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Biden's Day 1 challenges: The stimulus deadlock

A host of alarming new signs suggest that the U.S. economy is on track to deteriorate even faster than had been forecast. A huge reason: A year-end COVID rescue package now looks unlikely.

Why it matters: One of the biggest failures of the current administration and Congress will be a Day One problem for President-elect Joe Biden — and an urgent test of his theory that Republicans will be more willing to work with him once President Trump is gone.

State of play: Republican and Democratic lawmakers have agreed for months that the economy would suffer without stimulus, but things may soon deteriorate faster than they forecast.

  • COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are up throughout the country, in the absence of any national containment strategy.
  • Some state and local governments are reinstituting, or talking about reinstituting, lockdowns. Including for schools.
  • Many restaurants that survived via outdoor eating will soon be forced to take down their tents as cold weather arrives.
  • It wouldn't quite be like March, when scientists knew much less about how the virus was transmitted, but it could cause many businesses to yearn for the halcyon days of summer 2020.

Reality check: Biden spoke to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday about the need to pass a stimulus bill during the lame-duck session of Congress. But the reality is that the Republican Senate and the Democratic House remain very far apart on priorities.

  • The Senate Republican conference is pushing for a highly-targeted bill, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi maintains she won't compromise on anything smaller than $2.2 trillion.
  • “That snag that hung us up for months is still there,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week.
  • Meanwhile, January's two Senate runoff races in Georgia will pull more attention from stimulus talks, and also could cause each side to hold out longer — hoping for post-election leverage, even though Americans will suffer in the meantime.
  • There's been a change in top negotiators, with the more conciliatory Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin replaced by McConnell.

The bottom line: Many Republicans have indicated that they plan to return to their traditional orthodoxy of fiscal responsibility, despite driving up the national debt by trillions of dollars under Trump. This could make Biden's job much harder.

  • But one massive plus for Biden is that lawmakers will no longer be held hostage by the politics of an upcoming election, and members may be more willing to concede with a new leader in the White House.

The questions the COVID-19 vaccine trials still need to answer

COVID-19 vaccines are being developed at record speed, but some experts fear the accelerated regulatory process could interfere with ongoing research about the vaccines.

Why it matters: Even after the first COVID-19 vaccines are deployed, scientific questions will remain about how they are working and how to improve them.

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Podcast: Behind the Faces of COVID

America yesterday lost 2,762 people to COVID-19, per the CDC, bringing the total pandemic toll to 272,525. That's more than the population of Des Moines, Iowa. Or Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Or Toledo, Ohio.

Axios Re:Cap speaks with Alex Goldstein, creator of the @FacesofCOVID Twitter account, about sharing the stories behind the statistics.

WSJ: Pfizer to ship half as many COVID vaccines this year, citing supply chain issues

Pfizer and BioNTech have halved their original estimate for how many coronavirus vaccines will be shipped globally by the end of this year, citing supply-chain issues, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The U.K. government has ordered 40 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine — enough to inoculate some 20 million people. The companies now expect to ship 50 million vaccines by the end of 2020, instead of 100 million, per WSJ.

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Warner Bros. to release all 2021 movies on HBO Max and in theaters at same time

In a move that will undoubtedly shape the future of cinema for years to come, Warner Bros. said Thursday that it will release its entire 2021 film slate on HBO Max, the streaming service owned by its parent AT&T, at the same time that the films debut in theaters.

Why it matters: It's the latest and most aggressive effort by a movie studio to get its titles in front of audiences at home during the pandemic. The move is a major blow to movie exhibitors, which are already struggling to survive the pandemic.

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Trump refuses to say whether he has confidence in Barr

President Trump declined to say on Thursday whether he still has confidence in Attorney General Bill Barr, after insisting that Barr "hasn't done anything" to investigate his unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud.

Why it matters: Trump has weighed firing Barr in recent days, seething about the attorney general's statement this week that the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the election.

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Biden taps Brian Deese to lead National Economic Council

President-elect Joe Biden announced Thursday that he has selected Brian Deese, a former Obama climate aide and head of sustainable investing at BlackRock, to serve as director of the National Economic Council.

Why it matters: The influential position does not require Senate confirmation, but Deese's time working for BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager and an investor in fossil fuels, has made him a target of criticism from progressives.

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How institutions that control vast wealth fall through U.S. regulatory cracks

Financial regulation is not exactly simple anywhere in the world. But one country stands out for the sheer amount of complexity and confusion in its regulatory regime — the U.S.

Why it matters: Important companies fall through the cracks, largely unregulated, while others contend with a vast array of regulatory bodies, none of which are remotely predictable.

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Trump nominee Christopher Waller confirmed to Fed board

The Senate voted 48-47 on Thursday to confirm Trump nominee Christopher Waller to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors — filling one of the two vacant slots on the influential economic body.

Why it matters: It's one of the last marks left on the Fed board by Trump, who has nominated five of its six members.

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