USA TODAY’s coverage continues this week of the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration and the effort in Congress to pass a fresh round of COVID-19 economic relief.

Dates to watch:

Jan. 6:Congress will count and certify the electoral results in a joint session. 

Jan. 20:Inauguration of Biden who will take the oath of office.

Be sure to refresh this page often to get the latest information on the transition.

 Trump expected to sign COVID-19 stimulus bill

The Senate passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package Monday, sending the bill to President Donald Trump to sign Tuesday. It will send millions of Americans direct payments and rescue thousands of small businesses nationwide struggling to stay open in the COVID-19 pandemic after a months-long stalemate that was ended with the help of a special dinner at Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s house. 

The measure was attached to a $1.4 trillion spending bill to fund the federal government through Sept. 30, 2021 (the end of the fiscal year) to form a nearly 5,600 page-bill that is one of the largest pieces of legislation Congress has ever tackled. Its passage leaves some hoping this signals cooperation with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may be possible in 2021. 

Earlier in the evening, the House passed the measure 359-53. Hours later, the Senate approved it by a 92-6 vote. Trump is expected to sign it today. Whether he’ll sign the National Defense act is another matter. If Trump vetoes the NDAA, McConnell says the Senate would return Dec. 29 regarding a congressional override.

 Out with Betsy DeVos, in with Miguel Cardona?

President-elect Joe Biden is poised to nominate Miguel Cardona as secretary of the Department of Education, multiple media outlets reported, choosing a major proponent of reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

“In-person education is too important for our children to disrupt their education further,” Cardona wrote in a letter to Connecticut school superintendents in November, “unless and until local conditions specifically dictate the need to do so.”

Cardona would lead Biden’s goal to reopen all public schools in the first 100 days of his administration if confirmed by the U.S. Senate. His pick would also add another Latino to Biden’s increasingly diverse Cabinet.

Cardona has served as Connecticut’s education chief for 16 months after working as a public school educator for two decades.

—Joey Garrison

 Rep. Speier calls West Point cheating scandal deeply troubling

More than 70 cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point were accused of cheating on a math exam, the worst academic scandal since the 1970s at the Army’s premier training ground for officers.

Fifty-eight cadets admitted cheating on the exam, which was administered remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of them have been enrolled in a rehabilitation program and will be on probation for the remainder of their time at the academy. Others resigned, and some face hearings that could result in their expulsion.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who leads the personnel panel of the House Armed Services Committee, said she found the scandal deeply troubling and West Point must provide more transparency to determine the scope of cheating.

“Our West Point cadets are the cream of the crop and are expected to demonstrate unimpeachable character and integrity,” Speier said. “They must be held to the same high standard during remote learning as in-person.” 

—Tom Vanden Brook

 Kamala Harris campaigns for Ossoff, Warnock in Georgia

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris campaigned Monday in Georgia for two Democratic Senate candidates whose races will determine control of the chamber.

She campaigned for Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who are challenging Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelley Loeffler, respectively. The Senate now has 50 Republican senators and 48 members who caucus with Democrats. If both challengers win, Harris could break Senate ties in favor of Biden’s priorities.

Harris recited President-elect Joe Biden’s priorities for expanding Medicare and Medicaid, tripling Title I funding for schools and providing assistance to first-time homebuyers.

“Everything is at stake,” Harris said.

Warnock had said earlier that the Democrats would better provide health care and distribute the vaccine for COVID-19 before rebuilding the country with an infrastructure program.

“We’ve got to get the vaccine distributed safely and efficiently,” Warnock said. “We’ve got to make sure that communities of color and other marginalized communities don’t find themselves at the back of the line.”

A small group of protesters assembled outside the event, with several carrying signs. “Kamala is a socialist,” a sign said.

Georgia has reliably supported Republicans statewide for decades, but Biden beat President Donald Trump this year. Harris had planned two campaign events Monday, but had to return to Washington to vote on the COVID-19 stimulus package and federal spending legislation.

“You did what nobody thought could be done,” Harris told Georgia voters. “You know, no good comes without asking for a little bit more.”

Biden campaigned in Atlanta on Dec. 15. Trump visited the state Dec. 5 and said he would return Jan. 4. Vice President Mike Pence has also campaigned in Georgia.

More than 1.4 million people have voted in the runoffs already, and voting ends Jan. 5.

– Bart Jansen



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