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If this is in fact Pelosi’s last term as speaker — as she has signaled — it would cap a remarkable House career spanning more than three decades, including leading the Democratic Caucus for nearly 20 years and becoming the first, and still the only, woman to ever wield the speaker’s gavel.

Now Pelosi must lead one of the slimmest House majorities in decades — Democrats hold just 222 seats in the House to Republicans’ 211, with two vacancies — through the final days of President Donald Trump’s tenure before preparing to usher in a new era under President-elect Joe Biden.

“We have the most capable speaker in modern times,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said in an interview amid the multihour vote. “She is clearly the most capable and competent speaker — to bring a large group of people with diverse backgrounds and political ideology together, and function as one.”

In some ways, this was the most challenging speaker’s bid for Pelosi yet as she had to meticulously lock down every vote, with nearly zero room for error due to razor-thin party margins, rebellious Democrats and the potential for last-minute absences due to the coronavirus.

With Republicans flipping a dozen seats in November, Pelosi could only afford a handful of defectors within her caucus this time around, not the 15 Democrats who didn’t back her bid in 2019. Pelosi is the sixth speaker in history to win with fewer than 218 votes.

“We are just an extremely slim amount of votes away from risking the speakership to the Republican Party,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who in the past has been vocal about the need for transition to new leadership but voted for Pelosi Sunday. “It’s bigger than any one of us.”

The day also wasn’t without some coronavirus-related drama. In a sign of just how delicate the vote count was, and with a recognition of the surging pandemic, House officials constructed a special plexiglass box in the chamber Sunday so that members who tested negative for the coronavirus but were quarantining after exposure — two Democrats and one Republican — could still cast their vote.

The move sparked outrage and head-scratching among lawmakers and House officials, some of whom openly questioned whether the speaker’s vote mattered more than the safety of lawmakers and staff.

“To build a structure like that, in the dark of night, to only protect the votes that Speaker Pelosi needs to get reelected speaker, is shameful,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee.

The mechanics of the floor vote also looked far different than two years ago, when Pelosi returned to the speaker’s chair for a historic second time after losing the majority in 2010. While each member still stood one by one to cast their vote, only a few dozen lawmakers from each party were supposed to be on the floor at one time.

On the Democratic side, lawmakers mostly sat several seats away from each other, though many Republicans flouted health guidelines and sat shoulder to shoulder in the chamber.

Several members did use their moment in the spotlight to deliver personal accolades to the speaker: Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), for instance, described Pelosi as “the finest speaker in the history of the United States.” And Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) followed his vote for Pelosi with an “of course.”

But overall the tone of the day was less celebratory than in 2019, as the public health crisis and other tragedies remained top of mind for members of both parties.

Several members were spotted wearing pins honoring Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, who died Tuesday due to coronavirus complications.

And Pelosi initially missed that her name was called to voice her vote because she had been turned around in her seat talking to Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who is mourning the death of his 25-year-old son, announced earlier this week. Shortly thereafter, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) offered Raskin his condolences before voting for McCarthy, which led some in the chamber to clap.

The vote on Sunday caps off an intense behind-the-scenes lobbying blitz over the last several weeks by Pelosi, 80, and her allies to secure full support within the caucus, including from some longtime outspoken critics of the speaker. Senior Democrats were painstakingly managing attendance up until the final hours — even reaching out to offices multiple times to confirm lawmakers would be present.

In the end, Democrats had only one absence — 84-year-old Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who is battling pancreatic cancer. Two Republicans weren’t present to vote — Reps.-elect David Valadao (R-Calif.) and Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), who both tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days.

Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, who also tested positive for the coronavirus recently, was cleared from quarantine at midnight and traveled to Washington to cast her vote.

Pelosi successfully flipped several of the Democratic defectors who didn’t support her 2019 effort, including Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.).

But not every returning Democrat ended up voting for Pelosi, despite stark warnings from senior party members that they should do so.

Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) became the first defection of the day, casting his vote for Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). He was followed by Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who picked House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries for speaker. Both Golden and Lamb weren’t expected to support Pelosi.

Three other Democrats who didn’t support Pelosi in 2019 — Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey — all voted “present.”

Pelosi’s fourth term as speaker comes two years after a group of Democratic rebels tried to block her path to the gavel, only backing down after she agreed to a four-year term limit atop the House.

But in many ways since then Pelosi has only consolidated more power, positioning herself as the leading adversary to Trump during a chaotic 116th Congress that started under the longest government shutdown in history, eventually led to the impeachment of the president before being quickly consumed by the coronavirus that effectively shut down the nation for the last nine months.

Pelosi did not face a challenger this time but has been repeatedly questioned about whether this in fact would be her last term.

“What I said then is whether it passes or not, I will abide by those limits that are there,” Pelosi told reporters in November about the deal she cut with Democratic rebels in 2018. “I don’t want to undermine any leverage I may have, but I made the statement.”

With the speaker’s vote over, the House will focus on the final gasps of Trump’s term, including potential chaos on Wednesday when Republicans make one last, doomed attempt to overturn Biden’s victory results as Congress meets to certify the election results.

The effort has zero chance of success but will ensure a long day, possibly bleeding into the next, filled with drama. Republicans spent most of Sunday openly warring with each other over Trump’s attempts to subvert the election.

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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


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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