Here is a summary of the top political issues making headlines this week.
1. Biden names first woman to No. 2 Pentagon job
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has named the first woman to hold the No. 2 Pentagon post in choosing Kathleen Hicks to serve as deputy secretary of defense. A former civilian official in the Defense Department, she has led Biden’s transition effort at the Pentagon as director of the agency review team.
If both are confirmed by the Senate, Hicks would serve under retired Army
General Lloyd Austin, the former head of the U.S. Central Command. Austin would be the first African American to lead the Defense Department.
Biden has also chosen Colin Kahl, who was his national security adviser when he was vice president, to be undersecretary of defense for policy.
“These respected, accomplished civilian leaders will help lead the Department of Defense with integrity and resolve, safeguard the lives and interests of the American people, and ensure that we fulfill our most sacred obligation: to equip and protect those who serve our country, and to care for them and their families both during and after their service,” Biden said in a statement.
“Dr. Kath Hicks and Dr. Colin Kahl,” he added, “have the broad experience and crisis-tested judgment necessary to help tackle the litany of challenges we face today, and all those we may confront tomorrow. They will be trusted partners to me, the vice president-elect, and Secretary-designate Austin — as well as our dedicated civilian and military team — as we work to restore responsible American leadership on the world stage.”
Austin said in a statement that Hicks and Kahl “share my strong belief that we need empowered civilian voices serving alongside military leaders at the Department of Defense to ensure we are always accountable to the American people.”
Hicks was the principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration. She has also served as the deputy under secretary of defense for strategy, plans and forces.
d. Transition 2020 | Defense and National Security Policy Under the Incoming Biden Administration – National Law Review
2. McConnell signals no $2,000 stimulus checks soon
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not be bullied to authorise $2,000 stimulus checks for Americans as part of pandemic relief funding, despite pressure from President Donald Trump, congressional Democrats and some Republicans.
While McConnell had earlier proposed legislation of his own with $2,000 stimulus checks for the coronavirus relief package, he tied it to some of Trump’s grievances and unmet demands.
The amount set to go to most Americans is now $600 unless the Senate follows the latest efforts of the House of Representatives.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, had also previously blocked attempts by Democratic senators to quickly pass the House bill on stimulus checks.
McConnell has sought to bundle large payments with other priorities of Trump: Repeal liability protection for online platforms and create a committee on the Election Assistance Commission to study election integrity.
Trump had tweeted: “If the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk. Take back America NOW. Thank you!”
At this point, with McConnell balking, the safe bet is that the $2,000 are not coming Americans way, analysts say.
“In our view, the $2k cash supplement is unlikely to pass the Republican Senate given the strained fiscal conservatism in the [Republican] caucus,” Benjamin Salisbury and Hunter Hammond of Heights Securities said in a December 29 research note. “We still expect eligible recipients to receive $600, not $2,000.”
3. Missouri U.S. senator to challenge Biden Electoral College win
A Republican U.S. senator has become the first member of the chamber to threaten to cause a little trouble when the Senate meets next week to certify The Electoral College votes making Democrat Joe Biden the next president of the United States.
If Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri follows through on his pledge, “a contentious floor debate that top Senate Republicans had hoped to avoid” could ensue, The Washington Post reported.
In a statement, Hawley said: “At the very least, Congress should investigate allegations of voter fraud and adopt measures to secure the integrity of our elections. But Congress has so far failed to act.”
A Biden spokeswoman responded, saying: “The American people spoke resoundingly in this election” and the role of Congress is “merely a formality.”
“It certainly should be treated as such,” Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on a conference call, The Post reported. “Regardless of whatever antics anyone is up to on January 6, President-elect Biden will be sworn in on the 20th.”
A number of Republican members of the House have said they plan to challenge votes in swing states where they claim without evidence that the vote was marred by fraud, the newspaper said.
a. Hawley’s plan to contest electoral college vote certification ensures drawn-out process – The Washington Post
d. Inside the unlikely return of Jen Psaki – Politico
4. Nearly every inmate at Alaska prison has gotten covid-19
Other than for its great natural beauty and oil wealth, Alaska is not often the subject of major media stories in the United States.
But in the time of the covid-19 pandemic, this news from Alaska does shock the senses.
Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) data shows that almost every inmate held at the state’s largest prison has contracted the coronavirus since the pandemic hit the facility in November, the Anchorage Daily News reported
Out of 1,236 total inmates at Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC), 1,115 have tested positive for covid-19, corrections spokeswoman Sarah Gallagher told the newspaper.
“To date, 1,271 tests have been recorded at GCCC, though this figure may be slightly increased due to the fact that DOC has performed both antigen and PCR tests, which may have resulted in an offender’s positive test being counted twice,” Gallagher said. “We believe roughly 1,115 offenders have tested positive at Goose Creek to date.”
The Anchorage Daily News reports that more than 40 per cent of all Alaska inmates have contracted covid-19.
b. Fourth Alaska inmate dies with COVID-19 – Anchorage Daily News
c. How much oil actually is under ANWR’s coastal plain? – Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
5. Biden, Harris heading to Georgia for U.S. Senate candidates
Democratic Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be going to the charming Georgia city of Savannah on Sunday, while her running mate, President-elect Joe Biden, will be visiting the state capital and largest city Atlanta on Monday.
Georgia is on their minds and their itineraries because the two Senate run-off elections on January 5 will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.
The Democrats will have to win both seats to force a 50-50 tie in the Senate. With Harris as vice president casting the deciding vote on any evenly split legislation, the ease with which the Biden agenda gets enacted could rest on the two races.
In one Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 33-year-old journalist and former congressional candidate, is trying to unseat first-term Republican Senator David Perdue.
In the other race, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, is challenging appointed Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler in the race to finish out the final two years of former Republican Senator Johnny Isakson’s term.
Politico reports that “early vote numbers show positive signs for Ossoff and Warnock, with Black voters making up a larger percentage of the electorate compared with November’s election and higher early turnout in Democratic congressional districts. So far, early-vote turnout has fallen short in Republican congressional districts.”
b. Georgia Senate Runoffs Head Toward a Dramatic Finish – New York Magazine
e. Jon Ossoff called ‘security risk’ by incoming GOP senator – New York Post
h. Georgia’s US Sen. Isakson bids farewell to Senate colleagues – Associated Press
i. Sen. Kelly Loeffler suddenly changes her mind on relief checks for Americans – The American Independent
6. Saudi Arabia to receive $290 million worth of U.S. arms
Saudi Arabia is getting an explosive Christmas gift in the waning days of the Trump administration as the State Department has approved the sale of 3,000 precision-guided munitions to the kingdom in a deal valued at up to $290 million,
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s biggest buyer of American weapons, in an effort to pressure Riyadh to end a war in Yemen that has reportedly caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“The proposed sale will improve Saudi Arabia’s capability to meet current and future threats by increasing its stocks of long-range, precision air-to-ground munitions,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
If Congress cannot block the munition sale, the Biden administration should do so when it takes office, William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy, said in a statement.“It is particularly concerning that the Trump administration is trying to ram through these controversial deals when it has less than a month left in office,” he said.
Kate Kizer, policy director for Win Without War, a progressive foreign policy group, told The Intercept in November: “We expect both Congress and President-elect Biden to really fix this broken arms sale status quo next year and finally end the decadeslong practice of arming human rights abusers and using weapon sales to achieve misperceived, often militarized national interests.”
c. If Joe Biden keeps his word, he could end the Saudi war on Yemen – Middle East Eye
d. Saudi Arabia to keep buying arms despite austerity – Financial Times
7. Biden’s pick for health and human services secretary faces battle
Abortion and universal healthcare are hot-button issues in U.S. politics.
Thus, Xavier Becerra, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to be health and human services secretary is in the eye of the storm as he prepares for his Senate confirmation hearings.
Republican Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas and others have raised concerns about Becerra and his views.DEC. 7, 202000:23
“I will meet with Xavier Becerra to ask how his political donations from insurance companies and his support for abortions and Medicare for All makes him qualified to serve,” Braun said, adding that he had “serious concerns” about Becerra’s ability to lead the agency.
Cassidy, one of the few doctors in Congress, said Becerra was a “nice person,” but didn’t think his background fit the job. “I just don’t know what expertise he has in health care,” NBC News reported the senator as saying.
“Xavier Becerra spent his career attacking pro-life Americans and tried to force crisis pregnancy centers to advertise abortions,” Cotton tweeted. “I’ll be voting no, and Becerra should be rejected by the Senate.”
Democrats remain confident Becarra will be confirmed and criticize the Republicans for playing politics.
“I think it’s fair to say that the Republicans are looking for one nominee to torpedo. But I don’t think he’s going to be it,” Jim Manley, a former senior aide to Sen. Harry Reid., a Nevada Democrat, said of Becerra, according to NBC.
Sean Savett, a spokesperson for the Biden transition team, said in a statement that it expected Becerra to be confirmed.
8. Trumps doing high-end house and private school hunting
Leave it to The New York Post to get the scoop on where U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, might decide to live if not at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, after he leaves the White House.
“Melania and Trump are talking to brokers about buying a house in Palm Beach, or nearby, as the living space at Mar-a-Lago isn’t big enough, and there could be some potential conflicts,” The Post reported an unnamed source as saying.
The first couple are at Mar-a-Lago for the Christmas holidays.
“Melania has been redecorating their apartment… where they have separate bedrooms, sitting rooms and offices,” another source said.
The Trumps are also looking in the Palm Beach area for private schools for their 14-year-old son Barron.
Speculation is also rampant about whether Trump will make another run for the presidency, launch his own television network or build more golf courses.
a. Trumps doing high-end house and private school hunting – New York Post
b. What Will Trump Do Next? We Already Know – WhoWhatWhy
d. Barron’s Education Is Top Priority in Trump’s Next Move – Inside Edition