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“I think this is something that will come back to haunt Republicans,” said Jon Gilmore, a Republican strategist in Arkansas and an adviser to the state’s governor, Asa Hutchinson. “It opens a Pandora’s box.”

Since the 1990s, Republican presidential candidates have won the popular vote only once — in George W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004 — with Trump relying on the Electoral College for his victory in 2016 and having no chance of running even close to Biden without it this year. In the near future, the nation’s changing demographics, despite Trump’s modest inroads with people of color this year, appear likely to further put the popular vote out of Republicans’ reach, making the Electoral College all the more important to the GOP. Given the stakes, inadvertently delegitimizing the Electoral College would seem counterintuitive. To some Republicans, it’s nuts.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a Trump ally and a potential presidential candidate in 2024, raised the concern briefly in a statement over the weekend opposing his Republican colleagues’ efforts to block the counting of the votes. He said that overturning the outcome “would imperil the Electoral College, which gives small states like Arkansas a voice in presidential elections. Democrats could achieve their long-standing goal of eliminating the Electoral College in effect by refusing to count electoral votes in the future for a Republican president-elect.”

And seven House Republicans were even more explicit, warning in a joint letter that future Republican presidential campaigns were on the line.

“From a purely partisan perspective, Republican presidential candidates have won the national popular vote only once in the last 32 years,” read the statement from Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Ken Buck of Colorado, Chip Roy of Texas, Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, Tom McClintock of California and Nancy Mace of South Carolina. “They have therefore depended on the electoral college for nearly all presidential victories in the last generation. If we perpetuate the notion that Congress may disregard certified electoral votes — based solely on its own assessment that one or more states mishandled the presidential election — we will be delegitimizing the very system that led Donald Trump to victory in 2016, and that could provide the only path to victory in 2024.”

As a point of principle, the proceedings on Wednesday will put Republicans in an awkward position.

“They all know it’s absurd,” said Stuart Stevens, who was chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012 and who worked against Trump’s reelection last year. “It’s just part of this, you know, you have people like [Sen. Josh] Hawley and [Sen. Ted] Cruz that spent their entire life building establishment credentials, and now they find themselves in a political world in which that is a negative, not a positive, so they are attempting desperately to prove that even though I call myself a constitutional lawyer, I’m happy to shred the Constitution.”

And though Stevens is supportive of ditching the Electoral College, most Republicans aren’t. In terms of rank politics, undercutting the Electoral College may be remembered as a profound example of the GOP shooting itself in the foot. One former Republican Party state chair said, “Republicans can’t say they’re for federalism and then undercut the Electoral College.”

Recalling that congressional Democrats forced debate on Ohio’s electoral votes after the 2004 election, former Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican who served as National Republican Congressional Committee chair, said that Democrats “set the precedent” but that “Republicans are now taking it and just running it into the ground.”

“It’s a slap at voters,” he said, predicting that it will be a “legacy vote” for Republicans in which “people will be judged in history by whether they wanted to overturn the Electoral College.”

Davis said he had spoken with several House Republicans who have been threatened with primary challenges if they don’t go along with Trump. But, he said, “there are just some things you shouldn’t tamper with.”

It’s possible that Cotton and like-minded House members are overstating concern about the Electoral College. The post-election challenges by Trump and his allies have been rife with any number of seeming political contradictions that Republicans are unlikely to suffer long-term damage from, with Republican lawmakers going so far in some cases as to demand their own states’ elections be decertified — but just the presidential result, not theirs. The Trump presidency has been defined by democratic norm-breaking, and the Electoral College isn’t exactly on any endangered species list.

One Republican National Committee member described the objections that Cruz and others plan to raise as simple “leverage” to advance complaints about voter fraud, boosting a looming effort by Republicans in statehouses around the country to tighten vote-by-mail and other voting restrictions. That effort, if successful, would probably help Republican nominees in future presidential elections. One prominent Republican political strategist called any suggestion of long-term implications for the Electoral College “complete bull—-,” and Frank Pignanelli, a former Democratic state lawmaker in Utah who now advises politicians of both parties, said, “I don’t think the Electoral College is going away anytime soon.”

“Things move so fast,” Pignanelli said, “that I think a year from now people will forget.”

Trump himself in 2012 called the Electoral College a “disaster for a democracy,” before relying on it to win in 2016 and reversing course.

But if the Electoral College is relatively sturdy, it’s also far from sacrosanct. From the GOP’s perspective, that means it needs every defender it can get. Even before the November election, a majority of Americans — 61 percent — told Gallup they supported abolishing the Electoral College. And for those who would very much like to see the Electoral College tampered with, the legal and legislative maneuvering since the election — culminating with the proceedings on Wednesday — is beginning to look like a bonanza.

In the post-election maelstrom surrounding vote challenges, John Koza, whose National Popular Vote initiative has slowly been gaining steam, said calls and donations to his organization were up. Since the mid-2000s, 15 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to the compact that his group is promoting in which — if enough states eventually sign — they would award their electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote, regardless of the outcome in their individual states.

For Americans who may not have previously paid much attention to the workings of the Electoral College, Koza said, the post-election litigation and legislative maneuvering “demonstrates in spades the instability that’s been around the current system for years.”

“This thing Wednesday, which is usually a total yawner, is now becoming a major event,” Koza said. “It focuses attention on the problem that the whole election revolves around a handful of battleground states, and 38 states are basically irrelevant in the presidential.”

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who was an early supporter of the National Popular Vote movement when he was a state lawmaker in California in 2006, said the spectacle surrounding the certification of this year’s election “does give more impetus for a national popular vote to replace the Electoral College.”

He said, “None of this would be an issue if we simply took Biden’s win of over 7 million votes.”

And for Republicans intent on keeping the Electoral College, even the risk of degrading faith in the institution is a problem. The Arkansas strategist Gilmore, like many Republicans, said the fight on Wednesday might be “just a flash in the pan.”

However, he said, “it’s not a flash in the pan that I, as a Republican operative and strategist who has worked in the party for a long time, want to see that spark continue.”

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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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