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The Trump transition team has built a Hollywood-worthy stage set so Cabinet nominees can practice confirmation hearings, which begin tomorrow and will dominate Washington's week.

A chandelier hangs above the wood-paneled rostrum. Photos of the real senators are tacked beneath the volunteers who play questioners during the "murder boards" — 30 so far, lasting a total of 70 hours, with an average of 120 questions apiece. Fake "Code Pink" demonstrators occasionally interrupt a "hearing."

  • Trump's nominees face an unusual hurdle: They don't just have to defend themselves — they'll be barraged with questions about their boss's tweets and campaign statements. The hearings are the highest profile chance Democrats have had to bash the president-elect, and they plan to take advantage.
  • People prepping the nominees tell me that the strategy is to answer the topic not the question, and let Trump fight his own fights. On the border wall, for example, nominees are coached to say they understand the role Congress has to play, "and we look forward to working with you."
  • The one absolute rule: Don't say anything bad about Trump.
  • Republicans are proudly "flooding the zone" — two hearings tomorrow and four on Wednesday, when coverage of Trump's news conference in New York will distract from the hearings. "You can't kill four people in one day," a transition team member said. Democrats can't stop the hurry-up hearings, but say they'll drag their feet when the nominees are ready for a floor vote.
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Go deeper

Updated 47 mins ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting parts of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.

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