Dec 22, 2020

Axios PM

Good afternoon: Today's PM — edited by Justin Green — is 464 words, a 2-minute read.

1 big thing: Darkest days ahead

Biden speaks at the Queen Theater in Wilmington. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Rare words from an incoming president: "Our darkest days in the battle against COVID are ahead of us, not behind us," President-elect Biden warned this afternoon during remarks in Wilmington.

Why it matters: Biden is promising to tell America the truth, which includes the reality of many more horrific months, no matter who is in charge.

  • If we're lucky, vaccinations will provide enough herd immunity to allow some normality by this summer or fall.

Another blunt reality: Most of the benefits in the $900 billion coronavirus rescue package expire months before America has any hope of being back to normal.

  • The $300 boost for unemployment benefits expires in March.
  • The new $284 billion round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is meant to last 3 months.
  • There's no new funding earmarked for state and local governments.

The other side: There's funding for schools and childcare and mass transit and vaccination distribution, which helps bail out the above from those obligations.

  • The entertainment sector got $15 billion, helping out theaters and museums and live entertainment venues.
  • $600 checks will start showing up next week for individuals making under $75,000 (phases out for incomes above that), with an extra $600 per child.

The bottom line: Georgia's Jan. 5 Senate runoffs could be the difference between a big stimulus under Biden, or more trouble for parts of the U.S. hospitality sector.

2. Pic du jour
Photo: Patrick Semansky/Pool/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, after receiving his first dose of Moderna's COVID vaccine at the NIH in Bethesda today.

3. Catch up quick

Alex Padilla. Photo: Democratic National Convention via AP

  1. Replacement for VP-elect Harris: Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to the Senate. Go deeper.
  2. Biden's pick to run the Education Department: Miguel Cardona, education commissioner in Connecticut. Go deeper.
  3. The Justice Department sued Walmart, accusing its pharmacies of not properly screening questionable painkiller prescriptions and filling them, ultimately fueling nationwide addiction. Walmart says the suit "invents a legal theory." Go deeper.
  4. Deborah Birx plans to retire after an AP story about her Thanksgiving travel while Americans were being told to stay put. She offered to wait and help the Biden administration's coronavirus response if asked. Go deeper.
4. 1 smile to go: "Charlie Brown style"
Frank Pichel's tree lot earlier this month in Richmond. Photo: Will Newton/AP

Animator and professor Frank Pichel has captured hearts this season in Richmond, where he's selling Christmas trees to raise cash for a private middle school for low-income kids.

  • "This is the perfect 2020 tree," customer Camm Tyler told AP.

About those trees: Pichel owns 66 acres of gangly Virginia pines, and cut down 70 to raise funds for Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in Richmond, which gives all 118 students full scholarships.

  • "When people want a Charlie Brown tree, they want the uniqueness and the weirdness. The ones with the fewest branches sold the quickest because they’re even more like Charlie Brown's."

Pichel has already raised more than $5,000 for the school, letting people pay what they want:

  • "Some people just stopped by and said, 'I don’t want a tree. I just want to make a donation.'"