In duelling rallies, President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden have urged voters in Georgia to turn out for elections on Tuesday that will decide which party controls the Senate.
Mr Trump, a Republican, and Mr Biden, a Democrat, said the votes for two Senate seats would shape the US for years.
More than three million Georgians have already cast ballots – nearly 40% of the state’s registered voters.
If the Democrats win, they will control all of Congress and the White House.
The Republican Senate incumbents in Georgia – Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue – are trying to hold off the Democratic challengers, Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock.
The runoff is needed under Georgia’s state election rules because none of the Senate candidates received more than 50% of the vote in November’s US election. Voting begins at 07:00 (12:00 GMT) and ends about 12 hours later.
What’s at stake in Georgia?
The vote will decide the balance of power in the US Senate.
Republicans are currently in control, holding 52 of the 100 seats. If both Democrats win on Tuesday, the Senate will be evenly split, allowing incoming Democratic vice-president Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.
This would be crucial for pushing through Mr Biden’s progressive agenda, including key issues such as health care and environmental regulations – issues with strong Republican opposition.
The Senate also has the power to approve or reject Mr Biden’s nominees for cabinet and judicial posts.
If Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock both win, it will bring the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives under Democratic control for the first time since President Barack Obama’s election in 2008.
What did Biden and Trump say?
At a drive-in rally in Atlanta on Monday, Mr Biden told voters: “Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you. The power is literally in your hands.”
Flanked by Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock, he said: “Unlike any time in my career, one state – one state – can chart the course, not just for the four years but for the next generation.”
Mr Biden also took aim at Mr Trump, accusing him of “whining and complaining” about November’s presidential election result rather than concentrating on the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I don’t know why he still wants the job, he doesn’t want to do the work,” he said.
On Monday evening at a rally in Dalton, President Trump told voters that the Georgia runoff was the “last line of defence” against the Democrats.
In what may have been the last rally of his presidency, he told the state’s voters “the whole world is watching” and that this was “your last chance to save the America that we love”.
The president repeated unproven allegations that he was only declared the loser in Georgia after November’s White House election because of fraud.
Republican officials are worried this could depress turnout among the party faithful in Tuesday’s vote. Mr Trump played this down, telling voters to “swarm it tomorrow”.
A Democrat has not won a Senate race in Georgia in 20 years, but the party will be buoyed by Mr Biden’s presidential election win over Mr Trump there. The margin of victory was about 12,000 votes among five million cast.
Mr Biden won 306 votes to Mr Trump’s 232 in the US electoral college, which confirms the US president. Mr Biden won at least seven million more votes than the president.
Joe Biden’s first big test
It’s just over two weeks until Joe Biden’s inauguration, but the first real test of his presidency will come on Tuesday, when Georgia’s two run-off Senate elections will decide which party controls the US Senate as he takes office.
If Democrats pick up the two seats and forge a 50-50 tie in the upper chamber, it’s far from certain that Biden will be able to enact the kind of sweeping legislation on the environment, healthcare and the economy that he proposed during his successful presidential campaign. The narrowness of the margin will ensure that any laws will have to be supported by centrists like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona’s two senators.
It will, however, give the new president a fighting chance at legislative accomplishments – and make it significantly easier for him to appoint the administration officials and federal judges of his choice.
If the Republicans hold on, then Democratic hopes will rest on the whims of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a handful of Republican moderates.
Meet the candidates
- Jon Ossoff, launched his campaign with an endorsement from Democratic superstar and civil rights champion John Lewis, who died this summer. Mr Ossoff spent five years working for Congressman Hank Johnson, an Atlanta Democrat
- David Perdue has served as a Georgia senator since 2015. The former Reebok CEO was an early supporter of Donald Trump, and has remained an ally. He is now facing scrutiny over multimillion dollar stock trades in companies whose business falls under his purview on Senate committees
- Reverend Raphael Warnock is a pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr once preached. He helped start the New Georgia Project, a voting rights organisation. The group is now under investigation for allegedly sending ballot applications to non-residents
- Kelly Loeffler was named to the US Senate in December 2019 after the sitting senator resigned. Ms Loeffler is co-owner of the women’s NBA team the Atlanta Dream. The league’s players have called for her to sell her stake over her vocal opposition to Black Lives Matter
Is Trump still challenging the White House election?
Mr Trump – who is due to leave office on 20 January – said at his Georgia rally: “They’re not taking this White House. We’re going to fight like hell.”
He hinted that he wanted Vice-President Mike Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, to reject Mr Biden’s win when Congress meets on Wednesday to certify the election results.
“I hope that Mike Pence comes through for us,” Mr Trump said. “Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”
Some Republicans have said they will raise objections to the presidential election result in the House and Senate, requiring a debate and vote. But with other Republicans saying they will not contest Mr Biden’s victory, the votes questioning it would not succeed.
Over the weekend it was revealed Mr Trump also held a controversial phone call with Georgia’s top election official, secretary of state Brad Raffensperger.
In a recording of the call, first published by the Washington Post newspaper on Sunday, Mr Trump pressured Mr Raffensperger to “find” votes that would reverse his defeat in the state.
At his rally, Mr Biden did not make direct reference to the call, but alluded to Mr Trump’s persistent challenges to the election results, saying that “politicians cannot assert, take or seize power”.
Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump
“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.
Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout
5 min read
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.”
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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