‘We Have to Be Remembered for What’s Been Done,’ Trump Says on Return to DC

After weeks of vowing to win his fight to remain in office, U.S. President Donald Trump issued a video Thursday looking back on what he called “historic victories” and said: “We have to be remembered for what’s been done.” Trump, who has yet to formally concede his November election defeat to Democrat Joe Biden, posted the message on Twitter after returning to Washington early from his Florida resort amid a fight with Congress over a defense bill and coronavirus aid checks. Trump praised his administration’s accomplishments, which he said included its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and rebuilding the economy. Trump, who had COVID-19 in October, frequently played down the severity of the pandemic and oversaw a response many health experts have criticized as disorganized, cavalier and that sometimes ignored the science behind virus transmission. Trump said that the United States had produced a COVID-19 vaccine in record time and that he had correctly predicted this would come before the year ended. Pedestrians wear protective masks during the coronavirus pandemic in Times Square in New York, Dec. 31, 2020.The United States is among the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 and leads the world in fatalities, with more than 344,000 deaths officially attributed to the virus, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Trump had been scheduled to attend a New Year’s Eve party at his Mar-a-Lago resort. The White House has given no reason for his early return to Washington, but it coincided with Trump’s fight with Congress over his veto of a major defense bill and his demand for increased COVID-19 stimulus checks, as well as a spike in tensions with Iran. Trump ignored shouted questions from reporters about Iran and whether he would attend Biden’s January 20 inauguration as he arrived back at the White House. Biden was expected see in the new year at his beach house in Delaware, although he was to appear on the ABC special “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2021.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the chamber, dealt a likely death blow on Wednesday to Trump’s bid to boost coronavirus aid to Americans, declining to schedule a swift vote on a bill to raise relief checks to $2,000 from the $600 included in a $892 billion relief package passed by Congress earlier this month. Unsupported claims Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress have largely stuck with him through four turbulent years, but he is angry that they have not fully backed his unsupported claims of election fraud or supported him over the stimulus checks and veto. He attacked Republican leaders in tweets this week as “pathetic” and accused the party of having a “death wish” if it did not increase stimulus payments for struggling Americans. FILE – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 30, 2020.McConnell on Thursday again rejected a vote on a standalone bill that would increase the stimulus checks, calling it “socialism for rich people” and “a terrible way to get help to families who actually need it.” The bill was passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Monday. McConnell also said there should be nothing controversial about approving the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Trump vetoed because it does not repeal certain legal protections for tech companies. “We’ve enacted an annual NDAA for 59 straight years and counting,” McConnell said. “In the next few days – the easy way or the hard way – we’re going to do our job once again. This body will fulfill our responsibility to the men and women who protect our country.” The House voted to overturn Trump’s veto on Monday. The Senate will convene again Friday at noon EST (1700 GMT) for a rare New Year’s Day session in which lawmakers are expected to cast the first of two procedural votes aimed at overriding the veto. If that succeeds, the Senate is expected to hold a second procedural vote on Saturday followed by a final vote on passage. Tensions with Iran U.S.-Iran tensions, meanwhile, have again spiked. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday accused Washington of trying to fabricate a pretext for attacking his country and vowed Tehran would defend itself even though it does not seek war. Two U.S. B-52 bombers flew over the Middle East on Wednesday in what U.S. officials said was a message of deterrence to Iran ahead of the first anniversary of a U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020.

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US Senator Perdue in Quarantine After Coronavirus Contact Days Before Vote

David Perdue, one of two Republican U.S. senators facing a runoff election in Georgia next week that will determine control of the Senate, is quarantining after coming in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, his campaign said Thursday.Perdue was notified of the contact Thursday and has tested negative, his campaign said.It did not say how close the contact was or when it occurred, how long his quarantine would last or how it would impact any campaign events, adding that more information would be provided later.Perdue faces Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff in an election Tuesday that will help determine whether Republicans will keep control of the Senate under Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.Fellow incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler faces Democrat Raphael Warnock in another runoff election Tuesday. More than 2.8 million people in Georgia have voted early.

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SolarWinds Hackers Accessed Microsoft Source Code, Microsoft Says

The hacking group behind the SolarWinds compromise was able to break into Microsoft Corp. and access some of its source code, Microsoft said Thursday. In a blog post, Microsoft said its investigation into the SolarWinds breach had turned up irregularities with a “small number of internal accounts” and that one of the accounts “had been used to view source code in a number of source code repositories.” It added that the account had no ability to modify the code. The disclosure adds to the growing picture of the compromises associated with the SolarWinds hack, which used the Texas-based company’s flagship network monitoring software as a springboard to break into sensitive U.S. government networks and other tech companies. Microsoft had disclosed that, like other firms, it found malicious versions of SolarWinds’ software inside its network, but the source code disclosure is new. FILE – A woman walks in front of the Microsoft stand during the Cybersecurity Conference in Lille, northern France, Jan. 29, 2020.A company’s source code, the underlying set of instructions that run a piece of software or an operating system, is typically among its most closely guarded secrets. It is not clear how many or specifically which source code repositories the hackers were able to access or how long the hackers were lurking in Microsoft’s systems. A Microsoft spokesman declined to elaborate on the blog post. Modifying source code, which Microsoft said the hijacked account could not do, could have potentially disastrous consequences, but experts said that even just being able to review the code could offer hackers insight that might help them subvert Microsoft products or services. “The source code is the architectural blueprint of how the software is built,” said Andrew Fife of Israel-based Cycode, a source code protection company. “If you have the blueprint, it’s far easier to engineer attacks.” Both he and Ronen Slavin, Cycode’s chief technology officer, said a key unanswered question was which source code repositories were accessed. Microsoft has a huge range of products, from its flagship Windows operating system to lesser-known software such as social networking app Yammer and the design app Sway. Slavin said he was also worried by the possibility that the SolarWinds hackers were poring over Microsoft’s source code as prelude for something more ambitious. “To me the biggest question is, ‘Was this recon for the next big operation?’ ” he said. In its blog post, Microsoft said it had found no evidence of access “to production services or customer data.” “The investigation, which is ongoing, has also found no indications that our systems were used to attack others,” it said.  

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California Reports Coronavirus Variant Case

Health officials in the U.S. state of California said a patient there has been infected with a coronavirus variant first detected in Britain, and that it is likely more cases will be identified in the United States.California is the second state with the COVID-19 variant strain, following a case in Colorado earlier this week.As was true with the Colorado case, the California Department of Public Health said the person infected there also had no known travel history.California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly called the development “concerning” and stressed the importance of known methods of preventing coronavirus spread, such as wearing masks, social distancing, staying home and avoiding travel.”It appears that this particular mutation does make the virus better at transmitting from one person to another,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease specialist.During an online discussion Wednesday with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Fauci said virus mutations are normal, and that he was “not surprised” additional cases of the COVID-19 variant would be found in the country.He also said the variant is not believed to cause more severe illness than earlier forms, and that vaccines already being deployed should be just as effective against it.The United States has begun vaccinations of frontline health care workers and high-risk populations such as those living in nursing homes using two vaccines given emergency use authorization.The vaccines will then be made available to other groups in the coming months.Fauci said if the vaccination program progresses as it should through May, June and July, then by early fall there will be “enough good herd immunity to be able to really get back to some strong semblance of normality – schools, theaters, sports events, restaurants.”The United States has recorded 342,000 COVID-19 deaths, including more than 3,700 on Wednesday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

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Alarm in Australia as COVID-19 Infections Grow

Tough New Year’s Eve restrictions are being put in place as Australia’s biggest city struggles to contain growing coronavirus clusters.Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak has been described by health officials as “a bit of a roller coaster ride.” Australia’s biggest city accounts for most of the estimated 204 active infections across the country.Parts of its northern coastal suburbs, where a cluster of cases emerged about two weeks ago, remain in lockdown. Infections have been detected in other parts of the city.The authorities have banned large gatherings on New Year’s Eve to “avoid super spreading events.” Sydney’s famous fireworks display will go ahead, but crowds won’t be allowed to gather around the harbor to watch.Gatherings have been limited, and visits to nursing homes banned for at least a week to try to curb the spread of the virus.“Please, the last thing we want is to welcome in 2021 with a super-spreading event,” said New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian. “2021, all of us are hoping, will be easier on us than 2020 and let us start the year off on a positive foot by doing the right thing, by respecting the restrictions that are in place, but also demonstrating common sense.”Experts are calling for the state government to impose a citywide lockdown as infections grow.In response, other Australian states and territories are restricting travel for residents from Sydney.In Victoria, six coronavirus cases have been reported in the past two days, which authorities have linked to infections further north in Sydney.Residents in Victoria are being urged not to travel to neighboring New South Wales, and masks will become mandatory indoors. Residents are not required to wear a mask inside their own homes, but they must if they visit friends or go shopping.Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley said a swift response to the outbreak is needed.“Now that we have got links to the New South Wales outbreaks here in Victoria, we are having to respond really quickly to get on top of that, and a part of that is to make sure that as the situation seemingly continues to deteriorate in New South Wales that we respond appropriately,” he said.Australia has recorded 28,380 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Its just over 200 active estimated COVID-19 cases is small by many international standards, but in the context of Australia, a country that has taken a very cautious approach to the virus, the number is cause for alarm.With fewer than 1,000 deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic, Australia has fared better than many other developed nations.Health officials in Sydney have blamed “an avalanche of complacency” for recent outbreaks.

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Bill for Higher Stimulus Payouts Stalls in Senate

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday the Senate would not quickly take up a House bill to boost the size of pandemic relief payments for most Americans to $2,000 from the current $600.  The Kentucky senator said the House bill “has no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate.”   With a new Congress due to be sworn in January 3, it was unclear what, if any, actions would be taken by the current Congress. Without action, the House bill will expire.   McConnell introduced a measure Tuesday that tied the demand for higher coronavirus pandemic relief payments together with some of President Donald Trump’s unrelated demands concerning a U.S. defense bill that the president has vetoed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 30, 2020.Trump had also criticized the pandemic relief bill, which he finally signed Sunday after several days of delay. Democrats have long supported higher payments, and the Democrat-majority House quickly agreed to boost the sum to $2,000 after Trump first advocated the larger amount.   Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer objected to McConnell’s attempt to tie the stimulus money to Trump’s demands that social media companies be stripped of some legal protections and that a fresh investigation of potential election fraud be started. Republicans have mounted dozens of lawsuits without uncovering any evidence of fraud in the November presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden.Even if the combined legislation passed the Senate, it would have to go back to the Democrat-controlled House for a vote on the new provisions.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 30, 2020.”Senator McConnell knows how to make $2,000 survival checks reality and he knows how to kill them,” Schumer said Tuesday. “If Senator McConnell tries loading up the bipartisan House-passed CASH Act with unrelated, partisan provisions that will do absolutely nothing to help struggling families across the country, it will not pass the House and cannot become law — any move like this by Senator McConnell would be a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $2,000 survival check.”   McConnell blocked Schumer’s attempt Tuesday to force an immediate up-or-down vote on the stand-alone measure authorizing the $2,000 payments. How the Republican-majority Senate will proceed with the two proposals is not clear.   Some Republicans have expressed support for bigger coronavirus payments directed to families with combined annual incomes of up to $150,000, who make up about 81% of all U.S. households. Among the Republican proponents are Georgia’s two senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who are facing runoff elections next week. Their Democratic challengers also favor the bigger payments.   But some Republicans have voiced opposition, saying the bigger payments would be too costly and would not necessarily boost the U.S. economy, which has been staggered by the coronavirus pandemic.   Defense billOn another pending piece of legislation, McConnell is urging his colleagues to override Trump’s veto of a $740 billion defense spending measure in a vote expected this week.   “President Trump has rightly noted this year’s defense bill doesn’t contain every provision that we Republicans would have wanted. I’m confident our Democratic colleagues feel the same way,” McConnell said Tuesday. “But that is the case every year. And yet, for 59 consecutive years and counting, Washington has put our differences aside, found common ground and passed the annual defense bill.”  The Senate approved the NDAA 84-13 earlier this month, far more than the two-thirds vote needed to override a veto. After Trump’s veto, the House of Representatives responded with an overwhelming vote to override it on Monday.   McConnell was hoping to hold the Senate vote on Wednesday. However, liberal senators led by Bernie Sanders have been blocking action on the defense bill to press for a Senate vote on the increased coronavirus relief payments. A vote in the Senate could come later this week or over the weekend. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to reporters while leaving the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 30, 2020.If the Senate approves the override, it would be the first time Congress has gone against a Trump veto during his four years in office.   Trump on Tuesday called the defense legislation a “disgraceful act of cowardice and total submission by weak people to Big Tech. Negotiate a better Bill, or get better leaders, NOW! Senate should not approve NDAA until fixed!!!″   The president has criticized the bill on several fronts, including saying it should include the repeal of a provision that protects social media companies from liability over content their users post. Trump has voiced his displeasure that Twitter has frequently labeled his claims that he was defrauded of reelection as “disputed.”   He also said the bill restricted his ability to bring U.S. troops home from “foreign lands who do NOTHING for us.”   And Trump has demanded the removal of language that allows the renaming of U.S. military bases that honor leaders of the Confederacy, which seceded from the United States in the early 1860s, before collapsing at the end of the Civil War in 1865.

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