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News Wrap: Questions swirl about pace of U.S. vaccinations as COVID deaths top 340,000

In our news wrap Wednesday, questions are intensifying about the pace of vaccinations as COVID-19 deaths reached 1.8 million worldwide with more than 340,000 in the United States,the Senate moved to override President Trump’s veto of the annual defense policy bill, and a Republican senator says he will lodge an objection next week when Congress counts electoral votes in the presidential race.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    In the day's other news: COVID-19 deaths reached 1.8 million worldwide, with more than 340,000 in the United States.

    Among the latest victims, congressman-elect Luke Letlow, a Louisiana Republican who passed away last night. He was 41 years old, also actress Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann in the 1960s TV comedy "Gilligan's Island." She died today in Los Angeles at the age of 82.

    Meanwhile, California reported its first patient with a COVID variant from Britain. Just yesterday, Colorado recorded the first confirmed case in the United States.

    Questions are intensifying about the pace of vaccinations nationwide, just over two million people so far. That's far short of what the Trump administration had forecast.

    But, in a briefing today, leaders of the president's Operation Warp Speed defended their efforts to distribute vaccines.

  • Gen. Gustave Perna:

    Essentially, it's been just 12 days. There's two holidays. There's been three major snowstorms.

    There's numerous factors. And here is what I have confidence in. Everyday, everybody gets better. And I believe that uptake will increase significantly as we go forward.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Overseas, Britain today became the first country today to approve a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. U.S. officials said it could win approval in this country by April.

    We will return to the pandemic and vaccine issues after the news summary.

    The push to override President Trump's veto of the defense policy bill is one step closer to completion. The Senate voted this evening to debate the issue. The bill is worth $740 billion and includes a 3 percent military pay raise. Mr. Trump has demanded an unrelated provision that strips liability protections for social media companies. The House already voted to override the veto.

    A Republican Senator, Josh Hawley, says he will object next week, when Congress counts electoral votes in the presidential race. He wants an investigation of President Trump's unproven allegations of fraud. Several Republicans in the U.S. House plan similar objections. Both chambers are expected to dismiss the complaints and certify president-elect Biden's victory.

    In Yemen, meanwhile, a large explosion killed at least 25 people at an airport today, just after members of a new Cabinet flew in. The ministers arrived in Aden from Saudi Arabia, which backs the government against rebels allied with Iran. They were exiting the plane when the blast erupted. No one in the delegation was hurt, but 110 others were wounded.

    The prime minister condemned the apparent bombing.

  • Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed (through translator):

    This treacherous, cowardly and terrorist attack underscores the government's central responsibility, which is the task of ending the coup, restoring the state, spreading stability, and the recovery of our country.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A second blast went off later near a palace where the Cabinet members were taken. There were no reports of casualties.

    An ambush in Southern Syria has killed at least 28 people. State media says it was a terror attack that targeted civilian passenger buses. A Syrian human rights group says the victims were Syrian troops killed by Islamic State militants.

    Lawmakers in Britain, meanwhile, voted overwhelmingly today to approve a trade deal with the European Union, after months of negotiations. It ensures tariff-free trade will continue when Britain's transition out of the E.U. officially ends tomorrow.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed the agreement after the House of Commons vote, and touted its terms in an interview.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    What this deal gives us is, I would say, pretty much the best of both worlds, because you have a gigantic free trade agreement, but you also have the flexibility that people wanted and that we all care about to do things differently and better, if you choose.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The European Parliament is expected to approve the deal in the coming weeks.

    A court in China today sentenced 10 pro-democracy activists and protesters who were attempting to leave Hong Kong. They were caught on a speedboat in August trying to reach Taiwan. It's believed they feared being prosecuted under a tough new security law. Their sentences range from seven months to three years in prison.

    Jonathan Pollard is in Israel tonight 35 years after he admitted selling U.S. military secrets to the Israelis. He served 30 years in prison and was paroled in 2015. Last month, the Justice Department cleared the way for him to travel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted Pollard and his wife at the Tel Aviv Airport today. On arrival, Pollard and his wife kneeled and kissed the ground.

    Back in this country, there's word that the Census Bureau will miss tomorrow's deadline to report numbers for apportioning congressional seats. The Associated Press reports that internal census documents suggest the count won't be ready until after president-elect Biden takes office.

    That would make it easier for him to rescind President Trump's directive against counting undocumented migrants.

    And Wall Street today managed modest gains. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 73 points to close at 30409. That's another all-time high. The Nasdaq rose 19 points, and the S&P 500 added five points.

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