Good morning, NBC News readers.
President Donald Trump granted a wave of pardons and commutations to a number of ex-advisers, convicted former lawmakers and ex-Blackwater contractors. He also blasted the massive Covid relief bill, threatening to derail the bipartisan package.
Here is what we're watching this Wednesday morning.
Trump issues slew of pardons, blasts Covid relief bill
President Donald Trump pardoned former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos on Tuesday, along with over a dozen other people, including several former congressmen who have long been Republican allies of the president.
The White House said in a statement that Trump was granting full pardons to 15 people and commuting parts or all of the sentences of five others. Among those granted clemency were Republican former Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York and four ex-Blackwater contractors convicted in the killings of Iraqi civilians.
And in somewhat surprising comments, Trump also shredded the just-passed $900 billion Covid-19 relief package Tuesday night, saying the legislation contains measures that have nothing to do with the pandemic and is too stingy on payments to average Americans.
Calling the bill a "disgrace" in a White House video posted to Twitter, he called for the stimulus checks to Americans to more than triple.
House Democrats, who had advocated for higher direct checks for months, immediately welcomed Trump's support for sending out more money.
The legislation already passed by Congress included two bills that were combined: One was the Covid-19 relief and stimulus bill, and the other was a large spending bill to fund the government through next September.
During his online comments, Trump seemed to be conflating the two pieces of legislation.
See the handful of oddball bills unrelated to coronavirus that made their way into the must-pass funding package.
While Trump didn't explicitly say he will veto the relief bill, his remarks suggested that he might.
As U.K. faces mutant virus surge over Christmas, experts warn U.S.: 'It's coming'
But it may be too late, some experts warn.
Some, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, believe the U.K. variant is likely already in the United States, where the federal government has so far resisted calls to tighten the already strict travel restrictions on Europe.
Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert who turns 80 on Christmas Eve, and other top government health officials received their first dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday.
As states roll out the vaccines, track the numbers of people inoculated here.
The vaccinations can't come soon enough: The U.S. on Tuesday saw the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in a single day, breaking the previous single-day high set just a week ago, according to NBC News count.
Follow our live blog for all the latest Covid-19 developments.
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- "It's been shattering": A year of heartache and hopein America’s Black churches.
- As Trump meets with QAnon influencers, the conspiracy's adherents beg for dictatorship.
- Why the Russian hack is so significant, and why it's close to a worst-case scenario.
- The federal prosecutor overseeing investigations into Giuliani and Bannon will stay on after being named U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York on Tuesday.
THINK about it
The NORAD Santa tracker is a yearly tradition — of government complicity in lies to little children, cultural critic Sam Thielman writes in an opinion piece.
This Christmas is going to be different. Check out Better's holiday survival guidefull of recipes, strategies and tips to get you through.
Quote of the day
"Our darkest days in the battle against Covid are ahead of us, not behind us."
— President-elect Joe Biden warned Tuesday.
One grateful thing
Ellie Mae became the smallest baby ever born at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center when she and her twin sister Savannah were born premature.
After six months in the NICU, the Aron family finally left the hospital with Ellie Maejust days before Christmas.
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Thanks, Petra Cahill