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First look: GSA warned transition delays hurt communities of color

A coalition of more than 40 racial justice groups is asking GSA Administrator Emily Murphy to begin the transfer of power to Joe Biden, saying the delays disproportionately hurt people of color and "playing politics with the ascertainment process is playing politics with our lives."

Driving the news: In a draft of a letter to Murphy dated Friday and reviewed by Axios, the group, Just Democracy, urges the General Services Administration official to formally ascertain that Biden likely won the Nov. 3 election so his transition team can gain access to virus mitigation and vaccine distribution plans.


What they're saying: "We urge you to weigh the implications of inaction and recognize the results," the letter says. Delaying now is tantamount to "an effort to support and condone the vanity project of this president and his enablers as he tries to salvage a reputation that is beyond repair at the expense of our lives."

  • The National Urban League said Black and Latino residents have a COVID infection rate per 10,000 that's three times that of their white counterparts.
  • The Navajo Nation recently has seen an uncontrolled spread of the virus in 34 communities across the sprawling 25,0000-square-mile reservation.

Why it matters: Without Murphy's action, Biden's team can't begin to hire or conduct background checks on candidates to oversee the COVID-19 fight in federal agencies.

The other side: The GSA did not respond to a request for comment on the letter. Murphy, a Trump appointee, has so far resisted signing documents to start the transition, and as this CNN report describes, has struggled with the weight of her responsibility and competing pressures.

CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use"

The CDC is urging “universal face mask use” for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, citing recent case spikes as the U.S. has entered a phase of “high-level transmission” before winter officially begins.

Why it matters: Daily COVID-related deaths across the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday. Face coverings have been shown to increase protection of the wearer and those around them, despite some Americans' reluctance to use them.

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Saudi Arabia and Qatar near deal to end standoff, sources say

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are close to a deal to end the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf following U.S.-mediated reconciliation talks this week, sources familiar with the talks tell me.

Why it matters: Restoring relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf after a 3.5 year standoff. It could also notch a last-minute achievement for the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

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President of Soros foundation leaves amid speculation of potential Biden role

Patrick Gaspard, who served as ambassador to South Africa under President Barack Obama, is stepping down as president of George Soros' Open Society Foundations, fueling speculation that he'll join the Biden administration, potentially as Labor secretary.

What to know: Before his stint as ambassador, Gaspard was Obama's political director in the White House, drawing upon his experience in the labor movement to advance Obama's legislative agenda on health care and financial services reform.

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House passes bill to decriminalize marijuana

The House on Friday voted 228-164 in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, marking the first time a congressional chamber has voted in favor of decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Why it matters: The Washington Post describes the bill as a "landmark retreat in the nation’s decades-long war on drugs," which has disproportionately affected people of color.

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Clean trucks are paving the road to the electric vehicle era

The electric vehicle revolution is underway, led by the un-sexiest of plug-in models: the commercial truck.

Why it matters: Growing demand for cleaner trucks means 2021 will be a pivotal year for electric vehicles — just not the kind you might have expected.

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Over 13 million people are receiving pandemic unemployment assistance expiring on Dec. 26

Data: Department of Labor; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of people receiving unemployment benefits is falling but remains remarkably high three weeks before pandemic assistance programs are set to expire. More than 1 million people a week are still filing for initial jobless claims, including nearly 300,000 applying for pandemic assistance.

By the numbers: As of Nov. 14, 20.2 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits of some kind, including more than 13.4 million on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs that were created as part of the CARES Act and end on Dec. 26.

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The top candidates Biden is considering for key energy and climate roles

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has urged President-elect Joe Biden to nominate Mary Nichols, chair of California's air pollution regulator, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: The reported push by Schumer could boost Nichol's chances of leading an agency that will play a pivotal role in Biden's vow to enact aggressive new climate policies — especially because the plan is likely to rest heavily on executive actions.

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U.S. economy adds 245,000 jobs in November as rate of recovery slows

Axios Visuals. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The U.S. economy added 245,000 jobs in November, while the unemployment rate fell to 6.7% from 6.9%, the government said on Friday.

Why it matters: The labor market continues to recover even as coronavirus cases surge— though it's still millions of jobs short of the pre-pandemic level. The problem is that the rate of recovery is slowing significantly.

This story is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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