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Covid-19 claims 250,000 U.S. lives, Trump digs in for election battle and Pompeo visits an Israeli settlement

"We are in an absolutely dangerous situation that we have to take with the utmost seriousness," Dr. Brett Giroir said about the pandemic Wednesday.
Image: COVID test
A patient is tested for the coronavirus at a free testing site in Seattle on Wednesday as new case numbers across the country soar. Elaine Thompson / AP file

Good morning, NBC News readers.

The United States has lost 250,000 souls in the battle against coronavirus. President Donald Trump and his allies dig in for a drawn out election battle. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo breaks with decades of U.S. foreign policy tradition by visiting an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Here is what we're watching this Thursday morning.

A quarter of a million people have died from Covid-19 in the U.S.

Since February, more than 250,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the United States.

The U.S. is now counting more than 100,000 new cases a day as the virus surges across the country and the pandemic shows no signs of abating.

"Right now, we are in an absolutely dangerous situation that we have to take with the utmost seriousness," Dr. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration's coronavirus testing czar, told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday.

"This is not crying wolf. This is the worst rate of rise in cases that we have seen in the pandemic in the United States. And, right now, there's no sign of flattening."

Here are some other developments:

Trump's team tucks in for election fight to go on until December

While the coronavirus pandemic rages, President Donald Trump has been focused on his efforts to undermine the results of the election.

Trump's allies are preparing for his legal fight over the election results to go on well into December, even as they continue to push him to accept a conclusion to his presidency and make post-White House plans, NBC News' White House correspondents report.

"The legal challenges are continuing, but those close to the president, and frankly the president, understand they're futile," a senior administration official said.

Nevertheless, Trump's campaign announced Wednesday that it filed a petition for a partial recount in Wisconsin, where he trails President-elect Joe Biden, the apparent winner of the state, by more than 20,000 votes. The long-shot bid to overturn the state's results will cost Trump's campaign $3 million.

Wisconsin’s top elections chief and local officials have said there were no reports of widespread problems or wrongdoing.

Meantime, a few current and former Trump administration officials have privately reached out to Biden's transition team even as Trump continues to refuse to admit defeat, sources tell NBC News.

While Biden officials said they welcome the outreach, they stressed that it is not a replacement for the formal transition process that Trump officials have so far stymied.

Pompeo becomes first secretary of state to visit Israeli settlement

America’s top diplomat Mike Pompeo made history Thursday becoming the first secretary of state and highest ranking U.S. official to visit an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.

The visit is widely seen as the Pompeo's last play to the Republicans’ evangelical base as the most pro-settler administration in U.S. history nears its end and he looks ahead to a possible presidential run in 2024.

In Israel, it will be seen as a parting gift to the country's ideological right-wing and the settler community in the occupied West Bank, a contested region that was captured from Jordan in 1967.

Image: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make a joint statement after meeting in Jerusalem
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday. Maya Alleruzzo / Reuters

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Quote of the day

"No one is happy about this decision."

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on ordering the shutdown of city's schools.

One hoot thing

As we talked about yesterday, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree brings joy to millions. But for one small owl it won’t be home over the festive period

Thanks to one eagle-eyed worker who helped transport and secure the tree from upstate New York, a small owl won't be making midtown Manhattan his new home.

A tiny saw-whet owl that was found after the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was cut down, then trucked to New York City, is recovering at a wildlife rehabilitation facility.

A Ravensbeard Wildlife Center worker swaddles a saw-whet owl, the smallest owl in the northeast, that was rescued from the tree. His new nickname is "Rockefeller."
A Ravensbeard Wildlife Center worker swaddles a saw-whet owl, the smallest owl in the northeast, that was rescued from the tree. His new nickname is "Rockefeller."Courtesy Ravensbeard Wildlife Center

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Thanks, Petra