First Thing: will the electoral college spell game over for Trump?

Good morning.

Today, 538 members of the electoral college will cast their vote, officially making Joe Biden the 46th president-in-waiting. The event has gained unusual attention this year amid Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to derail Biden’s inauguration. The president’s so far fruitless efforts continued into the weekend, sparking unrest across several cities including violence in the capital. Despite a total lack of evidence of systematic electoral voter fraud, a recent poll found that 77% of Republicans still believe the November election was fraudulent.

But Trump’s attempts to cling on to the presidency could come back to bite him; the distrust he has sown in the electoral process has led some Republicans to say they won’t vote in the upcoming senate run-offs in Georgia. These races are critical, determining which party will control the Senate and thus control the fate of key Biden administration policies. Black voters helped Biden to flip Georgia in the presidential election, and now, the Democrats will be relying on them to mobilise once again for the Senate races. Organisers think they can turn out again, and in bigger numbers.

Treasury IT systems have been hacked, and Russia are thought to be behind it

The breaches are thought to be connected to a broad campaign that also involved the hack on FireEye, a major US cybersecurity company with government and commercial contracts. Photograph: Andriy Popov/Alamy Stock Photo

Hackers believed to be working for the Russian government have been monitoring internal emails in the US treasury and commerce departments. The hack reportedly led to a national security council meeting in the White House on Saturday, and has led to concerns that similar techniques could be used to penetrate other government agencies. According to the IT company SolarWinds, through which the hackers are thought to have broken in to the systems, the hackers are “highly sophisticated”.

The coronavirus vaccine roll out has begun … but Trump isn’t taking it yet

Pfizer’s manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, launched the largest and most complex vaccine distribution project in the US on Sunday. Photograph: Getty Images

The coronavirus vaccine distribution programme in the US began yesterday, with trucks rolling out of Pfizer’s manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan to distribute doses around the country. But Trump didn’t do much to improve public confidence in the vaccine; he said he was “not scheduled to take the vaccine” but would do so “at the appropriate time”. It fell a little flat following earlier promises from three former presidents, plus President-elect Biden, to have the vaccine live on TV to prove its safety. According to one poll from mid-November, 42% of Americans said they wouldn’t take the vaccine even if it was free.

Following a backlash after reports said that White House staff members were among the first in line to receive the vaccine, Trump also said that administration staffers should get the vaccine “somewhat later in the programme, unless specifically necessary”. Initially, around 3m doses were expected to be sent out, with priority given to healthcare workers and nursing home residents.

  • Poorer nations have not suffered from the virus as badly as expected, in case load or economic impact. From young populations to China-friendly exports, Berkeley economics professor Barry Eichengreen asks why poorer nations have suffered less from the financial fallout of Covid.

  • Peru called off trials for China’s Sinopharm vaccine this weekend after an “adverse event” with one of the participants. So what is the Sinopharm vaccine and where is it being trialled? Helen Davidson answers key questions.

The US will host a world climate summit early next year

António Guterres at this weekend’s virtual climate summit, which took place without the US. Photograph: UNTV

There’s welcome news for environmental activists and, well, life on Earth this morning: the Biden administration will host a climate summit for the world’s major economies at the start of 2021. He also plans to make good on his plan to rejoin the Paris agreement on the first day of presidency. The news will be an important boost to international climate action, which has taken a massive hit from Trump over the past four years.

Leaders from 75 countries met without the US in a virtual UN climate summit this weekend, on the fifth anniversary of the Paris agreement, which committed global leaders to various climate targets. Biden reiterated his pledge to get the US to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, saying it would create new jobs as well as staving off environmental collapse. The UN welcomed the news:

“It is a very important signal. We look forward to a very active US leadership in climate action from now on as US leadership is absolutely essential. The US is the largest economy in the world, it’s absolutely essential for our goals to be reached,” António Guterres, the UN secretary general, said.

In other news …

A man was shot by police after shots rang out at the end of a Christmas choral concert on the steps of the Manhattan cathedral Sunday afternoon. Photograph: Ted Shaffrey/AP
  • Police shot dead a gunman in New York who opened fire outside a cathedral, following an outdoor choir performance. Police said that the gunman had shot at officers, but no one is believed to have been injured. The man had an extensive criminal history and was carrying a backpack containing a can of gasoline, rope, wire, tape, knives and a Bible, police said.

  • Cleveland’s baseball team is to drop “Indians” from its name after years-long criticism from Native American groups and some fans that the name was racially insensitive, reports have said. Trump himself was not impressed, describing the move as “cancel culture at work”.

Stat of the day: 85% of bars and restaurants in bustling parts of California have closed down due to coronavirus

California is under the strictest lockdown that the US has seen, and the cost on businesses is mounting. According to data from San Francisco’s Chamber of Commerce, up to 85% of bars and restaurants in formerly busy neighbourhoods have already closed, and many fear that they won’t be the last. Almost 1.5 million Californians have contracted coronavirus, and more than 20,500 lives have been lost in the state.

Don’t miss this: the Arab spring, a decade on

Libyans sing a patriotic song in front of the White House in Washington on 9 April 2011 during a protest by Libyans and Syrians against the regimes of Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

In 2010, local protests across the Middle East went on to spark regional revolutions, with dictatorships and police states challenged by the people. Aided by access to the internet, increasing divides in living standards and a rapidly growing youth, the Arab spring was born. A decade later, our Middle East correspondent, Martin Chulov, looks back at the legacy of the movement, and ahead to its future.

The movement that soon came to be known as the Arab spring was an extraordinary shock, shaking away decades of torpor and highlighting the power of a combustible street, which had been thought to be no match for feudal dynasties and all-powerful states accustomed to treating citizens as subjects and routinely dousing their aspirations.

Last Thing: Cher is 74 – and on fire

Cher: ‘I’ve worked my whole life to keep my strength in my body. There are 20-year-old girls who can’t do what I do.’ Photograph: Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images

At 74, Cher is fiercely political and as fit as ever. In this candid interview with Simon Hattenstone, she talks about her campaign to liberate an elephant, her love life, and how she’s never hated anyone like she hates Trump.

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