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Trump: I'll limit White House VIP line for COVID vaccine

Workers pack vials of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for

Workers pack vials of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for shipping Sunday in Portage, Mich. Credit: Pool / Getty Images / Morry Gash

Taking their shots sooner or later

Did no one tell President Donald Trump that his close aides were going to be among the first in line for the coronavirus vaccine, or did he decide after the fact that it wouldn't look good?

Either way, Trump tweeted late Sunday night he has asked for an "adjustment" in the plan. "People working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary," he said. So who's in and who's out will all depend on a definition yet to come of "specifically necessary." News that White House staff would receive the vaccine early drew criticism on social media, The Associated Press reported.

As the White House originally explained it, some officials — including some in the White House who work in close proximity to the president and Vice President Mike Pence — were to be offered COVID-19 vaccines as soon as this week, while initial public distribution is being limited to front-line health workers and people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

One reasoning offered was that the plan was part of a strategy to ensure continuity in government amid the pandemic. What made that curious was that by the time those in the White House would have gotten their second dose of vaccinations, as necessary for full protection, the Trump administration would be in its final days.

Another is to, well, set a good example for members of the general public — such as Trump supporters who take their lead from him — for whenever their turns come around. "The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership," said National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot.

The interest among some senior officials in getting the vaccine for themselves was an unusually strong sign of taking the coronavirus seriously on a personal level. Trump's White House has disdained mask-wearing and hosted superspreader events after defying social-distancing guidelines.

There was no immediate word on any plans to offer the vaccine to President-elect Joe Biden or others in the incoming administration. Elsewhere, the head of the Food and Drug Administration said the first coronavirus vaccines could be administered as early as Monday, and the Health and Human Services Secretary said nursing home patients could receive the vaccine by Christmas. For more on what officials had to say on the Sunday talk shows about the nationwide distribution effort, see Scott Eidler's story for Newsday.

The count that really counts

Biden's election as the 46th U.S. president will take its next-to-last step to becoming official on Monday as the Electoral College casts its ballots. The voter-chosen electors, 306 for Biden and 232 for Trump, will meet separately in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

With the epic fail of Trump's legal fight to get the courts and swing-state legislatures to overturn the results, little suspense is left about the Electoral College tallies. Still, there has been enough postelection turmoil to build more-than-typical interest in the proceedings, and there's a potentially larger stay-at-home audience because of the pandemic. C-SPAN is offering live coverage starting at 10 a.m., with streaming from several states.

Biden — who has stayed low-key in response to Trump's frantic, ceaseless and baseless claims of a "stolen" election — planned a prime-time address about "the Electoral College vote certification and the strength and resilience of our democracy," according to a news release from his transition team.

New York's 29 electors will meet in person in the state Assembly chamber in Albany and are scheduled to vote at noon. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said meeting remotely was ruled out because he didn't want to create a pretext for litigation challenging the state's vote. Cuomo will be one of the Biden electors, along with former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Long Islanders among them will include state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and state Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs.

Once the votes are tallied, the electors for each state sign six certificates with the results. The separate certificates are submitted to the archivist of the United States, the president of the Senate (the country's vice president), the secretary of state and to the judge of the U.S. district court of the district where the electors met.

Is that the end of it? Not quite. Some of Trump's die-hard House allies are talking about raising objections when Congress officially counts the votes on Jan. 6. If so, there will be noise, but Democratic control of the House and the stated acceptance of Biden as president-elect by some members of the Senate's Republican majority leave scant chance of a surprise ending. Of course, that doesn't mean Trump will ever concede before Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Janison: Entitlement without end

Back in September, Trump absurdly suggested more than once that he might spend three terms in office, saying he was "probably entitled" to them. Since losing his bid for a second term, however, Trump has been saying he's entitled to four more years anyway, a claim his silliest followers in the GOP are falling for even as his surreal court challenges to a legitimate election keep imploding, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

He feels entitled to smear other Republicans and risk votes for Georgia's U.S. Senate runoffs. After all, the GOP is his to play with, at least for now.

Bottomless claims of entitlement can make someone look like he's in the throes of a mental or spiritual virus. Trump told at least one person privately that the coronavirus was a deadly threat while he fed the public the twisted lie that it would miraculously disappear. Once he caught COVID-19 himself, he still scoffed at precautions such as masks, but he was entitled to the world's most advanced treatments, which few others could access.

From time to time, we read about corporate executives who drive companies into the equivalent of a brick wall and then collect massive buyouts. Trump has never had to explain the rationale by which he and his adult children, while advising him on governance, promoted their private business for four years without clear restrictions.

Many of the current president's fans, handlers and enablers are like overindulgent permissive parents. This level of political privilege runs counter to democracy. When his term ends, Trump will lose clout and some of the indulgences rewarded him. Still, his fans will go so far as to keep repeating the mindless assertion that he allowed America to say "Merry Christmas" again.

'The deposed king ranting'

Attorney General William Barr's days of trying to please Trump are in the past. A source familiar with the dynamic between the two men told CNN: "Barr cannot be intimidated by Trump … it's the deposed king ranting."

Trump is not going to stop railing against Republicans who wouldn't humor his baseless fraud claims or attempting to game the system. He called on loyalists to oust Govs. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Doug Ducey of Arizona — "two RINO Republicans who fought against me and the Republican Party harder than any Democrat." The U.S. Supreme Court, with six Republican-chosen judges, including three Trump picked, "really let us down. No Wisdom, No Courage!"

On Sunday afternoon, tweeting from the White House after a round of golf, Trump charged that the Supreme Court "chickened out." He blamed GOP election officials in the states that went against him, writing "the RINOS that run the state voting apparatus have caused us this problem of allowing the Democrats to so blatantly cheat." Along with repeating his litany of false fraud claims, and accusing state officials who certified results of committing "a severely punishable crime," Trump declared, "We will never give up!"

Judgment days, Groundhog Days

There were Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, and they served on various rungs of the state and federal judiciaries, but at least 86 judges have one thing in common: They have all ruled in court against Trump or one of his allies in attempts to challenge or overturn the presidential vote, writes The Washington Post.

The string of losses was punctuated Friday by the brief and blunt order of the Supreme Court, which dismissed an attempt by the state of Texas to thwart the electoral votes of four states that went for Biden.

"Voters, not lawyers, choose the President," declared U.S. Circuit Court Judge Stephanos Bibas, a former prosecutor and law professor appointed in 2017 by Trump. "Federal judges do not appoint the president in this country," wrote U.S. District Court Judge Pamela Pepper, who was nominated by President Barack Obama. "One wonders why the plaintiffs came to federal court and asked a federal judge to do so."

Taken together, the judges' decisions — some short and to the point and others sweeping defenses of American democracy — have comprehensively dismantled the arguments advanced by Trump in his effort to get the courts to subvert Biden’s victory. Conservative jurists are among those who have balked at the efforts by Trump and his allies to throw out millions of votes after they were cast.

Stabbings, shooting in postelection violence

After a pro-Trump daytime rally Saturday in Washington, D.C., clashes erupted on downtown streets, with hundreds from the neo-fascist Proud Boys in the thick of it, battling Black activists and antifa groups.

Four men were stabbed around 10 p.m. after a fight downtown, and at least one suspect was arrested, police said. Overall, nearly three dozen people were arrested during the protests and overnight, including 10 who police said were charged with misdemeanor assault, six with assaulting police officers and four with rioting. A photographer who was on assignment for The New York Times said the stabbing came after a group from a Proud Boys gathering spot outside a bar punched and kicked a Black man who wouldn't follow their demands to leave the vicinity. The Black man then took out a knife and started slashing.

Proud Boys members were seen as participants in at least one of two vandalism attacks on historic Black churches. A Black Lives Matter banner was ripped down and set ablaze at one and a BLM sign was torn down and destroyed at another. Police declined to say whether any arrests were made in the cases, but they said they were investigating the incidents as possible hate crimes.

During the rally, speakers such as Alex Jones of InfoWars and former national security adviser Mike Flynn aired and expanded on conspiracy theories. Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow, singled out Fox News Channel as part of a plot against Trump, offering no evidence. "They were in on it!" claimed Lindell, a frequent advertiser and occasional talking head on the network. Jones said ominously that Biden "will be removed one way or another."

Elsewhere, when street battles broke out around a pro-Trump rally in Olympia, Washington, on Saturday, police arrested an armed right-wing protester on suspicion of shooting and wounding a left-wing protester.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Matthew Chayes and Jesse Coburn. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Russian government hackers are behind a global espionage campaign that also compromised the Treasury and Commerce departments and other U.S. government agencies, people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post. The matter was so serious that it prompted an emergency National Security Council meeting on Saturday, Reuters reported. The hackers got access to internal email traffic, according to Reuters.
  • Even in defeat, Trump has his imitators. Some Republican candidates around the country who lost races in Democratic strongholds by massive margins — as much as 70 points — are crying fraud, Politico reports.
  • A 57%-43% majority of Biden voters believe the president-elect should seek common ground with Trump and his supporters, according to a CBS News poll. A 60%-40% majority of Trump voters aren't interested.
  • Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey and an informal adviser to Trump, dismissed the president’s legal theory on overturning the election as an "absurdity." As for the claims of a "rigged" vote, Christie said "there’s no evidence."
  • Pete Buttigieg is emerging as a leading contender to be Biden's transportation secretary, CNN reported. Last week, the 2020 Democratic primary contender was being discussed as a possible ambassador to China.

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