Good morning, California. It’s Friday, January 8.

McClintock to speak in Sacramento

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Senator-designate Alex Padilla were among the prominent California officials who called for President Donald Trump’s removal from office Thursday, a day after a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Pelosi, Feinstein and Padilla demanded Vice President Mike Pence invoke the 25th Amendment and declare Trump incapacitated, which would elevate Pence to acting president for the remainder of Trump’s term. But Pence is apparently opposed to doing so, prompting Pelosi to threaten introducing articles of impeachment — co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of Los Angeles — against Trump, a little over a year after the House of Representatives impeached him for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

  • Pelosi: “We are in a very difficult place in our country as long as Donald Trump sits in the White House. … While it’s only 13 days left, any day can be a horror show for America.”

Though Congress voted early Thursday morning to confirm the Electoral College results and uphold President-elect Joe Biden’s victory — which Trump acknowledged Thursday evening — almost all of California’s Republican delegation voted to reject the results from Arizona and Pennsylvania. Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove was the only member who voted to accept the results from both states.

  • McClintock: “If the Congress can refuse to count electoral votes — for whatever reason — then it has the inherent power to seize the decision for itself and render the Electoral College superfluous.”

McClintock will make an appearance in Sacramento today as the keynote speaker of Re-Open Cal Now. The conference, which has drawn the censure of Sacramento County’s public health officer, involves panels on the economic, social and mental-health impact of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus restrictions, as well as a protest at the state Capitol. As first reported in this newsletter, State Treasurer Fiona Ma had been scheduled to speak on a small-business panel at the conference, but backed out Wednesday.

  • Ma: “Since it is now clearly political I have declined to participate.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 2,518,611 confirmed cases (+1.5% from previous day) and 28,045 deaths (+2.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.


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1. EDD suspends 3.3 million claims

Image via iStock

California’s beleaguered unemployment department has suspended payment on a staggering 1.4 million claims in an attempt to reduce fraud — and disqualified another 1.9 million, suggesting that one-third of all claims submitted amid the pandemic could be fraudulent, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The shocking statistic comes two days after prosecutors estimated the Employment Development Department may have paid up to $4 billion in fraudulent claims, including nearly $100 million to out-of-state jail and prison inmates.

Given that 780,000 unemployment claims remained backlogged as of Dec. 31 — and around 1.4 million people will have to go through another round of identity checks — it could take months for many Californians to access their benefits. EDD’s new identity-verification and fraud-detection tool, ID.me — which took the department two weeks to implement — is apparently so plagued with complications that some Californians are reverting to filing paper claims.

2. Is CA underreporting COVID cases?

Image via iStock

The largest processor of California’s coronavirus tests, a 1-year-old Silicon Valley startup called Curative, may be producing inaccurate results, “particularly false negative results,” according to a warning issued Monday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The warning — which suggests that California may be underreporting coronavirus cases — throws into question the accuracy of the data shaping the state’s coronavirus response at a critical moment in the pandemic, with ICU capacity at dangerously low levels and a more infectious strain of the virus spreading. Amid record-level hospitalizations and deaths, the state on Thursday activated “a mass fatality management plan” that provides county coroners with body bags and refrigerated trailers to help handle a surge in fatalities. The state this week also ordered hospitals with open beds to accept intensive care patients from overloaded hospitals and ordered others to cancel some elective procedures.

3. State sets new vaccination goal

Dr. Sergio Urcuyo, left, prepares to get a COVID-19 vaccine from Registered Nurse Kathy Ferris, left, on Dec. 15, 2020. Photo by Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group

California health officials on Wednesday set an ambitious goal of vaccinating 1 million people within 10 days — a seemingly uphill battle, as the state has only administered around 530,400 doses of the more than 2 million it’s received, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports. The Golden State’s sluggish vaccine rollout has been plagued by logistical challenges: Some health care staff and other frontline workers have refused the vaccine, resulting in extra doses sitting in storage even as other doctors complain about a lack of access. Meanwhile, some Californians have managed to jump the line.

The state on Wednesday also unveiled new priorities for which Californians should be vaccinated after health care workers and nursing home residents, though the recommendations have yet to be finalized. The suggested next three tiers are:

  • Californians over the age of 74, teachers, childcare workers, food industry and agriculture workers, and non-medical first responders
  • Californians over the age of 64; prisoners; the homeless; and essential transportation, manufacturing and construction workers
  • Californians over 49 years old; those between 16 and 64 with chronic conditions or disabilities; and essential workers in the water, defense, energy, communications, financial and government sectors, among others

4. Padilla-Yee standoff intensifies

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla; State Controller Betty Yee. Photos via Wikimedia Commons

A scoop for you: State Controller Betty Yee appears to have further dug in her heels on refusing to approve payment of a controversial $35 million voter education contract Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office awarded to SKDKnickerbocker, a public affairs firm involved in Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. In a Tuesday court filing responding to a lawsuit from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Yee’s attorneys wrote:

  • “The Controller … reiterates that, based on the information currently available to her, she is not authorizing amounts requested by the SOS for payment of invoices under the SKDK contract. Accordingly, the Controller is not aware of a future basis for authorizing payment of the SKDK contract during the pendency of this lawsuit.”

This seems to pose problems for Padilla and Newsom, both of whom vowed in December to get the $34.3 million invoice paid soon. Padilla’s office in November asked the Department of Finance to transfer federal funds to pay for the contract, but the department still hasn’t acted on the request, Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer told me Thursday. Representatives for Padilla and Newsom did not respond to requests for comment.

  • Heather Wilson, head of SKDKnickerbocker’s California office, told me: “We remain confident that we will be paid for our work on the nonpartisan — and successful — Vote Safe California campaign.”

CalMatters commentary

Investigate California’s unemployment department: Taxpayers deserve a full accounting of where their money has gone, and it’s past time the state partners with Silicon Valley to find solutions, argues Assemblymember Megan Dahle, a Republican from Bieber.

Californians deserve breathable air: The economic benefits of investing in a clean agriculture system are as large as the economic costs of pollution, writes environmental activist Caty Wagner.


Other things worth your time

California prison union to gather in Las Vegas for board meeting amid COVID surge. // Sacramento Bee

California hotel workers renew push for recall rights, job protections. // CalMatters

Reopening plans stall as 1 in 3 students test positive for COVID-19 at some Los Angeles schools. // Los Angeles Times

California education issues to watch in 2021. // EdSource

California DMV postpones in-person driving tests until February amid COVID surge. // Sacramento Bee

Rife with infighting, Oakland community college district at risk of losing local control. // EdSource

More homeless Orange County residents died last year than any other, coroner says. // Los Angeles Times

Can California fix its broken relationship with the animal kingdom? // Sacramento Bee


See you Monday.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...