The United States experienced the worst day of the pandemic so far on Wednesday, recording 200,000 new coronavirus infections as hospitalizations topped 100,000 for the first time; 3,157 people died of COVID-19 on Wednesday — the highest daily death toll of any nation since the pandemic began. That’s more people than died in the attacks on September 11, 2001, and more than have died of COVID-19 across Japan in the past year. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, said the U.S. death toll could rise to nearly 450,000 by the start of February.
Dr. Robert Redfield: “The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
Dr. Redfield said the most vulnerable U.S. residents — as many as 100 million of them — could be vaccinated against COVID-19 by March 1.
At the White House, officials are planning to hold at least 25 indoor parties celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah this month, ignoring federal guidelines on mass gatherings, face masks and social distancing. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked how she could defend such indoor gatherings.
Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany: “If you can loot businesses, burn down buildings, engage in protest, you can also go to a Christmas party.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife have invited hundreds of people to indoor holiday parties at the State Department this month — even as the agency warned members of the diplomatic corps to cancel any “non-mission critical events” in favor of online gatherings. The Washington Post reports over 900 invitations have gone out to one such party — planned for December 15 — raising fears of more “superspreader” events in Washington, D.C., hosted by senior Trump administration officials.
In international news, Russia says it will start rolling out its Sputnik V vaccine as early as next week, with doctors and teachers first in line to receive the two-jab shot. The vaccination program comes as COVID-19 has been surging in Russia, which has the world’s fourth-highest confirmed caseload at over 2.3 million, and over 41,000 deaths.
In Zimbabwe, authorities are tightening restrictions on gatherings as cases rise. Hundreds of students have tested positive after schools reopened last month.
European Union regulators are cautioning against Britain’s rapid approval of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for widespread use, saying their longer approval process is safer. EU medical officials say they will decide by December 29 if they will issue provisional authorization for the vaccine.
President Trump is continuing his effort to overturn the November election. On Wednesday, he released a 46-minute video filled with lies claiming the election was rigged. The video was released just a day after Attorney General William Barr said he has seen no evidence of widespread fraud despite Trump’s claims. Speculation is growing that Trump may fire Barr over his remarks. While Trump is refusing to concede to Joe Biden, he has floated the idea of running for president again in four years.
In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger repeated his demand Wednesday that President Trump stop promoting conspiracy theories about a stolen election, saying Trump’s rhetoric is fueling violent threats against election officials.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger: “This is exactly the kind of language that is at the base of a growing threat environment for election workers who are simply doing their jobs.”
Raffensperger’s comments came a day after another top Georgia election official, Republican Gabriel Sterling, blasted Georgia’s two Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, for not condemning violent threats from Trump supporters, saying, “Someone’s going to get killed.”
Two Republican attorneys who have previously worked on Trump’s behalf led a rally of Trump supporters in Atlanta, urging Georgians not to participate in a Senate runoff election on January 5. This is Sidney Powell, who was ousted last month from Trump’s so-called Elite Strike Force legal team, led by Rudy Giuliani.
Sidney Powell: “I would encourage all Georgians to make it known that you will not vote at all until your vote is secure.”
Powell was joined by Republican attorney Lin Wood, who said Georgia Republicans should refuse to vote for incumbent Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, saying they haven’t done enough to overturn the results of the election.
Lin Wood: “They have not earned your vote. Don’t you give it to them! Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election? For God’s sakes, fix it!”
If Republican Senators Perdue and Loeffler lose their reelection bids to Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, Democrats will claim a narrow 51-50 majority in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tie-breaker.
The World Meteorological Organization warned Wednesday 2020 is set to be one of the three hottest years on record — despite a La Niña weather pattern that usually cools the climate. Here in New York, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said there was no way the world could prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis unless the U.S. rejoins the Paris Climate Agreement and unites with other nations to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “To put it simply, the state of the planet is broken. Dear friends, humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back. And it is already doing so with growing force and fury.”
In news from Afghanistan, the Afghan government and Taliban have reached a preliminary deal to move ahead with peace talks in what’s being hailed as a major breakthrough. The two sides agreed on a three-page written document to codify rules and procedures for future negotiations.
Iran has enacted a new law to increase uranium enrichment and to expel international nuclear inspectors if U.S. sanctions are not lifted by early February. Iranian lawmakers approved the measure in response to the assassination of the nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last Friday. Israel is widely assumed to have carried out the attack, likely with a blessing from the United States.
Meanwhile, The Daily Beast is reporting President Trump has given a green light to intensify a U.S. campaign against Iran under one condition — that it doesn’t start “World War III.” The U.S. envoy for Iran, Elliott Abrams, has said the Trump administration will continue to intensify the already devastating sanctions up until Trump leaves office.
Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden has reaffirmed his commitment to rejoin the landmark Iran nuclear deal once he takes office. In an interview with The New York Times, Biden said, “The last goddamn thing we need in that part of the world is a buildup of nuclear capability.”
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are reportedly close to reaching an agreement to end an over three-year Saudi-led blockade of Qatar. The possible deal comes after senior White House adviser and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner visited the Gulf this week. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar in 2017 after accusing it of becoming too close to Iran. Analysts say the push by the Trump administration is part of its effort to isolate Iran and elevate Israeli interests in the region.
In 2017, Kushner’s family real estate business appealed to Qatar’s billionaire former prime minister to finance a failing Manhattan property. One month after he and other Qatari investors refused, Jared Kushner pushed the Trump administration to support the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar.
Back in the United States, Ivanka Trump was deposed Tuesday as part of the District of Columbia attorney general’s lawsuit over misuse of inaugural funds. The D.C. attorney general is pursuing the Trump Organization and Presidential Inaugural Committee for “grossly overpaying” for use of the Trump International Hotel in D.C. at his 2017 inauguration, where the committee spent over $1 million to book a ballroom.
The National Labor Relations Board has accused Google of illegally firing several workers who were trying to organize a union or protest the company’s policies. The NLRB also accused Google of interrogating and spying on its workers. Part of the crackdown at Google targeted workers who organized protests over the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations and over Google’s work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In other labor news, unions and Democrats are condemning the move by President Trump and Republicans to freeze the pay of federal workers. Trump previously supported a meager 1% pay increase for federal workers but is now backing a Republican funding bill that offers no raise for over 2 million executive branch workers. The American Federation of Government Employees said in a statement, “The wage freeze proposal is a cruel slap in the face to those who have risked their lives to maintain government services for all Americans during the worst health crisis in our lifetimes.”
The U.S. women’s soccer team has reached a settlement with the U.S. Soccer Federation to receive equal working conditions to their counterparts in the national men’s team. The next legal move for the two-time World Cup champions will be to appeal a case over wage discrimination, which was tossed in May. A spokesperson for the team said, “Our focus is on the future and ensuring we leave the game a better place for the next generation of women who will play for this team and this country.”
The renowned Native American activist Eddie Benton-Banai has died at the age of 89. Benton-Banai grew up on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Reservation in northern Wisconsin in the 1930s. In the 1960s, he met Native American activist Clyde Bellecourt in a Minnesota prison. The pair went on to co-found the American Indian Movement, where Benton-Banai led organizing efforts against police harassment and brutality directed at Indigenous peoples in Minneapolis. He also helped launch the International Indian Treaty Council, which works for the sovereignty and self-determination of Indigenous peoples.