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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Tuesday! The start of December! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the co-creators, and readers can find us on Twitter @asimendinger and @alweaver22. Please recommend the Morning Report to friends and let us know what you think. CLICK HERE to subscribe!
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 266,875; Tuesday, 268,087.
Congress gets back to work this week as the spread of COVID-19 hits new records and employers, economists and workers continue to beg lawmakers to succeed where they’ve failed since May and pass a coronavirus relief bill that President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: ‘Enough is enough now’ Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump MORE would sign as soon as politically possible.
The odds of striking a stimulus deal before the close of the 116th Congress are incredibly low, but that has not stopped a bipartisan group of legislators from attempting to rekindle discussions after months of touch-and-go talks between the Trump administration and Democratic negotiators.
According to The Hill’s Jordain Carney, the group includes Republican Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenate GOP open to confirming Yellen to be Biden’s Treasury secretary Overnight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate MORE (Utah), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate Biden says transition outreach from Trump administration has been ‘sincere’ MORE (Ohio) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Overnight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate MORE (Maine) along with Democratic Sens. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus MORE (Del.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate Major unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary MORE (W.Va.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate Harris shares Thanksgiving recipe: ‘During difficult times I have always turned to cooking’ MORE (Va.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry MORE (Colo.) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC – COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat. Specifically, the group is hoping COVID-19 relief provisions can be included as part of the must-pass government funding package.
The deadline to fund the government with either a full-year budget or a short-term stopgap measure is Dec. 11.
The talks represent the first signs of life toward a fifth coronavirus-related package, with the most recent bill having been passed more than seven months ago. However, the gulf between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate approves two energy regulators, completing panel On The Money: Biden announces key members of economic team | GOP open to Yellen as Treasury secretary, opposed to budget pick | GAO: Labor Department ‘improperly presented’ jobless data Senate GOP open to confirming Yellen to be Biden’s Treasury secretary MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases House Democrats urge congressional leaders to support .1B budget for IRS Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate MORE (D-Calif.) remains as wide as ever. The GOP leader continues to eye a targeted package of roughly $500 billion, while Pelosi is still pushing for a bill in excess of $2 billion.
The Associated Press: Congress returns with virus aid, federal funding unresolved.
Politico: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC – Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans Group of Florida mayors calls on DeSantis to issue mask mandate DeSantis promises to keep Florida open despite recent coronavirus case surge MORE (R), a Trump ally, wants a COVID-19 relief bill to bolster relief for unemployment.
Bloomberg News: Former Obama White House national economic adviser Austan Goolsbee on Monday said the U.S. economy is “inches away from having permanent damage that we did not have to have” when Congress and the Trump administration allowed provisions of the pandemic-focused CARES Act to expire. Goolsbee, an economist, said the hurdles for any agreement now turn on Georgia runoff elections in January, and GOP ambitions to retain the Senate majority. “The politics of this whole thing are quite complicated in the lame duck,” he lamented.
Senate Democrats on Wednesday will welcome a newcomer to their ranks: Arizona’s Mark KellyMark KellyMark Kelly to be sworn in as senator on Wednesday This week: Congress races to wrap work for the year Congress set for chaotic year-end sprint MORE, a Democrat and former astronaut who defeated Republican Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArizona certifies Biden’s victory over Trump The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Capital One – Biden unveils batch of his White House team Mark Kelly to be sworn in as senator on Wednesday MORE (Ariz.) on Nov. 3, will be sworn in as a senator at 12 p.m., his office said.
More than a dozen members of the House and Senate tested positive for COVID-19 in the days before Thanksgiving, underscoring the risks when hundreds of lawmakers travel back and forth and gather to work in the Capitol. House Democrats delayed returning to session until Wednesday and are urging members to stay in Washington over the weekend, hoping next week to complete an overflowing agenda to end a dramatic 2020 (The Hill).
The Hill: Industry groups want Congress to extend reductions in alcohol excise taxes that expire at the end of the year.
More politics: Trump’s bashing of Georgia officials over presidential election results worries Republicans who think he could divide the state’s GOP ahead of Senate runoff contests on Jan. 5. Runoffs against two incumbent senators depend heavily on turnout (The Hill and The New York Times). … Arizona on Monday certified Biden’s election victory (The Associated Press), and Wisconsin certified, too (Milwaukee Sun-Sentinel). Arizona Gov. Doug DuceyDoug DuceyArizona certifies Biden’s victory over Trump McSally’s final floor speech: ‘I gave it my all, and I left it all on the field’ Arizona secretary of state calls on Trump, members of Congress to stop ‘perpetuating misinformation’ MORE (R), who incurred multiple attacks from Trump on Monday, defended the state’s election process (CNN). … Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski: Trump should concede White House race Graham: Trump should attend Biden inauguration ‘if’ Biden wins OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration proceeds with rollback of bird protections despite objections | Trump banking proposal on fossil fuels sparks backlash from libertarians | EU 2019 greenhouse gas emissions down 24 percent MORE (R-Alaska) said on Monday that Trump should concede the election (The Hill). … Trump ally and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Trump should attend Biden inauguration ‘if’ Biden wins Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Georgia governor rejects Trump’s call to ‘overrule’ elections officials with emergency powers MORE of South Carolina said the president should attend the inauguration for the good of the country — “if Biden winds up winning” (The Hill). … And here’s one giant reason Trump has not conceded: His fundraising appeals to supporters to help him battle false claims of election fraud fuel his political machine, which has already hauled in an astonishing $150 million to $170 million (depending on reporting), which can underwrite his political activities and some personal overhead after he leaves office (The Washington Post and The New York Times).
LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: In a world filled with doom and gloom, more promising news emerged on Monday as Moderna announced that it will be applying for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine, with the first doses set to be doled out shortly before Christmas.
The pharmaceutical giant said that it will be applying for emergency use authorization with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with a group of FDA experts set to do a final review of Moderna’s vaccine on Dec. 17. The vaccine, which is 94.1 percent effective, according to the company, would then be distributed, with the first set of shots used to immunize Americans being released on Dec. 21.
Stephen Hoge, the president of Moderna, told NBC on Monday night that there will be “trucks rolling within hours” of the vaccine receiving authorization.
“We’re quite optimistic actually, that the vaccine is — the data speaks for itself — and they’ll be supportive,” Hoge told “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt.
The Moderna meeting will take place exactly a week after the same group meets to likely approve Pfizer’s vaccine, likely giving the U.S. authorization of two vaccines before Christmas. In a tweet, Trump called on the FDA to “ACT QUICKLY.”
The New York Times: Moderna applies for emergency FDA approval for its coronavirus vaccine.
Fox News: Novavax delays U.S. coronavirus vaccine phase three clinical trial.
White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump administration revives talk of action on birthright citizenship MORE, who recently recovered from COVID-19 and is tracking his boss’s tweets, is concerned that FDA is not working fast enough to approve a Pfizer vaccine and summoned FDA Administrator Stephen Hahn to an in-person White House meeting today, Axios reports. Hahn for months has worked to hold ground for FDA scientists, and that’s the posture he took in a comment to Axios for its report: “We want to move quickly because this is a national emergency, but we will make sure that our scientists take the time they need to make an appropriate decision. It is our job to get this right and make the correct decision regarding vaccine safety and efficacy,” he said.
With the coming approvals, U.S. officials are growing optimistic about the prospect of vaccinating any and all who want to receive a vaccine by early summer. Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, the director of supply, production and distribution for Operation Warp Speed, predicted that 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be available by June.
“100 percent of Americans that want the vaccine will have had the vaccine by that point in time,” Ostrowski told MSNBC. “We’ll have over 300 million doses available to the American public well before then.”
NBC News: COVID-19 vaccines face a varied and powerful misinformation movement online.
However, COVID-19 continues to spread at a rapid pace, leaving hospitals struggling to control the ever-climbing number of patients. In November alone, 4.2 million people in the U.S. tested positive for the virus — a 2.2 million increase over the October totals (NBC News).
According to The Hill’s Peter Sullivan, the surging case count is threatening to overwhelm hospital systems across the U.S., with the likely post-Thanksgiving rise expected to make matters worse. According to the Transportation Security Administration, more than 1.1 million people were screened at airports on Sunday, marking the busiest travel day since mid-March.
Anthony FauciAnthony FauciScott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge Rand Paul says Fauci owes parents and students an apology over pandemic measures MORE, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that the country could see another spike “superimposed” on the already bleak situation following the holiday. As of Monday night, more than 93,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in this country, a record number that is growing.
CNN: The Wuhan files: Leaked documents reveal China’s mishandling of the early stages of COVID-19.
The Hill: Rep. Austin ScottJames (Austin) Austin ScottGeorgia GOP lawmaker tests positive for COVID-19 Maybe they just don’t like cowboys: The president is successful, some just don’t like his style Lobbying world MORE (R-Ga.) becomes the 26th House member to test positive for COVID-19.
The Hill: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWineMike DeWineArticles of impeachment filed against GOP Ohio governor over coronavirus orders Cleveland coronavirus cases up 1,200 percent since early October Hogan ramps up criticism of Trump: ‘Stop golfing and concede’ MORE (R) is the target of impeachment filings because of tough restrictions he ordered to battle COVID-19.
The Washington Post: Lawmakers request new Government Accountability Office studies on the pandemic’s effects on the aviation industry.
> Departures: Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist, resigned on Monday from his post as the president’s special adviser on the coronavirus pandemic. Atlas was considered a special government employee when he joined the White House in August. He completed a 130-day detail this week.
As The Hill’s Brett Samuels notes, Atlas was a subject of criticism for many within and outside of the administration. Atlas, who is not an infectious diseases expert, pushed a widely disputed herd immunity theory in which some argue that older, at-risk populations should be protected while younger, healthier people would be free of restrictions.
The Washington Post: White House planning a packed season of holiday parties.
> Sports: The virus is also starting to wreak havoc on the NFL season, forcing the league to rejigger its schedule once again on Monday and displacing another franchise temporarily due to newly imposed restrictions.
For a third time, the NFL postponed the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game, which is now set for Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. on NBC. The postponement also means there will be a pair of games on Monday night and one more on Tuesday night (ESPN).
Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers will play its Week 13 and Week 14 home games in Glendale, Ariz., at State Farm Stadium, the home of the Arizona Cardinals. The move comes after Santa Clara County halted all contact sports for the next three weeks (ESPN).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
NEW ADMINISTRATION: Democratic senators on Monday urged their colleagues to hold confirmation hearings before Jan. 20 for former Federal Reserve Chair Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenThe Memo: Tension builds around key Biden nominees Biden takes steps toward creating diverse Cabinet On The Money: Biden announces key members of economic team | GOP open to Yellen as Treasury secretary, opposed to budget pick | GAO: Labor Department ‘improperly presented’ jobless data MORE, Biden’s pick to be Treasury secretary. By following a model also used to seat some Cabinet nominees in the past, early hearings would allow for a Senate floor vote on or soon after Inauguration Day. It was a signal that Yellen, to be introduced by Biden along with other economic team members this afternoon in Delaware, is a bipartisan shoo-in for a role critical to the government during a pandemic-driven economic downturn.
This year, however, it will not be certain until after runoff elections take place in Georgia which party will hold the Senate majority to control committees and floor votes for Biden’s nominees.
The Senate Finance Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans MORE of Oregon, told Reuters that Yellen’s confirmation hearing should take place before Biden is sworn in as president, as happened for Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinFinancial groups applaud Biden Treasury pick Yellen US sanctions Chinese company for conducting business with Maduro regime Monumental economic challenges await Biden’s Treasury secretary MORE on Jan. 19, 2017, when Trump was president-elect.
Four years ago, the Senate confirmed Mnuchin on Feb. 2, 2017, by a vote of 51-48. But the chamber moved faster on Inauguration Day to approve Trump nominees James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden under pressure to remove Trump transgender military ban quickly Progressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper MORE to be Defense secretary and John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Three days later, the Senate confirmed Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump’s NATO ambassador pledges ‘seamless’ transition to Biden administration US sanctions Chinese company for conducting business with Maduro regime Can Antony Blinken make American foreign policy great again? MORE to be CIA director.
Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases The five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden Collins urges voters to turn out in Georgia runoffs MORE (D-N.Y.) on Monday said, “The Senate should follow precedent and hold hearings on President-elect Biden’s nominees in January immediately after the Georgia elections, before the inauguration.” On Jan. 20, 2009, the Senate confirmed six of President Obama’s Cabinet picks, compared with seven for then-President George W. Bush on Jan. 20, 2001. Within weeks, Bush had his entire Cabinet through the Senate and in place (The Hill).
While Yellen’s approval by the Senate is seen as all but certain, the outlook for Neera Tanden, Biden’s choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget, is uphill. Criticized from all sides, Tanden (pictured below), the president and CEO of left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, faces the toughest confirmation battle among Biden’s nominees thus far, report The Hill’s Alexander Bolton and Naomi Jagoda.
A spokesman for Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate GOP open to confirming Yellen to be Biden’s Treasury secretary Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Trump’s NATO ambassador pledges ‘seamless’ transition to Biden administration MORE (R-Texas) said Sunday that Tanden has “zero chance of being confirmed,” raising questions about why Biden would nominate someone for a key role who has been so unstinting and public when finding fault over the years with GOP senators. Tanden, a prolific presence on Twitter and television, also faces opposition from the left, including from allies of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress’s year-end scramble | Iranian scientist’s assassination adds hurdles to Biden’s plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Biden faces new Iran challenges after nuclear scientist killed MORE (I-Vt.).
CNN: Is Tanden’s nomination doomed?
Biden’s latest economic nominees and appointees also include his choice to be deputy Treasury secretary (economist Wally Adeyemo) and a trio of labor economists to guide policy from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (Cecilia Rouse, Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey) (The Hill).
Biden’s reported choice to lead the White House National Economic Council, Brian Deese, has been widely praised by former Obama administration officials, but his post-government work advising Blackrock clients on sustainable and long-term investment returns has some progressives up in arms. At the very least, under the incoming administration’s ethics rules, Deese’s financial holdings would come under close scrutiny (The Hill).
Politico: The quiet frontrunner: How Biden landed on Yellen for Treasury secretary.
> The European Union on Monday invited Biden to an in-person summit next year in addition to a virtual gathering. The in-person meeting is to coincide with Biden’s possible visit with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (Prensa Latina).
> Iran: Biden’s campaign pledge to engage with Tehran is complicated by Friday’s assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, which Iran blames on Israel. The organized and dramatic killing could limit Biden’s running room to put the United States back in the Iran nuclear deal, which is opposed by Israel’s government and by Trump (The Hill).
Gerald F. Seib: Here’s where Biden will face early foreign-policy decisions.
The Hill: Democrats who want Biden’s Cabinet to be as diverse as possible when all is said and done are keeping the pressure on the president-elect.
Government Executive: Biden’s transition agency review teams made contact or met with more than 50 agencies (as of the day before Thanksgiving), according to Jen Psaki, now the incoming White House press secretary.
Politico: Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWho will replace Harris in Senate? ‘Rising’ discusses Wisconsin formally declares Biden won election following recount Moderate Democrats: Everyone’s older siblings MORE announced an inaugural committee of their own to work with members of Congress and other Washington officials. Plans for the oaths of office, guest lists, customary afternoon parade and evening balls during a pandemic have not been revealed.
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: [email protected] and [email protected]. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
How Biden can break the Senate stonewall, by Rahm Emanuel, The Wall Street Journal opinion contributor. https://on.wsj.com/2JgJPzc. (Note: The former Clinton-era White House adviser, former House member, ex-White House chief of staff for the 44th president, former Chicago mayor and more recently a paid TV political analyst is reportedly a potential Biden candidate to be Transportation secretary).
Presidents should use the pardon power more — just not like Trump, by Charles Lane, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3qdoOG5
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets on Wednesday.
The Senate meets at 10 a.m. The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee is conducting a hearing titled “The Quarterly CARES Act Report to Congress” at 10 a.m. with testimony from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.
The president has no public events scheduled.
Vice President Pence leads a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting at 3 p.m.
Biden and Harris today will receive the President’s Daily Brief. They will introduce nominees and appointees formally announced by the president-elect and vice president-elect on Monday. The event showcasing members of the incoming administration’s economic team is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. in Delaware.
➔ INTERNATIONAL: Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, alleged during Monday’s funeral that Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the scientist who founded the Iranian nuclear program, that Israel used “electronic devices” to assassinate him. Israel has declined to comment on the killing (The Associated Press).
➔ TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced on Monday that he will formally depart the agency on Jan. 20. Pai said that his tenure atop the FCC was the “honor of a lifetime.” Biden will now have the opportunity to either promote one of the two Democrats on the commission — Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks — or bring in a new chair from outside the agency (The Hill).
➔ SUPREME COURT: The conservative-majority Supreme Court on Monday sounded reluctant to issue an immediate ruling that would halt Trump’s plan to count — and later subtract — immigrants residing in the United States illegally from the once-per-decade population count used to apportion seats in the U.S. House and allocate federal resources to states. The question of whether Trump can lawfully exclude the undocumented population from the census may be more fully litigated in coming weeks (The Hill).
And finally … Cyber Monday is set to be the biggest online shopping day in U.S. history, Reuters reports. American consumers, who drive the bulk of the economy, were on track to purchase $12.7 billion in goods online, surpassing Black Friday, according to the latest industry estimates. Because of the coronavirus, items such as groceries, alcohol and clothing went into customers’ digital shopping carts, along with electronics, phones and smart devices after weeks if not months of promotions to beat this year’s holiday shipping crush and accomplish the deal-hunting online.
Today, by the way, is “Giving Tuesday,” a worldwide cyber pause for generosity, donations, charitable giving and commitments to help those in need. If ever there was a year to share kindness and extra cash with others, this is it.
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