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“It’s her job, frankly, to help us with that transition, to help us create a succession plan. I don’t want it to be the kind of thing where people are afraid to voice it, because, ‘The speaker’s still in power, and I don’t want to intrude on her,’” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), who has backed Pelosi and says she wants a caucus-wide discussion about her successor.

Pelosi, for her part, has said publicly and privately it’s up to the caucus to choose its leaders and she has no plan to pick a successor.

“I don’t think anybody should be considered the heir apparent to that seat,” added Wild, who is starting her second term.

Publicly, most Democrats insist they are focused on President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration and looking to Pelosi’s leadership to muscle his agenda — particularly more Covid relief — through a narrowly divided House. But privately, Democratic lawmakers and aides acknowledge they’re already bracing for the inevitable tension that could arise between the most powerful speaker in a lifetime and the Democrats auditioning to replace her and her longtime deputies.

Democrats are already closely watching the small cadre of their colleagues whose names have been floated for the top jobs, including Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, former Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, and House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff for speaker. Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, Vice Chair Pete Aguilar and Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal are all also mentioned for high ranking positions.

None has publicly confirmed any potential ambitions — to do so would be considered taboo within the caucus. But all have advantages that could help them advance if there’s a leadership vacuum at the top.

Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Clark (D-Mass.) both have prominent leadership posts, giving them experience, fundraising prowess, and a built-in base of support; Schiff (D-Calif.) is a powerhouse fundraiser and close Pelosi ally; Bass (D-Calif.) has proven experience as speaker in the California State Assembly and former head of the influential Congressional Black Caucus.

Aguilar is in leadership and a well-liked member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; and Jayapal recently successfully moved to consolidate progressive power behind her as head of the CPC although some question her base of support beyond liberals.

Asked about the caucus’s attention already beginning to drift toward the next leadership contest, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) quipped: “Of course, we’re politicians, this is all we do.”

Many Democrats say they’re not sure whether Pelosi will relinquish the gavel in 2022, though the California Democrat publicly committed to just two more terms in 2018 as part of a deal to secure the votes she needed to reclaim the speaker’s gavel.

Several Democrats said they could see a scenario where the current top three House leaders — Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — try to stay if their party controls the House, Senate and White House. Others predicted if Democrats lose the House in 2022, it would trigger an automatic power turnover.

Hoyer, who has not been shy about his desire to one day be speaker and like Clyburn bristles at term limits, has been mentioned as a potential “bridge” to a new generation of leadership if Pelosi leaves. But others say the most likely scenario is the three top leaders, all in their 80s, vacate at the same time.

In private meetings, lawmakers and aides say Pelosi has given no indication of her timeline or thinking behind her departure, though she has hinted publicly at leaving after this term. And several Democrats predicted when Pelosi does choose to leave, she will do it on her terms and it will be a surprise to most.

“I know there’s lots of talk of this being Madam Speaker’s last term but I don’t know that to be fact. Frankly until I hear that, my vote is with her,” said Bass, who some Democrats have mentioned as a possible speaker after she was publicly considered as a Cabinet leader and vice presidential pick for Biden.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), another Pelosi ally, said he has interpreted her comments to mean that she will leave in two years, and expects candidates to soon begin positioning themselves for top posts.

“I think people know there’s going to be new leadership in two years, and understand that. She’s been pretty open about that,” Khanna said. “I think it’ll be a wide open field.”

But some Democrats say they’re hoping to avoid the kind of all-consuming public jockeying that could be a distraction to their caucus, particularly with their majority on the line in the next cycle.

“She still has to govern, we need her to be strong. I would suggest to those who might want to succeed her or move up in leadership, do it quietly, do it behind the scenes,” said Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), adding: “Elections around here start early.”

All of this will play out as Democrats defend a daunting electoral map and work through long simmering ideological grievances that were mostly suppressed during President Donald Trump’s presidency — a unifying foe and a distracting political force.

Over the next two years, Pelosi will be required to mollify her caucus’s two competing factions: progressives who are more emboldened after high-profile victories in November, and moderates who have grown only more skittish as their ranks were depleted.

So far, Pelosi has kept both placated, with every progressive and all but five moderates supporting her for speaker Sunday. That included Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has publicly called for a changing of the guard in leadership but praised Pelosi’s ability to maneuver her big tent party.

“In the House, she is pretty universally respected just as a tactician and her ability to consolidate a caucus that is very difficult to bring together,” Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview, declining to talk about the future race for speaker this early in the new Congress.

Those intraparty clashes are already playing out in the opening week of the new Congress, with moderates and progressives sparring over leadership’s plans to tee up a package of electoral reforms as one of the first votes under Biden. Moderates have balked at the idea — since the bill includes a measure they dislike on public financing of campaigns — while progressives insist the bill must be the bedrock of the Democratic agenda.

“I think you’re seeing Speaker Pelosi recognize the growing influence of progressives in the Democratic caucus,” Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), one of several freshman lawmakers pressing for liberal legislation like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

Asked about what he’ll look for in the next crop of leaders, Jones said the next speaker can’t “have an antagonistic relationship with progressives,” while adding that he is “open minded” about the potential candidates.

That balancing act between the many factions of the Democratic caucus will be something that the next generation of leadership will, too, inherit.

“That is certainly a responsibility I couldn’t even imagine having to wrangle,” Ocasio-Cortez added.

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.

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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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