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“This is going to come back and bite ‘em because Congress, in a bipartisan way, is going to come back with a vengeance,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told POLITICO.

The result is that Democrats, whose ire at the tech industry had already dramatically risen since the 2016 elections, are talking about bringing new levels of scrutiny and consequences to the companies, including stepping up efforts to narrow or overhaul liability protections for sites that host violent or dangerous messages.

Democrats also expressed optimism about getting cooperation from Republicans, despite the Trump-era GOP’s frequent focus on allegations that social media platforms practice too much censorship. And some liberal activists said reining in online extremism needs to be a Day One priority for President-elect Joe Biden.

A slew of prominent Democrats rebuked social media companies — ranging from tech giants like Facebook and YouTube to smaller, more free-wheeling platforms like Gab and Parler — for not taking more forceful action against those who organized and executed Wednesday’s pro-Trump rally. What began as a protest, featuring an in-person address by the president, escalated into a full-blown storming of the Capitol building that left four people dead.

“Congress was attacked yesterday by a mob that was radicalized in an echo chamber that Facebook and other big platforms created,” said Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, who has criticized the way tech companies amplify potentially harmful content to their users.

The most violent messages before and after Wednesday’s swarming of the Capitol appeared on lesser-known platforms that make little or no effort to moderate their content — including Telegram, Parler and, a pro-Trump site where people openly cheered the prospect of killing liberals and big tech executives.

But liberal lawmakers took particular aim at the industry’s leading companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, for not kicking Trump off their platforms, despite years of warnings from Democratic leaders, civil rights groups and other advocates that the president’s online rhetoric was inspiring real-world harm.

Those efforts met resistance Thursday from one top Republican, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, who said that “censoring” the president would have “serious free speech consequences that will extend far beyond President Trump’s time in office.”

Facebook and Twitter took unprecedented steps to limit the reach of Trump’s messages after the Capitol riots, imposing temporary locks on his accounts that prevented him from posting.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday announced the platform would block Trump indefinitely, at least until Biden is sworn in, writing that it believes “the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”

A Twitter spokesperson said the company’s public interest policy, which can exempt public officials like Trump from tweet removals and suspensions, “ends where we believe the risk of harm is higher and/or more severe.”

YouTube, meanwhile, took down a video in which Trump continued to fan false allegations of a “stolen” election, and it said it would begin imposing suspensions and potentially permanent bans against users who violate policies against posting unsubstantiated election fraud claims.

During the lead-up to the 2020 elections, the major platforms beefed up their policies against misinformation, slapping labels on posts that contained election-related content or misinformation and pointing users instead to authoritative news sources.

But the restrictions and takedowns did little to appease critics of both Trump and the tech companies, who said the moves didn’t go far enough and came far too late.

This week offered a dual boost to prospects for action: Tuesday’s Democratic sweep of Georgia’s Senate seats gives the party unified control of Congress for the first time since 2010. And Wednesday’s violence gives Democrats even more of an impetus to use that power to crack down on online extremism.

“It’s created a greater urgency and a greater willingness, hopefully on both sides of the aisle, to dig in and do the hard work that’s going to take to address this,” said Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton of Virginia. “I think it’s going to be a top priority for us in 117th to come up with some sort of plan to address this kind of disinformation.”

“The one thing I hope it’s done for a lot of people is show what happens online is not separate from what happens offline,” said Karen Kornbluh, director of the Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative at the German Marshall Fund. “We saw people who had organized online, come to Washington with their QAnon beliefs and their other ideas they’ve gotten on social media and act them out in the real world.”

One area several Democrats said was now even more ripe for congressional action: overhauling the tech industry’s legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the much-debated 1996 law that shields platforms from liability over material their users post.

“Yesterday’s events will renew and focus the need for Congress to reform Big Tech’s privileges and obligations,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “This begins with reforming Section 230, preventing infringements on fundamental rights, stopping the destructive use of Americans’ private data, and other clear harms.”

Malinowski, who has introduced legislation with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) to revoke those protections in instances where platforms amplify or boost certain harmful content, said the riot at the Capitol “hastens the need” for such changes to Section 230.

Warner said he’s working on his own new proposal to revamp Section 230, a target he’s identified as a top priority for this Congress, and that he expects to have “a number of colleagues” supporting the bill. That could make his measure one of the biggest threats to the legal shield on Capitol Hill — and a more plausible one than Trump’s unsuccessful demands that Congress repeal the statute entirely to punish alleged anti-conservative bias.

Warner, who is poised to helm Senate Intel once Democrats take control of the chamber, also suggested the topic could be a big focus of the panel’s activity this Congress. “We will have much more to say on this,” he said when asked about his potential hearing plans.

While outrage over how social media companies handled the riot and the events leading up to it has been dominated by Democrats, some Republicans believe the events will also propel existing bipartisan efforts to curb harmful content on social media, according to a GOP aide to Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas.

The Texas Republican, who spent years chairing the Homeland Security Committee, plans to reintroduce a version of a bill to create a clearinghouse at the Department of Homeland Security where social media companies could voluntarily report online threats of imminent violence, the staffer said. That hub would then circulate those to appropriate law enforcement authorities.

A fatal shooting that killed 23 people in 2019 in El Paso, Texas, had motivated the year-long negotiation behind the bill, a process involving both social media companies and civil liberties groups. But the McCaul aide said that had the measure been in place, it might have helped authorities detect and ward off the violence at the Capitol this week.

Biden, who scorched Facebook and other social media companies over accusations they willfully enabled disinformation in the 2020 elections, will also face pressure from advocacy groups to scrutinize how companies handle violent and misleading content.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said that in light of Wednesday’s riots, Biden should take immediate action on that front when he’s sworn in Jan. 20.

“I think it’s critical for the new administration on day one to launch a process that examines the rise of extremism and the role of the social media companies in contributing to that,” said Greenblatt, floating that idea that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris could lead the task force.

Kornbluh, who served under Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, suggested Silicon Valley tech companies may in fact welcome the chance to make their own reset as Washington’s power dynamics shift. “To turn the page,” she said, “and adopt some of these pro-transparency policies that would crack down on disinformation and dangerous conspiracy theories and harassment.”

But Wexton, the Virginia Democrat, said companies may not have much of a choice in the matter.

“They can be on the train or they can be under it,” she said.

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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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