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“Senator McConnell knows how to make $2,000 survival checks reality and he knows how to kill them,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “If Sen. McConnell tries loading up the bipartisan House-passed CASH Act with unrelated, partisan provisions that will do absolutely nothing to help struggling families across the country.”

For now, McConnell is prioritizing action on overriding Trump’s veto of a defense bill, which could take place after New Year’s Day if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) continues to deploy procedural hurdles until he gets a vote on $2,000 checks. And Republicans are divided over the checks, with some speaking up in support but others complaining about increasing the debt or that the income thresholds for the new checks are too high.

After speaking with McConnell for several minutes after the chamber shuttered for the day, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Congress has spent $4 trillion on the pandemic and should concentrate more on the $900 billion package it just approved that included $600 checks. He said he didn’t support the House-passed bill as a standalone proposal to boost those checks to $2,000.

“There’s still some discussions, whether it could be coupled up with something else,” Cornyn said, suggesting a liability shield that Democrats oppose could be paired with the larger checks. “This is just opportunistic on the part of the House. They’ve got an issue and unfortunately it seems to be drowning out all the other good stuff we’ve done.”

Meanwhile Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said the $2,000 amount is too high and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) raised concerns about whether the checks needed to be targeted more to frontline workers and working-class Americans. Those comments, along with McConnell’s caginess on Tuesday about the path forward cast major doubt whether the GOP-led Senate will triple the size of those $600 checks as Trump demands.

In a floor speech, McConnell acknowledged Trump’s demand to increase payments, limit legal protections on tech companies and investigate election fraud as a condition for signing the $900 billion stimulus bill on Sunday. But he did not make an explicit commitment to tackling those issues as the 116th Congress comes to a close.

“Those are the three important subjects the president has linked together. This week the Senate will begin a process to bring those three priorities into focus,” McConnell said as he tried to set up a veto override vote on the annual defense bill for Wednesday.

Trump responded to McConnell’s move to block Democrats’ proposals with rage on Twitter: “Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP.” He also called for ending tech companies’ legal protections.

Cornyn said he opposed rolling the tech fight into the discussion over stimulus. Asked about Trump’s tweet, he responded: “What we ought to be doing is focusing on the $900 billion that we’ve already approved and that Secretary Mnuchin helped us negotiate.”

“Focusing on this undermines the very positive impact that what we’ve already done is having,” Cornyn said of the checks.

Still, Democrats remain wary that McConnell will try and roll the three disparate topics together, which Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said “is an invitation for this entire effort to fall apart.”

Earlier in the day, Senate Democrats rejected McConnell’s plans for a quick vote on the defense bill, insisting he would have to offer a path forward on larger checks in order to secure a quick vote to overturn Trump’s veto.

Still, there’s been some movement toward embracing the larger direct payments among Republicans. Many House Republicans supported a House bill to boost checks on Monday and conservative Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) told reporters on Tuesday she’s open to the idea.

“People are hurting, and I think we need to get more aid,” she said, while panning the possibility the checks might get rolled together with unrelated bills. “I’m upset it’s not targeted. I’m upset that the process is always throwing in things together, I’m upset we continue to not have bills in time to really study them.”

Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) on Tuesday endorsed $2,000 checks, joining Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Loeffler and Perdue are both in run-off races on Jan. 5 that will determine Senate control next year and have been hammered by Democrats who have campaigned on bigger checks.

Collins guessed that maybe the Senate could hold a roll call vote later this week on the stimulus checks and said $2,000 would be “very helpful” to working families. But she also said she has issues with the way the bill is written.

“I am concerned that the way it is structured it would also benefit upper income individuals because it does not phase out as quickly as the $600 check,” she said. “A family of four, the income level at which you would get nothing is more than $300,000. And, in a state like mine that’s high income.”

Getting anything to the floor beyond the defense bill looks like a steep task after Tuesday’s brouhaha. First, Schumer tried to pass the House-approved bill increasing the checks from $600 to $2,000, which McConnell rejected. Passing such a bill unanimously was always unlikely, given resistance among Republicans about spending hundreds of billions more on checks.

Then Sanders asked McConnell to at least set up a roll call vote to follow the veto override.

“The leaders of our country, President Trump, President-elect Biden, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are all in agreement,” Sanders said. “Do we turn our backs on struggling working families or do we respond to their pain?”

McConnell spurned that request too. Sanders responded by blocking quick passage of the veto override, leaving the possibility of keeping the Senate in session into New Year’s Day to finish consideration of the defense bill.

McConnell made clear the Senate will complete that task.

“Failure is not an option,” he said. “I urge my colleagues to support this legislation one more time when we vote.”

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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