November 21, 2020

Michigan's Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R), the two state GOP lawmakers who met with President Trump at the White House on Friday, issued a joint statement following the encounter that they "have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan" and, therefore, they will "follow the normal process regarding Michigan's electors."

After several legal setbacks, Trump was seemingly attempting to discourage Shirkey and Chatfield from certifying the presidential results in Michigan — where President-elect Joe Biden holds a 150,000-vote advantage — and instead have the state's GOP legislators choose electors. Ben Ginsburg, a long-time GOP election lawyer who has criticized Trump's actions throughout the election process, said the meeting was "unprecedented," adding that "there's been nothing close to this situation" in terms of a sitting president trying to interfere with a state's certification process.

But Ginsburg would perhaps feel some sense of relief after a person familiar with the content of Friday's meeting told The Wall Street Journal that Trump didn't directly pressure the lawmakers to block the vote from certification. Read more at Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

2:25 p.m.

President Trump on Saturday called Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), requesting that he call a special session of the state legislature to get lawmakers to override the presidential election results and appoint electors to vote for him instead of the winner, President-elect Joe Biden, a person familiar with the conversation told The Washington Post. He also reportedly demanded the governor order a signature audit for absentee ballots. Kemp declined on both accounts, the person said.

A spokesman for the governor confirmed he spoke with Trump, and Kemp — who has traditionally been an ally of the president, but has recently become a frequent target of his criticism — mentioned in a tweet that he talked to Trump on Saturday morning, adding that he's asked for a signature audit several times.

The phone call is the latest longshot attempt by the president to overturn the election, which he falsely claims he lost because of widespread voter fraud, despite being unable to produce evidence that it occurred in Georgia or any other state. The president is heading to Georgia on Saturday to stump for Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) ahead of their runoff elections. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

1:52 p.m.

There may yet be a Brexit deal, though negotiations are seemingly far from over.

After speaking over the phone Saturday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have agreed to instruct their negotiators to renew Brexit talks in Brussels on Sunday, signaling that hope for a deal remains.

The U.K. has already left the bloc, but the transition period — during which governing rules have remained unchanged — ends Dec. 31, and both sides are hoping to strike some sort of agreement and avoid a chaotic breakup. However, major sticking points remain over fisheries, fair competition guarantees, and ways to solve future disputes. The two leaders acknowledged the differences are serious, but agreed a "further effort should be undertaken" to resolve the outstanding issues since no pact would be feasible unless a consensus is reached.

Johnson and Von der Leyen said they will speak again Monday night. Read more at Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

1:19 p.m.

Dr. Yasuhiro Suzuki, who served as the highest-ranking doctor in the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare's medical corps until he retired in August, told The Wall Street Journal he believes there's a "strong" theory that East Asian countries like South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore have all dealt with fewer COVID-19 infections and deaths than the United States and Europe because of prior exposure to similar pathogens.

Although he acknowledged there are no studies to back up the idea, Suzuki suggested it's worth following up. "There's a theory, and I think it's quite a strong one, that in East Asia a cold similar to the novel coronavirus spread widely and a large number of people caught it," he told the Journal. "As a result of having immunity to a similar virus — although it isn't bulletproof immunity — they either don't develop it or don't get seriously ill if they do."

Dr. Tatsuhiko Kodama, who is studying coronavirus antibodies at the University of Tokyo, said that similar viruses have probably spread repeatedly in the region, and he's confident that exposure is related to the COVID-19 immune response.

But not everyone is so sure sure that a previous virus could be behind the regional discrepancies. Prof. Tetsuya Mizutani, a virologist at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, told the Journal that the theorized pathogens would have traveled around the world just as quickly as the novel coronavirus has over the last several months. His much simpler explanation for the differences in severity? People in East Asian countries wear masks and wash their hands more consistently. Read more about research into the pandemic's regional differences at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

12:04 p.m.

Only 27 out of 249 congressional Republicans have acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden's election victory, a Washington Post survey has found.

The results of the survey aren't surprising, given that only a handful of GOP lawmakers have explicitly referred to Biden as the president-elect, but it does provide the most comprehensive look at where the party's elected officials stand.

Post reporters contacted aides for every Republican in the House and Senate between Wednesday evening and Saturday, asking them who the lawmakers consider to have won the presidential election, if they support or oppose Trump's continuing efforts to overturn the results, and if they'll accept Biden as a legitimately elected president should he win a majority of the Electoral College vote, as expected.

The most common answer, by far, to all three questions was actually a non-answer. In fact, more than 70 percent of Republicans left the Post's questions unattended. But two Republicans said they consider Trump the winner of the election, eight said they support his legal challenges, and two said they wouldn't accept Biden as a legitimate president even if he wins the Electoral College vote.

The Senate, proportionally, was more willing to acknowledge Biden's win than the House — 12 of the 52 Republicans sitting in the upper chamber told the Post he won the election, compared to just 14 of the 197 in the lower chamber. Among those 14, six are retiring from politics at the end of the month, suggesting that many Republicans may be staying out of the fray to avoid jeopardizing their re-election chances going forward. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

11:21 a.m.

President Trump is heading to Georgia on Saturday to stump for Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), worrying some Republicans in the state.

Matt Towery, a former Georgia GOP legislator who is now a political analyst and pollster, told Reuters that Trump's rally could be a boost for the senators — who are both facing Democratic challengers in separate runoffs that will determine which party controls the upper chamber in the early stages of the Biden administration — "if he spends most of his time talking about the two candidates, how wonderful they are, what they've achieved." But if he centers the rally around his election defeat, pushing his unfounded claims of voter fraud and "telling everyone how terrible" Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is, Towery worries the president could wind up exacerbating Republican voters' fears of election tampering, prompting them to stay home in January.

That's been the challenge over the last few weeks for Loeffler, Perdue, and the Republican Party, who have had to straddle the line between encouraging voters to go to the polls, while also entertaining Trump's allegations and refusing to acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden's win so as to avoid angering the president and his base. As Gabriel Sterling, a top election official and Republican who recently called out Trump for "inspiring" violence with his election fraud rhetoric, put it in an interview with The Atlantic, the senators "are stuck in a box and the president put them in it."

Vice President Mike Pence was in Georgia on Friday, urging voters to go to the polls despite their doubts. Trump may very well do the same, but he's also usually more liable to go off script than Pence. Read more at Reuters and The Atlantic. Tim O'Donnell

10:25 a.m.

Russia launched its nationwide coronavirus immunization effort Saturday in Moscow, where thousands of workers in the city's health, education, and social services systems have signed up to receive the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine at 70 vaccinations facilities throughout the capital.

Those eligible for the inoculation at this stage include people in the aforementioned professions between 18 and 60 years old. People who have had respiratory illnesses within the last two weeks, those with chronic illnesses, and pregnant and breastfeeding women cannot receive a shot. Producers are only expected to make 2 million doses of the vaccine by the end of the year, so the Moscow rollout is considered a preliminary step.

The two-shot vaccine has been the subject of international scrutiny since it was registered in Russia while still undergoing mass testing, but developers say it causes no serious side effects and is more than 90 percent effective, a rate similar to Moderna's and Pfizer's vaccine candidates. The Russian government says that more than 100,000 people have already received the vaccine, including top officials and military personnel.

BBC reports several of the people who went to clinics to get vaccinated Saturday were calm despite the outstanding questions, including one doctor who said her experience treating COVID-19 patients informed her decision to take her chances with the vaccine instead. Read more at The Associated Press and BBC. Tim O'Donnell

8:17 a.m.

Judge Nicholas Garaufis on Friday directed the Trump administration to fully restore the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, which was designed during the Obama administration to protect younger undocumented immigrants from deportation. Per The New York Times, the decision may be the "final blow" to President Trump's years-long quest to eliminate the program.

The order requires the Department of Homeland Security to post a public notice by Monday that it will accept new DACA applicants for the first time since 2017, Bloomberg notes. Under Garaufis' ruling, the government must also extend benefits — including permits to work — back to two years after they had been limited to one year, find a way to contact all immigrants eligible for the program, and produce a status report by Jan. 4.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf issued a memorandum over the summer restricting DACA to people who were already enrolled, but Garaufis ruled in November that was invalid because Wolf had been unlawfully appointed to his position.

The Trump administration can still appeal the ruling in the coming days, and there are other outstanding legal challenges, but if Garaufis' order still stands by the time President-elect Joe Biden takes office, he won't need to take any action to complete his promise of restoring the program. He will, the Times notes, still likely face pressure to push for a permanent legislative solution, however. Read more at The New York Times and Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

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