thune said.
A big day for a second coronavirus vaccine
Doses of a second coronavirus vaccine manufactured by Moderna may soon be on their way to Americans after a key advisory panel to the US Food and Drug Administration recommended that the agency grant Moderna emergency use authorization on Thursday. Leaders at the FDA signaled that a decision would come quickly.
“Following today’s positive advisory committee meeting outcome regarding the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has informed the sponsor that it will rapidly work toward finalization and issuance of an emergency use authorization,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement Thursday evening.
Hahn and Marks said the agency had also notified the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so they could prepare for the next steps in the authorization process. Once the FDA signs off, an advisory panel to the CDC will meet to make recommendations about who should get the Moderna vaccine first, and the CDC must sign off on that advice before shots of the Moderna vaccine can be injected into the arms of Americans. FDA officials said they also notified officials at Operation Warp Speed that they were nearing a decision “so they can execute their plans for timely vaccine distribution.”
In a public show of confidence about the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence will publicly receive the vaccine Friday along with Surgeon General Jerome Adams. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said they will receive the vaccine in the coming days.
But as the nation plunges deeper into this critical fight against Covid, he continues to be missing in action, content to let the gears of government function without him.