As Biden transitions to power, Senate runoffs loom
The 2020 U.S. election puzzle will need to wait until 2021 to be completed. We know exactly who will be taking the seat in the White House and in those in the House of Representatives, but we’re missing two seats in the Senate. Georgia, which swung from President Donald Trump’s favor in 2016 to President-elect Joe Biden’s in 2020, November will also be instrumental in deciding control of these two Senate seats.
In some ways, it’s fitting that the election will end in Georgia. The state saw its political profile elevate with Biden surprisingly winning its 16 electoral votes, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has done so in nearly 30 years. This outcome, in large part, is the product of the immense amount of money the state party raised coupled with an effort to bolster voter registration, spearheaded by Fair Fight, an organization led by former candidate for governor Stacey Abrams.
Democrats are hoping this winning theory will repeat success in the two Senate races, both of which require runoffs under Georgia state law, as no candidate received 50% of the vote.
Other than the race for president, these two elections may be the most important of 2020, as they determine control of the Senate, and by extension Biden’s ability to govern. He promised voters an ambitious agenda to “Build Back Better” from the pandemic, the subsequent economic crisis and racial tensions that have come to light this year.
Republicans have been less than accepting of Biden’s victory, and will be even less open to working with him after he takes occupancy of the White House. A governing majority in Congress is therefore necessary to Biden’s agenda should Republicans continue to pout about their loss.
The results of the presidential vote in Georgia would signal that Democrats should take its two Senate seats as well. This could be the case, but there is also potential the result could swing the state the other way.
In many ways, the Democratic Party’s candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are close to ideal: they are relatively young, not so progressive as to ostracize moderate voters and don’t suffer from any scandals, a factor which sunk the party’s chances in other races. Incumbent Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Louffler, for the most part, represent the Republican establishment.
In a polarized country, and especially in a state more politically conflicted than it has been in a while, it’s difficult to decipher exactly what voters want in their lawmakers. It’s the million-dollar question both parties are trying to answer, but they’ll have to wait until Jan. 5, 2021 to see whether their efforts have paid off.
U.K. approves Pfizer vaccine
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the U.K. government have capitalized on the flurry of vaccine excitement in the air. The political leverage the Conservative Party Government gains domestically and globally is priceless. At the very least, it’s worth the cost and distribution of millions of doses of the vaccine. To be the first world leader to protect his citizens from COVID-19 would put Johnson at the envy and admiration of many.
Some world leaders like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have already experienced a taste of this recognition for their effective mitigation of COVID-19. Johnson believes he can too. Where Ardern defeated the virus through restrictions, Johnson has been less effective, and is therefore putting all of his chips behind the vaccine.
It was reported Dec. 2 that the first doses, around 900,000 or so, of the Pfizer/Biotech vaccine arrived in the U.K. The government plans to begin injections as early as next week. However, for the time being, the vaccine will only be given to the elderly living in care homes, those who care for them and doctors treating the infected. After each demographic is fully protected, the vaccine will steadily become more available to the general public.
Johnson has already emphasized that it will take many months for the country to vaccinate the 70-odd million people in Britain. This is for two main reasons. The first is the logistical challenges Pfizer’s vaccine presents. The company said the vials would be shipped in sets of 1,000 to each hospital or clinic, would have to be stored in temperatures of -70º celsius, and would need to be used within 24 hours.
All three of these conditions create potential problems for hospitals already short on resources to handle the pandemic. More rural parts of the country would likely struggle to meet the requirements due to the scarcity of health facilities in many places.
The second, and more straightforward issue, is that the U.K. simply doesn’t have enough of the Pfizer vaccine for every Briton. The 40 million doses it purchased would only protect half that number of people, as the vaccine is to be given in two doses over three weeks. This is because the U.K. hedged their bets on the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, which, in recent days, has faced controversy over its effectiveness and the data obtained while trialing the drug.
However, these are fortunate problems for Johnson to have. While other countries will scramble in anticipation of the vaccine’s arrival, the U.K. will be carrying out inoculations. The U.K. will also likely be the first to re-open businesses, offices and concerts, and drop mask requirements once enough people have immunity. For that, he will receive an immense amount of political capital, enough to compensate for that which was lost throughout his often fumbling response to the pandemic.
To receive it though, Boris must get the logistics right, for another failure would raise even more doubt of his government.
Iranian nuclear scientist dies in coordinated attack
Remember the World War III memes that followed the U.S.’ assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani? That was in January of this year, but hard to remember given how the pandemic has diminished Iran-U.S. tensions in the news cycle. Yet, the world was reminded of Soleimani’s assassination this past week when another Iranian official was taken out: nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. This time, however, Iran claims Israel’s finger was on the trigger.
As Middle Eastern rivalries come, Iran and Israel are close to the most intense. Iran maintains a robust sphere of influence in the Middle East, with Israel drawing primarily on the U.S. thousands of miles away to measure up in strength.
Yet, Iran’s reputation undoubtedly took a blow following Soleimani’s death. However, the pandemic has slightly overshadowed such a military defeat, salvaging some of that reputation, something for which the regime is perhaps silently grateful. Now, with Fakhrizadeh’s death, that reputation has dwindled further. Iran has vowed retaliation for the killing, but these claims instill less fear given the fact that its retaliation against the death of Soleimani was brushed off the shoulder. Iran’s ostensible assertion that it is a force to be reckoned with loses credibility if it is unable to inflict equivalent damage to its enemies.
Iran has accused other Western nations of conspiring with Israel for this attack. This allegation is not proven, but the suspicion is at least understandable, considering the U.S.-Israel relationship is the tightest it has been in a while.
Israel has long felt threatened by a growing nuclear program inside Iran – a program Fakrizadeh has been described as the “father” of. Israel targeting him, of all officials, would make sense. Former President Barack Obama sought to mitigate the Iranian nuclear threat in his Iran Nuclear Deal, signed in 2015. But, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the binds of this agreement in 2018.
Israel had been critical of the deal since before its inception. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw the Washington-Tehran resolution as too soft, claiming Iran could still develop dangerous technology even within the binds of the agreement.
Netanyahu’s skepticism is warranted. Though some of it probably came from an occasionally coarse relationship with Obama, his true worries lied in the knowledge that Israel would potentially be the first victim of an Iranian nuclear attack. For Iran, although many of their grievances lie with the U.S., an attack on its most reliable ally in the Middle East would be similarly cathartic.
Now, both the U.S. and Israel have flexed their muscles non-discreetly in order to pressure the Iranian regime, whose status is being diminished in the process. With two brutal assassinations on either end of the calendar year, the potential for peacemaking with Iran is ever-decreasing. 2020 has come full circle.