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December 15, 2020 GMT

ELECTORAL COLLEGE CONFIRMS IT: JOE BIDEN WILL BE THE NEW PRESIDENT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Electoral College has decisively confirmed Joe Biden as the nation’s next president, ratifying his November victory in an authoritative state-by-state repudiation of President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede he had lost.

The presidential electors gave Biden a solid majority of 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232, the same margin Trump bragged was a landslide when he won the White House four years ago.

Heightened security was in place in some states as electors met to cast paper ballots, with masks, spacing and other COVID-19 precautions in place. 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.

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For all Trump’s unsupported claims of fraud, there was little suspense and no change as every one of the electoral votes allocated to Biden and the president in last month’s popular vote went officially to each candidate. On Election Day, Biden topped Trump by more than 7 million.

COVID-19 AID PROPOSAL MAKES HEADWAY

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a detailed COVID-19 aid proposal yesterday in hopes it would serve as a model for its battling leaders to follow as they try to negotiate a final agreement on a new round of virus relief.

The dozen or so lawmakers unveiled two bills. One is a $748 billion aid package containing money for struggling businesses, the unemployed, schools, and for vaccine distribution. The other bill proposes a $160 billion aid package for state and local governments favored by Democrats and GOP-sought provisions shielding businesses from COVID-related lawsuits.

The path forward for their proposals — and for COVID-19 aid more generally — remains unclear. Talks are proceeding on the leadership level involving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

COVID-19 DEATH TOLL TOPS 300,000

UNDATED (AP) — The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus topped 300,000 yesterday — even as the country began dispensing COVID-19 shots in a monumental campaign to conquer the outbreak.

The number of dead rivals the population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh. It is equivalent to repeating a tragedy on the scale of Hurricane Katrina every day for 5 1/2 months. It is more than five times the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. And it is equal to a 9/11 attack every day for more than 100 days.

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The government’s top infectious-disease expert weighed in days before the milestone was reached. Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “the numbers are staggering — the most impactful respiratory pandemic that we have experienced in over 102 years, since the iconic 1918 Spanish flu.”

The U.S. crossed the threshold the same day health care workers rolled up their sleeves for Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot, marking the start of the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history. If a second vaccine is authorized soon, as expected, 20 million people could receive their first shots by month’s end.

“OBAMACARE” SIGNUPS EXPECTED TO SURGE TODAY

WASHINGTON (AP) — A crush of sign-ups is expected today on the last day of open enrollment for HealthCare.gov — which could help solidify the standing of “Obamacare” as an improbable survivor of the Donald Trump years.

In 36 states that use HealthCare.gov, today is the deadline for coverage that starts Jan. 1, while another 14 states and Washington, D.C., have later dates. Analysts and advocates who follow the annual insurance sign-ups say interest has gotten stronger with the coronavirus pandemic gripping the nation.

Also, the legal cloud hanging over the Affordable Care Act seems to be lifting now that the Supreme Court has given a skeptical reception to the latest challenge from the Trump administration and conservative-led states seeking to overturn the law in its entirety.

The insurance markets offer taxpayer subsidized private plans to people who don’t have job-based coverage. Insurers cannot turn away customers with pre-existing medical conditions. Medicaid expansion, another component of the health law, covers about 12 million people.