AP MORNING WIRE
Good morning. In today's AP Morning Wire:
- US electors meeting to formally choose Joe Biden as next president.
- COVID-19 vaccine shipments in US set for states in historic push.
- Europe's resurgence hits nations that suffered most and least in spring.
- Shadowy Ethiopian massacre in Tigray could be 'tip of the iceberg.'
DEPUTY DIRECTOR – GLOBAL NEWS COORDINATION, LONDON
AP PHOTO/PATRICK SEMANSKY
Electors meeting to formally choose Biden as next president; Analysis: The election is over, but Trump’s attacks on the democratic process will linger
The spotlight on the Electoral College process has been especially intense this year because President Donald Trump has refused to concede the election and has continued to make baseless allegations of fraud,
Presidential electors are meeting across the United States to formally choose Joe Biden as the nation’s next president.
Today is the day set by law for the meeting of the Electoral College. In reality, electors meet in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to cast their ballots, Mark Sherman reports.
The results will be sent to Washington, and tallied in a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress over which Vice President Mike Pence will preside.
EXPLAINER: Voters cast their ballots for president more than a month ago, but the votes that officially matter will be cast today when the Electoral College meets. The Constitution gives the electors the power to choose the president, and when all the votes are counted Biden is expected to have 306 electoral votes, while Trump will have 232, Jessica Gresko and Mark Sherman report.
Popular Vote: The Electoral College's detractors hope today marks the beginning of the end of a system that twice this century has vaulted the loser of the popular vote to the presidency. This year’s race provides the latest motivation for change to supporters of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. It would compel member states to award their electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote. So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia have signed on. Advocates hope, perhaps unrealistically, that it will be in place by the next presidential election, Andrew Selsky reports.
EXPLAINER: How do other democratic nations select leaders? The way in which America formally chooses its president stands in stark contrast to how most of the world’s democracies select leaders. Heads of government are either directly elected by voters or by a parliamentary system in which the party winning the most seats in a national assembly selects the head of state. Complications can arise, such as the need to form coalitions, and, as the age old saying goes, politics makes strange bedfellows.
Analysis: The Supreme Court's rejection of a lawsuit seeking to invalidate election results yet again confirmed Biden's victory in the 2020 election. Trump and more than 100 Republican lawmakers had backed the case seeking to overturn Biden's wins in key states, including Michigan and Wisconsin. But the lawsuit relied on false and disproven claims of voter fraud. Attention is now on today's vote of the Electoral College, a formal step in certifying Biden's victory. Some Republicans have signaled they're waiting for that vote before acknowledging Trump's defeat.
The actions of Trump and his allies have exposed a striking reality about America: Many lawmakers in one of the nation’s two major political parties are either willing to back efforts to overturn a free and fair election or unwilling to speak out against such a campaign.
That lays the predicate for politicians to question the integrity of any election if the results don’t go a party or a candidate’s way, a dangerous notion that is likely to further erode Americans’ trust in government and test the durability of the nation's democratic institutions, writes AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace.
Trump Rallies: Vandals tore down a Black Lives Matter banner and sign from two historic Black churches in downtown Washington and set the banner ablaze as nighttime clashes on Saturday between pro-Trump supporters and counterdemonstrators erupted into violence and arrests. Police said they were investigating the incidents at the Asbury United Methodist Church and Metropolitan A.M.E. Church as potential hate crimes. One religious leader likened it to a cross burning, Mike Balsamo and Ashraf Khalil report.
AP PHOTO/MORRY GASH
COVID-19 vaccine shipments in US arriving in states for use in historic push; After 110,000 virus deaths, nursing homes face vaccine fears
The first of many COVID-19 vaccine doses are making their way to distribution sites across the U.S., as the nation’s pandemic deaths approach the bleak and horrifying milestone of 300,000.
The rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, the first to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, ushers in the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history — one that health officials hope the American public will embrace, even as some have voiced initial skepticism or worry, Martha Irvine and Morry Gash report.
The first of two shots is expected to be given in the coming week to health care workers and nursing home residents.
Nursing Home Worry: After 110,000 deaths ravaged America's nursing homes and pushed them to the front of the vaccine line, they now face a vexing problem: skeptical residents and workers balking at getting the shots. Being first has come with fears that the places hit hardest could be put at risk again by vaccines sped into development in mere months, that their effects have not been fully studied, and that the frail and those who care for them will essentially be test subjects. Federal health officials say testing has uncovered no serious side effects and they are launching a $250 million ad campaign to sway those with doubts to get the vaccines, Bernard Condon and Matt Sedensky report.
Trump Vaccine: He says he's reversing an administration directive to vaccinate top government officials while public distribution of the shot is limited to front-line health workers and people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Trump made the announcement in a tweet , hours after his administration confirmed that senior U.S. officials, including some White House aides who work in close proximity to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, would be offered coronavirus vaccines as soon as this week under federal continuity of government plans, Zeke Miller reports.
Racing for a Remedy: Teams of researchers around the globe are now studying the places and species from which the next pandemic may emerge. Even as the world struggles with COVID-19 devastation, scientists say this pandemic likely won’t be the last. Many scientists are focusing attention on the world’s only flying mammals — bats. Viruses that emerge from bats are more lethal in humans than those from other species. Christina Larson, Aniruddha Ghosal and Marcelo Silva de Sousa report.
You can follow all global vaccine developments here.
AP PHOTO/ANTONIO CALANNI/LUCA BRUNO, DOMENICO STINELLIS
Italy's staggering virus death toll poses hard questions; Italy's front-line medical heroes, 8 months later; Germany tightens lockdown over festive period
Europe's coronavirus resurgence has been hitting the countries that suffered most and least in springtime as autumn moved into winter.
Italy is reclaiming a record that nobody wants: The most virus deaths in Europe. Italy is still trying to figure out how to protect its vulnerable elderly. This wasn’t supposed to happen in the first country in the West slammed by COVID-19 that saw its death toll spike in the spring amid public health shortfalls and lockdown restrictions that came too late, Nicole Winfield reports from Rome.
It had the benefit of time and experience heading into the rebound, trailing Spain, France and Germany in recording big new infection clusters.
Still, Italy failed to keep the virus under control, adding nearly 29,000 dead since Sept. 1. It now has over 64,000 virus-related deaths, a few dozen less than Britain, where infections and deaths rise daily and much of the country is under varying levels of lockdown before Christmas.
PHOTOS: Italy's front-line medical heroes, 8 months later. For the doctors and nurses who have been on the front lines of Italy’s coronavirus battle since the start, the passage of time has taken a toll. They have seen so much suffering and death and have suffered themselves: From fear of infection, isolation from their families, anger at COVID-19 skeptics and the overwhelming sense of being powerless before a vicious virus. The AP went back to photograph the16 health care workers whose portraits, taken on the single deadliest day of Italy’s first wave of infection, came to epitomize the sacrifice of the world’s medical personnel during the pandemic. Luca Bruno, Antonio Calanni and Domenico Stinellis have this exclusive package.
Germany's Hard Lockdown: The country suffered far less than most others on the continent in spring with swift measures. It's now closing most stores and schools, and further limiting social contact in an effort to drive down the rate of infections that have remained high recently. Chancellor Angela Merkel said she and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed to step up the country’s lockdown measures from Dec.16 to Jan. 10 to stop the exponential rise of cases. The government today called on citizens to forgo Christmas shopping in the two days until the hard lockdown begins.
Child Brides: Marriages of underage girls are on the rise as the pandemic deepens poverty around the world, threatening to undo years of work by activists trying to stop the tradition in countries such as Sierra Leone. The U.N. estimates that hardships resulting from COVID-19 will drive 13 million more girls to marry before the age of 18. This year alone, Save the Children estimates nearly half a million more underage girls are at risk of being married off worldwide, most in Africa and Asia. In most cases, needy parents receive a dowry for their daughter — a bit of land or livestock that can provide income, or cash and a promise to take over financial responsibility for the young bride, Krista Larson has this exclusive report from Sierra Leone.
“Anyone they found, they would kill,” an ethnic Tigrayan who fled to Sudan with his family, said of Ethiopian and Amhara forces. He said he saw hundreds of bodies, making a slicing gesture at his neck and head as he remembered the gashes.
But another refugee, told the AP that many ethnic Amhara like him who stayed behind were massacred by Tigrayan forces.
The only thing the survivors can agree on is that hundreds of people were slaughtered in a single Ethiopian town, report Faye Abuelgasim, Nariman El-Mofty and Cara Anna.
Witnesses say security forces and their allies attacked civilians in Mai-Kadra with machetes and knives or strangled them with ropes. The stench of bodies lingered for days during the early chaos of the Ethiopian government’s offensive in the defiant Tigray region last month.
But who killed whom? Some witnesses have told rights groups that ethnic Tigrayan forces and allies attacked ethnic Amhara. But others have said Tigrayans were targeted by Ethiopian federal forces and allied Amhara regional troops.
The conflicting accounts are emblematic of a war that has played out in the shadows.
Long-held tensions over land in western Tigray, where Mai-Kadra is located, between Tigrayans and Amhara have added fuel to the fire. Amnesty International said it confirmed that at least scores, and likely hundreds, of people were killed in Mai-Kadra, using geolocation to verify video and photographs of the bodies. It also remotely conducted “a limited set of interviews.”
But Mai-Kadra “is just the tip of the iceberg,” an Amnesty researcher said, as fears grow about atrocities elsewhere in Tigray.
Other Top Stories
U.S. government agencies were ordered to scour their networks for malware and disconnect potentially compromised servers after authorities learned that the Treasury and Commerce departments were hacked in a monthslong global cyberespionage campaign discovered when the prominent cybersecurity firm FireEye learned it had been breached. FireEye would not say whom it suspected — many experts believe the operation is Russian given the careful tradecraft. It said foreign governments and major corporations were also compromised. Federal agencies have long been attractive targets for foreign cyberspies.
Tens of thousands of protesting Indian farmers have called for a second national strike in a week to press for the quashing of three new laws on agricultural reform that they say will drive down crop prices. The farmers are camping along at least five major highways on the outskirts of New Delhi and have said they won’t leave until the government rolls back what they call the “black laws.” They have blockaded highways leading to the Indian capital for three weeks, and several rounds of talks with the Indian government have failed to produce any breakthroughs.
Britain and the European Union say talks will continue on a free trade agreement. It's a deal that if sealed would avert New Year's chaos for cross-border traders and bring a measure of certainty for businesses after years of Brexit turmoil. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had set Sunday as the deadline for a breakthrough or a breakdown in negotiations. But they stepped back from the brink, saying it was “responsible at this point in time to go the extra mile” and had told their negotiators to continue talking. With less than three weeks until the U.K.’s final split from the EU, key aspects of the future relationship remain unresolved.
John le Carre, a spy turned novelist who became the preeminent writer of espionage fiction in English, has died aged 89. His death was not related to COVID-19. Born David Cornwell, le Carre worked for Britain’s intelligence service before turning his experience into fiction in seminal works including “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.” His books grappled with betrayal, moral compromise and the psychological toll of a secret life. In the quiet, watchful spymaster George Smiley, he created one of 20th-century fiction’s iconic characters — a decent man at the heart of a web of deceit.